Whether someone is born Christian, they become one during the latter half of their life, or choose to be an agnostic; they will come across particular evangelical terminologies, such as baptism at some point. Baptism or christening, confirmation, penance among a few others, are some common religious words that are universally associated with the Christian church.
And even if someone never heard the phrases, they must have seen visuals of pastors dousing babies with oil over a shallow basin, also referred to as piscine, at a cathedral.
Long story short, the point is that most people, if not all, are familiar with certain terms related to Christianity; however, not many know what those signify. Baptism, confirmation, and penance are three of the seven Catholic Sacraments that form and strengthen a believer’s bond with the Lord.
What are Sacraments?
In priestly terms, a Sacrament is a religious rite that brings a person to God. In the Christian creed, sacraments are believed to be God’s tools to impart His divine grace upon the disciples to enable them to attain salvation. Christ himself instituted the seven catholic sacraments and taught his followers how to carry each out.
The word ‘sacrament’ means a sign of the sacred, which seems befitting as all of the seven Christian rites signify God’s existence and attest to His mercy on humankind.
How were the Sacraments introduced?
As previously mentioned, Jesus Christ introduced the concept of sacraments to his disciples. The Holy Bible reports on how Christ instructed people to carry out the sacred rituals by working with the Apostles, healing the sick, parables, giving his body and blood to nourish our souls, and forgiving sinners.
The Christian Church now administers the religious services as per the Bible to worship the Lord and seek eternal redemption.
The Seven Catholic Sacraments
The seven catholic sacraments are divided into three main categories; The Sacraments of Initiation, The Sacrament of Healing, and The Sacraments of Service.
All three groups of religious rites are further divided as such that the total number of sacraments in catholic Christianity sums up to be seven. Those are
- The Sacraments of Initiation
- The Sacraments of Healing
- Anointing of the Sick
- The Sacraments of Service
- Holy Orders
The Sacraments of Initiation
The sacraments of initiation mark the start of a person’s relationship with God. However, they not only form the said bond but also strengthen it.
The three holy rites of initiation are
Baptism is the first holy sacrament that brings a person to Christ and the Church. In other words, it is believed to unite the creation with the Creator, and no other religious rite can be received until a person is baptized.
The Christian dogma states that humans are born in a state of sinfulness, known as the Original sin, through the fact of birth, which is reflected through their tainted nature and a tendency to do evil. According to the Abrahamic religion, newborns come into the world with all of their innocence lost due to the Fall of Adam and Eve. Since humans are the children of Adam and Eve, they contract a proclivity to sin because of the First Sin of Adam.
The First Sin of Adam
The Bible reports that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God, where there was a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that bore forbidden fruit. God told the first-ever humans not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but they gave in to the temptation and consumed the forbidden apple.
Adam’s first sin is believed to have blotted human nature, robbing it of the in-born holiness that humans were to possess. Consequently, all babies are born in a state of sinfulness that needs to be cleansed away through baptism.
The Holy Service
Baptism is supposed to return a person to God. Generally, babies are baptized, but that’s not the law; anyone can receive the service if they were not baptized as a child.
During the ceremony, a priest douses the baptismal candidate in chrism, a holy oil, and uses a litany of prayers to wash away the traces of Adam’s Original Sin. The candidate traditionally wears a white outfit, a candle is lit to begin the ritual, and the consecrated oil is poured over them.
Baptism is a follower’s first step toward Christ and the Church. Usually, when a child is baptized, the family holds a celebration later to mark the occasion and presents the receiver of baptism keepsakes, such as a copy of the Holy Bible.
Symbols of Baptism
Each catholic sacrament has a set of symbols that is present during the service. Naturally, baptism includes some holy symbols; water, baptismal font, paschal candle, the white gown, the sign of the cross, oil, and the sacred cross.
It is worth mentioning that the emblems used for the catholic sacraments are not exclusive to a single rite. That is, there are no symbols that are specifically designated or designed for a particular sacrament. All sacrament crests are sacred representations of the faith.
