Means of communication of the grace of God

Catholics accompany their sacraments from the cradle to the grave – or from baptism to the Anointing of the Sick. But what is a sacrament anyway? And how did they come about?

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The term “sacrament” goes back to the Latin word “sacramentum” and in ancient times referred to the oath of allegiance of Roman legionnaires. With their oath, the soldiers not only subordinate themselves to the ruler, but also to the respective cult god and thus transferred themselves to the area of ​​the “sacred” (Latin for “sacrum”). Entry into the church was given the word by the late antique Latin Bible “Vulgata”, the “sacramentum” as a translation of the Greek term “mysterion” (Eng. “Mystery”) used.

However, the term “sacrament” is therefore younger than the liturgical practice itself for which it stands today. Even in the early Christian church, baptism and the Eucharist were already an integral part of the life of faith and the sacrament in the present sense: liturgical signing. That baptism and the Eucharist held this outstanding position – and still do have it – is not only due to their theological significance, but also to the fact that there are numerous biblical documents for their appointment by Jesus Christ. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan and commissioned his disciples to baptize. And Jesus celebrated the sacrament with his disciples before he was delivered and crucified.

Marriage is a sacramental special case

But also for the other sacraments and their appointment by Jesus, biblical clues are found – though not so clearly – in the laying on of hands with which the Holy Spirit mediates at confirmation (Acts 8: 14-17) or an office – as in the case of the Holy Spirit Ordination – is transmitted (Acts 6,5,6). Rubbing with oil as in today’s Anointing of the sick (Mark 6.13) or the forgiveness of sins as in the present confession (Matt. 15:18).

A special case, on the other hand, is marriage, which is not a specific word of Jesus, but a reflection of the love relationship between Christ and his church sacrament (Eph 5,32). The fact that the Catholic Church today has exactly seven sacraments, goes back to the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which has set the number and justified by the appointment by Jesus Christ. On the one hand, the Council clarified internal church insecurities, since the number of sacraments varied between just two and up to thirty sacraments up to the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the Council opposed the reformers by Martin Luther, who recognized only baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

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What are the sacraments? A contribution of the series “Catholic for Beginners”.

The theological interpretations of the sacraments, on the other hand, are almost as old as the liturgical acts themselves. The church father Augustine made an important contribution to the understanding, pointing to the sacraments as visible signs of an invisible reality and thus clarifying that a sacrament is more than a mere symbol. It contains divine grace – that is, the loving care of God for man, and even “the whole Christ,” who is the actual agent in the sacraments and who brings grace through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, a sacrament always works through the act performed alone (Latin “ex opere operato”) regardless of the faith or moral character of the donor or recipient.

The outer sign of the sacrament always consists of two parts that can not be separated: matter and form. Matter is the sensory component such as water, oil or the laying on of hands. It is a natural symbol of what the sacrament is supposed to do. Means applied to baptism: Water washes the body of dirt in it as does the baptism of inheritance. The form, on the other hand, consists of fixed words pronounced by the dispenser of the sacrament. For Augustine, the words are the “noblest sign” because they are words of the church and interpret the sensible signs first.

Jesus himself is the original sacrament

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In addition to the seven individual sacraments, Jesus himself is the original sacrament. The name should make it clear that Christ can not be separated from their origin and benefactor. And the church as a whole is a sacrament. An all-encompassing sacrament of salvation and sacrament, which according to the Second Vatican Council is “a sign and a tool for the most intimate union with God as well as for the unity of all humanity” ( Lumen Gentium 1 Constitution ).

Today one usually speaks of the sacraments of real symbols. In them the deeds of God are praised and accepted by the congregation and the individual believer. The sacraments are signs of grace and at the same time their cause, since they themselves effect grace. However, since God is graciously present always and everywhere, receiving a sacrament can not result in “more grace” but only improving one’s personal relationship with God. Sacraments are means of communication that make the grace of God more tangible and strengthen the recipient in faith and in life.