Above: Counsel of Trent Reaffirms the Seven “7” Sacraments
Sacraments of the Catholic Church
Visible rituals that Catholics see as signs of God’s presence
For the paintings by Poussin, see Seven Sacraments (Poussin). For the play, see The Seven Sacraments of Nicolas Poussin. For the painting by van der Weyden, see Seven Sacraments Altarpiece.
Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1448
There are seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which according to Catholic theology were instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church. Sacraments are visible rites seen as signs and efficacious channels of the grace of God to all those who receive them with the proper disposition. The sevenfold list of sacraments is often organized into three groups: the sacraments of initiation (into the Church, the body of Christ), consisting of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; the sacraments of healing, consisting of Penance and Anointing of the Sick; and the sacraments of service: Holy Orders and Matrimony.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the sacraments as follows: “The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.”
These seven sacraments were codified in the documents of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which stated:
Faith and grace
Distribution of divine graces by means of the Catholic Church and the sacraments (Johannes Hopffe, Wrisberg epitaph, Hildesheim, before 1615)
The Catholic Church teaches that the sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”
While the Church itself is the universal sacrament of salvation, the sacraments of the Catholic Church in the strict sense are seven sacraments that “touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith”.“The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation”, although not all are necessary for every individual, and has placed under anathema those who deny it: “If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not ineed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.”
The Church further teaches that the effect of a sacrament comes ex opere operato, by the very fact of being administered, regardless of the personal holiness of the minister administering it. However, a recipient’s own lack of proper disposition to receive the grace conveyed can block the effectiveness of the sacrament in that person. The sacraments presuppose faith and through their words and ritual elements, nourish, strengthen and give expression to faith.
Sacraments of initiation
Main article: Sacraments of Initiation
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Christian initiation is accomplished by means of the sacraments which establish the foundations of Christian life. The faithful born anew by Baptism are strengthened by Confirmation and are then nourished by the Eucharist.”
Main article: Baptism § Roman Catholicism
Scene of baptism. Stained glass, Paris, last quarter of the 12th century. From the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris.
The Catholic Church sees baptism as the first and basic sacrament of Christian initiation. In the Western or Latin Church, baptism is usually conferred today by pouring water three times on the recipient’s head, while reciting the baptismal formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matthew 28:19). In the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite immersion or submersion is used, and the formula is: “The servant of God, N., is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Though sprinkling is not normally used, its validity is accepted, provided that the water flows over the skin, since otherwise it is not a washing.
Main article: Confirmation (Catholic Church)
Confirmation or Chrismation is the second sacrament of Christian initiation. “It is called Chrismation (in the Eastern Churches: anointing with holy myron or chrism) because the essential rite of the sacrament is anointing with chrism. It is called Confirmation because it confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.” It is conferred by “the anointing with Sacred Chrism (oil mixed with balsam and consecrated by the bishop), which is done by the laying on of the hand of the minister who pronounces the sacramental words proper to the rite.”These words, in both their Western and Eastern variants, refer to a gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the recipient as with a seal. Through the sacrament the grace given in baptism is “strengthened and deepened.” Like baptism, confirmation may be received only once, and the recipient must be in a state of grace (meaning free from any known unconfessed mortal sin) in order to receive its effects. The “originating” minister of the sacrament is a validly consecrated bishop; if a priest (a “presbyter”) confers the sacrament — as is done ordinarily in the Eastern Churches and in special cases (such as the baptism of an adult or in danger of the death of a young child) in the Latin Church (CCC 1312–1313) — the link with the higher order is indicated by the use of oil (known as “chrism” or “myron“) blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday itself or on a day close to it. In the East, which retains the ancient practice, the sacrament is administered by the parish priest immediately after baptism. In the West, where the sacrament is normally reserved for those who can understand its significance, it came to be postponed until the recipient’s early adulthood; in the 20th century, after Pope Pius X introduced first Communion for children on reaching the age of discretion, the practice of receiving Confirmation later than the Eucharist became widespread; but the traditional order, with Confirmation administered before First Communion, is being increasingly restored.