Confirmation is the second apostolic sacrament where a baptized person restates their pledge to be with God. It is particularly a significant service for a younger child who was baptized as a baby, as they get to knowingly acknowledge and iterate their journey toward Christ.
The holy ritual is performed by a bishop who anoints the candidate’s forehead with chrism and says meaningful verses.
In sum, for a believer, confirmation is a means to declare their commitment to God and renounce Satan.
Symbols of Confirmation
The symbols of confirmation include Laying on of hands, Anointing with Oil, the cross, Words of God, the Sign of Peace.
Eucharist or the Holy Communion is the third sacrament of the widely practiced Abrahamic religion. It is the sacred service during which a follower receives sustenance in the form of consecrated bread and wine that is believed to be Christ’s flesh and blood.
In a way, Eucharist is a reenactment of the Last Supper, when Christ broke bread with His disciples. During the ceremony, a priest consecrates some bread and wine using the words of Jesus; This is My Body’ and ‘This is the chalice of My Blood, which is then fed to the Eucharist candidate and the rest of the gathering.
Eucharist or Mass is celebrated every Sunday to commemorate the Last Supper and worship Christ. Most kids attend their first Communion at the age of seven or eight; however, there is no hard and fast rule regarding the age at which a child can celebrate Mass.
Symbols of Eucharist
The symbols used for the Holy Communion are the cross, bread, wine, the sign of the cross, and the ‘laying on of hands.’
The Sacraments of Healing or Reconciliation
As the name implies, the sacraments of healing involve repentance and absolution for those who sin and distance themselves from God. The two rites that fall in this category are penance and anointing of the sick.
Humans are not infallible. Even when people have vowed to stay close to God, they can still sometimes go astray and commit sins, which subsequently drive them away from the right path. Naturally, the most devoted believers also sometimes make mistakes and indulge in depravity. But once they realize their shortcomings, they can ask for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness through penance.
To do that, they have to go to a priest and confess to their sins. After the confession is over, the minister, as God’s representative on Earth, forgives the confessor and urges them to lead a righteous life by following the example of Christ.
‘I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ are the words a cleric pronounces at the end of penance to mark the rite’s completion.
Penance or confession is essentially a way for people to heal spiritually and start afresh after breaching their commitment to follow in Christ’s footsteps. And more than anything, this sacrament of reconciliation frees a person of the guilt of sinning, allowing them to be hopeful and recharging their faith.
Absolution is perhaps the most easily recognizable sign of mercy. When someone is absolved of their misdeeds, they know that the Lord is merciful, which restores their belief, encouraging them to be a more devout parishioner in the future. So naturally, penance strengthens the relationship between the Creator and his creation.
Symbols of Penance
The five emblems of penance include keys, a stole, a raised hand, the cross, and a scourging whip. However, the whip is not necessarily used. In most cases, a sinner is forgiven with just the minister’s words of absolution.
Anointing the Sick
When someone is severely ill or suffering from a terminal disease, they need to get closer to God than ever before because of the possibility of death. Although it’s not necessary that a seriously sick person will die, people still like to reconcile with the Lord to gain comfort in the fact that He is with them. And that is what the sacrament of ‘anointing the sick’ is all about.
Only those suffering from a severe disease receive this holy rite. During the service, which typically occurs at the hospital or the patient’s home, a priest rubs chrism over the patient’s forehead and hands while pronouncing a special blessing. It is believed that the litany used during the anointing ceremony makes the bond between the candidate and Christ that much stronger.
This sacrament of healing offers spiritual comfort to sufferers and helps them feel at ease because they realize the Supreme Authority is watching over.
Like all Christian practices, anointing of the sick is inspired by Jesus, who showed immense care and concern towards the sick. He would always look after those suffering and encouraged His followers to do the same.
Symbols of Anointing of the Sick
The chief symbol used for the anointing of the sick is holy oil. Besides that, the sign of the cross, and laying on of hands, though the latter is a gesture rather than a sacred object.