Main article: Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Communion of Saint Teresa, by Juan Martín Cabezalero, Museum of Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid
The Eucharist, also called the Blessed Sacrament, is the sacrament (the third of Christian initiation, the one that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “completes Christian initiation”) by which Catholics partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and participate in his one sacrifice. The first of these two aspects of the sacrament is also called Holy Communion. The bread (which must be wheaten, and which is unleavened in the Latin, Armenian and Ethiopic Rites, but is leavened in most Eastern Rites) and wine (which must be from grapes) used in the Eucharistic rite are, in Catholic faith, transformed in its inner reality, though not in appearance, into the Body and Blood of Christ, a change that is called transubstantiation. “The minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone.” The word “priest” here (in Latin sacerdos) includes both bishops and those priests who are also called presbyters. Deacons as well as priests (sacerdotes) are ordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and lay people may be authorized in limited circumstances to act as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The Eucharist is seen as “the source and summit” of Christian living, the high point of God’s sanctifying action on the faithful and of their worship of God, the point of contact between them and the liturgy of heaven. So important is it that participation in the Eucharistic celebration (see Mass) is seen as obligatory on every Sunday and holy day of obligation and is recommended on other days. Also recommended for those who participate in the Mass is reception, with the proper dispositions, of Holy Communion. This is seen as obligatory at least once a year, during Eastertide.
Sacraments of healing
Penance and Reconciliation (Confession)
Main article: Sacrament of Penance
The Sacrament of Penance is the first of two sacraments of healing. The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions in the following order and capitalization different names of the sacrament, calling it the sacrament of conversion, Penance, confession, forgiveness and Reconciliation. It is the sacrament of spiritual healing of a baptized person from the distancing from God resulting from sins committed. When people sin after baptism, they cannot have baptism as a remedy; Baptism, which is a spiritual regeneration, cannot be given a second time.
The sacrament involves four elements: (1) Contrition (the penitent’s sincere remorse for wrongdoing or sin, repentance, without which the rite has no effect); (2) Confession to a priest who has the faculty to hear confessions (Canon 966.1) – while it may be spiritually helpful to confess to another, only a priest has the power to administer the sacrament; (3) Absolution by the priest; and, (4) Satisfaction or penance.
“Many sins wrong our neighbour. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbour. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance'” (CCC 1459). In early Christian centuries, this element of satisfaction was quite onerous and generally preceded absolution, but now it usually involves a simple task for the penitent to perform later, in order to make some reparation and as a medicinal means of strengthening against further temptation.
The priest is bound by the “seal of confession“, which is inviolable. “Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.” A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs an automatic excommunication whose lifting is reserved to the Holy See.
In some dioceses, certain sins are “reserved” which means only certain confessors can absolve them. Some sins, such as violation of the sacramental seal, consecration of bishops without authorization by the Holy See, direct physical attacks on the Pope, and intentional desecration of the Eucharist are reserved to the Holy See. A special case-by-case faculty from the Sacred Penitentiary is normally required to absolve these sins.
Anointing of the Sick
Main article: Anointing of the Sick (Catholic Church)
Extreme Unction, from Rogier van der Weyden‘s altarpiece
Anointing of the Sick is the second sacrament of healing. In this sacrament a priest anoints the sick with oil blessed specifically for that purpose. “The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger by reason of illness or old age” (canon 1004; cf. CCC 1514). A new illness or a worsening of health enables a person to receive the sacrament a further time.
When, in the Western Church, the sacrament was conferred only on those in immediate danger of death, it came to be known as “Extreme Unction“, i.e. “Final Anointing”, administered as one of the Last Rites. The other Last Rites are Confession (if the dying person is physically unable to confess, at least absolution, conditional on the existence of contrition, is given), and the Eucharist, which when administered to the dying is known as “Viaticum“, a word whose original meaning in Latin was “provision for a journey”.
Sacraments of Service
Main articles: Bishop (Catholic Church), Priesthood (Catholic Church), and Catholic Deacon
Holy Orders is the sacrament by which a man is made a bishop, a priest, or a deacon, and thus dedicated to be an image of Christ. The three degrees are referred to as the episcopate, the presbyterate and the diaconate. A bishop is the minister of this sacrament. Ordination as a bishop confers the fullness of the sacrament, making the bishop a member of the body of successors of the Apostles, and giving him the mission to teach, sanctify, and govern, along with the care of all the Churches. Ordination as a priest configures the priest to Christ the Head of the Church and the one essential High Priest, and conferring on him the power, as the bishops’ assistant, to celebrate the sacraments and other liturgical acts, especially the Eucharist. Ordination as a deacon configures the deacon to Christ the Servant of All, placing him at the service of the bishop, especially in the Church’s exercising of Christian charity towards the poor and preaching of the word of God.
Aspirants to the priesthood are required by canon law (canon 1032 of the Code of Canon Law) to go through a seminary program that includes, as well as graduate level philosophical and theological studies, a formation program that includes spiritual direction, retreats, apostolate experience, Latin training, etc. The course of studies in preparation for ordination as a permanent deacon is decided by the episcopal conference concerned.
Main article: Marriage in the Catholic Church
Matrimony, from Rogier Van der Weyden’s altarpiece
Matrimony, or Marriage, is another sacrament that consecrates for a particular mission in building up the Church, and that provides grace for accomplishing that mission. This sacrament, seen as a sign of the love uniting Christ and the Church, establishes between the spouses a permanent and exclusive bond, sealed by God. Accordingly, a marriage between baptized people, validly entered into and consummated, cannot be dissolved. The sacrament confers on them the grace they need for attaining holiness in their married life and for responsible acceptance and upbringing of their children. As a condition for validity, the sacrament is celebrated in the presence of the local Ordinary or Parish Priest or of a cleric delegated by them (or in certain limited circumstances a lay person delegated by the diocesan Bishop with the approval of the Episcopal Conference and the permission of the Holy See) and at least two other witnesses, though in the theological tradition of the Latin Church the ministers of the sacrament are the couple themselves. For a valid marriage, a man and a woman must express their conscious and free consent to a definitive self-giving to the other, excluding none of the essential properties and aims of marriage. If one of the two is a non-Catholic Christian, their marriage is licit only if the permission of the competent authority of the Catholic Church is obtained. If one of the two is not a Christian (i.e. has not been baptized), the competent authority’s dispensation is necessary for validity.
Validity and liceity
As stated above, the effect of the sacraments comes ex opere operato (by the very fact of being administered). Since it is Christ who works through them, their effectiveness does not depend on the worthiness of the minister. The belief that the validity of the sacrament is dependent upon the holiness of the administrator was rejected in the Donatist crisis.
However, an apparent administration of a sacrament is invalid, if the person acting as minister does not have the necessary power (as if a deacon were to celebrate Mass). They are also invalid if the required “matter” or “form” is lacking. The matter is the perceptible material object, such as water in baptism or wheaten bread and grape wine for the Eucharist, or the visible action. The form is the verbal statement that specifies the signification of the matter, such as, (in the Western Church), “N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Furthermore, if the minister positively excludes some essential aspect of the sacrament, the sacrament is invalid. This last condition lies behind the 1896 judgement of the Holy See denying the validity of Anglican Orders.
A sacrament may be administered validly, but illicitly, if a condition imposed by canon law is not observed. Obvious cases are administration of a sacrament by a priest under a penalty of excommunication or suspension, and an episcopal ordination without a mandate from the Pope.
Main article: Impediment (canon law)
See also: Declaration of nullity
Canon law specifies impediments to reception of the sacraments of orders and marriage. Those concerning the first of these two sacraments only concern liceity, but “a diriment impediment renders a person incapable of validly contracting a marriage” (canon 1073).
In the Latin Church, only the Holy See can authentically declare when divine law prohibits or invalidates a marriage, and only the Holy See has the right to establish for those who are baptised other impediments to marriage (canon 1075). But individual Eastern Catholic Churches, after having fulfilled certain requirements that include consulting (but not necessarily obtaining approval from) the Holy See, may establish impediments.
If an impediment is imposed by merely ecclesiastical law, rather than being a matter of divine law, the Church may grant a dispensation from the impediment.
Conditions for validity of marriage such as sufficient use of reason (canon 1095) and freedom from coercion (canon 1103), and the requirement that, normally, a marriage be contracted in the presence of the local Ordinary or parish priest or of the priest or deacon delegated by either of them, and in the presence of two witnesses (canon 1108), are not classified in the Code of Canon Law as impediments, but have much the same effect.