The Sacraments of Service
The sacraments of service are practiced to serve the community within a diocese and all Christians as a single entity. Unlike the first two sacrament groups, this one focuses on benefitting others, someone other than yourself.
The two rites of service include the sacrament of marriage and holy orders that essentially unite people to work for the welfare of the community.
The Sacrament of Marriage/Matrimony
As all humanity knows, marriage is a sacred affair that brings two people together. However, it is not just the union of two individuals who vow to love and cherish each other until death. Marriage is much more than that.
It binds a man and woman together for life and decrees them to love each other wholeheartedly, emulating the sincerity that Jesus showed to His community. When two people get married, they are not only to be affectionate towards one another but also help each other grow spiritually and emotionally.
Matrimony goes beyond the bounds of this world; it transcends the physicality of the relationship between two spouses as it brings them closer to God. Naturally, when a relationship deepens your bond with Christ, it is supposed to last for eternity and be a witness of your loyalty to your partner, just like Jesus’s faithfulness towards his disciples. And that is why marriage is considered an exceedingly holy engagement.
Moreover, marriage allows two partners to build a family together that can serve the church and work for the propagation of religion.
Symbols of Marriage
The apostolic emblems of marriage are the wedding rings, bridal veil, the unity candles, and the Holy Bible. They are meant to form and cement the bond between two partners who choose to spend their lives together.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders
The last of the seven catholic sacraments is the sacrament of holy orders. It is the ordainment ceremony for those chosen by God to be a religious authority.
Some catholic men receive ‘holy orders’ by means of the sacrament to become a servant of God as a deacon, priest, or bishop.
The ecclesiastical hierarchy for the ordained clergymen is as follows.
A deacon is the lowest rank on the hierarchy. A baptized man first becomes a deacon after getting ordained, then he moves on to become a priest and at last a bishop.
How are the three ranks different?
The three clergy positions are primarily differentiated from one another on the basis of how many sacraments they can offer.
A bishop holds the most authority; hence, he can perform all seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders.
A priest doesn’t have the power to carry out all seven catholic sacraments, but they can perform more rites than a deacon, which include baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist (Mass), matrimony, and anointing of the sick.
A deacon can only offer two sacraments, baptism and matrimony. But the marriage cannot have a Mass Nuptial.
The sacrament of holy orders confers religious authority upon chosen men, but it doesn’t make them rulers of the church. Every deacon, priest, or bishop is to serve the people of God and guide them towards Him. If a religious leader fails to do so, they may be punished, but their holy orders are never taken away. Moreover, a man can choose to quit the active ministry and resign from their post, but their holy orders stay with them till the end.
How can a man with holy orders be demoted?
A religious leader can only be removed from their post at the church under the following circumstances.
- They choose to retire voluntarily.
- They commit a sin and have to be punished.
In the case of retirement, a cleric puts in a request to be relieved of his obligations as a minister. Once their request has been processed, they are no longer bound to remain celibate or celebrate the sacred ministry. When a cleric willingly gives up being a religious leader, it’s called Laicization. All laicization pleas have to go to Rome as the Vatican has to approve them.
However, when a religious authority commits a crime and is to be punished, they are defrocked– their ministerial privileges are taken away. A defrocked minister cannot wear the white-collar, be called ‘father,’ or publicly celebrate any of the Catholic sacraments. Some of the crimes that can revoke a person’s clerical status include attempting marriage, having illicit sexual relations, abusing someone sexually, and killing someone.
Living out the Seven Sacraments
Not all Christians can receive each of the seven sacraments, but the ones they do are enough to make them realize God’s mercy on humanity. However, a person doesn’t need sacraments to be a devout believer. If someone genuinely wishes to be close to Christ, they can use daily prayer and their devotion to Jesus to achieve that. If you know anyone completing these and want to give them a gift we have two sections Religious Gifts and Personalized Religious Gifts where you can find something for everyone.
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