See also: Conditional baptism
Three of the sacraments may not be repeated: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders: their effect is permanent. This teaching has been expressed by the images of, in the West, an indelible character or mark and of, in the East, a seal (CCC 698). However, if there is doubt about the validity of the administration of one or more of these sacraments, a conditional form of conferral may be used, such as: “If you are not already baptized, I baptize you …”
In the recent past, it was common practice in the Catholic Church to baptize conditionally almost every convert from Protestantism because of a perceived difficulty in judging about the validity in any concrete instance. In the case of the major Protestant denominations, agreements involving assurances about the manner in which they administer baptism has ended this practice, which sometimes continues for other groups of Protestant tradition. The Catholic Church has always recognized the validity of baptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it has explicitly denied the validity of the baptism conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It does not recognize a baptismal ceremony in which the names of the three divine persons (or hypostases) of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are replaced by descriptors such as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, or Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer, and requires that the conditional form should not be used when baptizing those who have received this kind of baptism.
For the band, see Anathema (band).
Anathema, in common usage, is something or someone that is detested or shunned. Its other main usage comes from the New Testament and refers to a formal ecclesiastical excommunication. However, in the Old Testament, anathema referred either to something (living or inanimate) that was consecrated or something denounced as evil or accursed and set aside for sacrificial offering.
Anathema (in the sense of a curse) attributed to Pope Gregory XI
Anathema derives from Ancient Greek: ἀνάθεμα, anáthema, meaning “an offering” or “anything dedicated”, itself derived from the verb ἀνατίθημι, anatíthēmi, meaning “to offer up”. In the Old Testament, it referred to both objects consecrated to divine use and those dedicated to destruction in the Lord’s name, such as enemies and their weapons during religious wars. Since weapons of the enemy were considered unholy, the meaning became “anything dedicated to evil” or “a curse”.
In Church Latin, anathema was initially used by St. Paul to mean the excommunication of a heretic or an unrepentant heretic that had been excommunicated. By the 6th century, the liturgical meaning evolved again to mean a formal ecclesiastical curse of excommunication and the condemnation of heretical doctrines, the severest form of separation from the Christian church issued against a heretic or group of heretics by a Pope or other church official.
- “It’s no wonder then, that Paul calls down God’s curse, God’s anathema, His ban on those behind their potential defection from Christ.”
- “He shrank from the venerable saint as if to avoid an anathema.”
- “In 1054, an anathema was issued by Rome against the Eastern Patriarch who then issued another one against the cardinal who delivered it.”
In 1526, anathema appeared in English for the first time and was used in the sense of “something accursed”. The “consecrated object” meaning was also adopted a short time later, but is no longer widely used. Its most common modern usage is in secular contextswhere it is used to mean something or someone that is detested or shunned.
- “Racial hatred was anathema to her.”
- “The idea that one would voluntarily inject poison into one’s body was anathema to me.”
- “This notion was anathema to most of his countrymen.” — S. J. Gould
The Old Testament applied the word to anything set aside for sacrifice, and thus banned from profane use and dedicated to destruction—as, in the case of religious wars, the enemy and their cities and possessions. The New Testament uses the word to mean a curse and forced expulsion of someone from the Christian community.
The Greek word ἀνάθεμα (anathema), meaning something offered to a divinity, appeared in the translation of the Jewish Bible known as the Septuagint to render the Hebrew word חרם (herem), and appears in verses such as Leviticus 27:28 to refer to things that are offered to God and so banned for common (non-religious) use. The Hebrew word was also used for what was devoted, by virtue of a simple vow, not to the Lord, but to the priest. In postexilic Judaism, the meaning of the word changed to an expression of God’s displeasure with all persons, Jew or pagan, who do not subordinate their personal conduct and tendencies to the discipline of the theocracy, and must be purged from the community—thus making anathema an instrument of synagogal discipline.
The noun ἀνάθεμα (anathema) occurs in the Greek New Testament six times: in 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; Gal 1:8,9; Rom 9:3; Acts 23:14. Its meaning in the New Testament is disfavour of God, a meaning that, according to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Word, in Acts 23:14 to the sentence of disfavour, and in the other instances to the object of God’s disfavour.
See also: History of early Christianity
Since the time of the apostles, the term ‘anathema’ has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction, known as excommunication. The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics; for example, the Synod of Gangra (c. 340) pronounced that Manicheanism was anathema. Cyril of Alexandria issued twelve anathemas against Nestorius in 431. In the fifth century, a formal distinction between anathema and “minor” excommunication evolved, where “minor” excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite of Eucharist and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation of the subject from the Church.
The Orthodox Church distinguishes between “separation from the communion of the Church” (excommunication) and other epitemia (penances) laid on a person, and anathema. While undergoing epitemia, the person remains an Orthodox Christian, even though their participation in the mystical life of the church is restricted; but those given over to anathema are considered completely torn from the Church until they repent.Epitemia, or excommunication, is normally limited to a specified period of time—though it always depends on the repentance of the one penanced. The lifting of anathema, however, depends solely on the repentance of the one condemned. The two causes for which a person may be anathematized are heresy and schism. Anathematization is only a last resort, and must always be preceded by pastoral attempts to reason with the offender and bring about their restoration.
For the Orthodox, anathema is not final damnation. God alone is the judge of the living and the dead, and up until the moment of death repentance is always possible. The purpose of public anathema is twofold: to warn the one condemned and bring about his repentance, and to warn others away from his error. Everything is done for the purpose of the salvation of souls.
On the First Sunday of Great Lent—the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”—the church celebrates the Rite of Orthodoxy, at which anathemas are pronounced against numerous heresies. This rite commemorates the end of Iconoclasm—the last great heresy to trouble the church (all subsequent heresies—so far—merely being restatements in one form or another of previous errors)—at the Council of Constantinople in 842. The Synodicon, or decree, of the council was publicly proclaimed on this day, including an anathema against not only Iconoclasm but also of previous heresies. The Synodicon continues to be proclaimed annually, together with additional prayers and petitions in cathedrals and major monasteries throughout the Eastern Orthodox Churches. During the rite (which is also known as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”), lections are read from Romans 16:17-20, which directs the church to “…mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned, and avoid them. For they … by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple,” and Matthew 18:10-18, which recounts the parable of the Good Shepherd, and provides the procedure to follow in dealing with those who err:
After an ektenia (litany), during which petitions are offered that God will have mercy on those who err and bring them back to the truth, and that he will “make hatred, enmity, strife, vengeance, falsehood and all other abominations to cease, and cause true love to reign in our hearts…”, the bishop (or abbot) says a prayer during which he beseeches God to: “look down now upon Thy Church, and behold how that, though we have joyously received the Gospel of salvation, we are but stony ground.For the thorns of vanity and the tares of the passions make it to bear but little fruit in certain places and none in others, and with the increase in iniquity, some, opposing the truth of Thy Gospel by heresy, and others by schism, do fall away from Thy dignity, and rejecting Thy grace, the subject themselves to the judgment of Thy most holy word. O most merciful and almighty Lord … be merciful unto us; strengthen us in the right Faith by Thy power, and with Thy divine light illumine the eyes of those in error, that they may come to know Thy truth. Soften the hardness of their hearts and open their ears, that they may hear Thy voice and turn to Thee, our Saviour. O Lord, set aside their division and correct their life, which doth not accord with Christian piety. … Endue the pastors of Thy Church with holy zeal, and so direct their care for the salvation and conversion of those in error with the spirit of the Gospel that, guided by Thee, we may all attain to that place where is the perfect faith, fulfillment of hope, and true love ….” The protodeacon then proclaims the Synodicon, anathematizing various heresies and lauding those who have remained constant in the dogma and Holy Tradition of the Church.
In the dogmatic canons of all the ecumenical councils recognized by the Catholic Church, the word “anathema” signifies exclusion from the society of the faithful because of heresy.Documents of the 9th and 12th centuries distinguish anathema from excommunication, a distinction later clarified by using the term “major excommunication” for exclusion from the society of the faithful, and “minor excommunication” for ordinary excommunication or exclusion from reception of the sacraments.
Although in the canons of ecumenical councils the word “anathema” continued to be used to mean exclusion for heresy from the society of the faithful, the word was also used to signify a major excommunication inflicted with particular solemnity. Anathema in this sense was a major excommunication pronounced with the ceremonies described in the article bell, book, and candle, which were reserved for the gravest crimes.
The 1917 Roman Code of Canon Law abandoned the distinction between major and minor excommunication (which continues in use among the Eastern Catholic Churches) and abolished all penalties of whatever kind envisaged in previous canonical legislation but not included in the Code. It defined excommunication as exclusion from the communion of the faithful and said that excommunication “is also called anathema, especially if inflicted with the solemnities described in the Pontificale Romanum.”
The 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is now in force, does not contain the word “anathema”, and the Pontificale Romanum, as revised after the Second Vatican Council, no longer mentions any particular solemnities associated with the infliction of excommunication.