Category Archives: Sacraments: ST. III 66-90 and Supp

Sacraments of Healing

Just as Baptism causes a spiritual cleansing from spiritual stains by means of a bodily washing, so this sacrament causes an inward healing by means of an outward sacramental healing: and even as the baptismal washing has the effect of a bodily washing, since it effects even a bodily cleansing, so too, Extreme Unction has the effect of a bodily remedy, namely a healing of the body. (ST. Supp, q. 30, a. 2)

Both penance and extreme unction are sacraments of healing.  As a human, we are body and soul, and although it is our soul that is the form of the body, and thus its state is of more eternal importance, nevertheless Christ, in the gift of His Sacraments, cares for the whole man.

Private penance begins (500-1000 A.D)


Private Penance developed as a result of monasticism and the relationship between religious and their confessor and spiritual director, who were generally the same person.  Thus, often, spiritual direction would begin with a confessing of sins, and likewise, spiritual direction given would obviously include guidance on avoidance of those faults confessed.

Today, there are mixed opinions about whether one should have the same person as spiritual director and confessor, but the two are certainly well suited to each other, since growing in holiness cannot but include our turning away from our sins and towards the Lord.

Jesus calls to conversion: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”…It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life. (CCC 1427)

Unlike the angels, our decision to serve or not serve our God is not a momentary and once for all event.  As creatures subject to time, our conversion is continual.  We fall and we repent.  We certainly do not want this to become a rote habit where we see forgiveness as something mechanical to be repeatedly obtained after sinning freely, but we also do not despair when we fall yet again, for God is merciful.  We do what we can, and pray for God to make up for what we cannot, praying most especially for the grace of final perseverance.


Parts of the Sacrament of Penance

The first necessity of the sacrament is contrition. As Isidore defined it, “Contrition is a tearful sorrow and humility of mind, arising from remembrance of sin and fear of the Judgment.” In other words, we must recognize that we have done contrary to the will of God, and must overcome our pride and wish to render the honor to God that we refused in sinning.

Once we are contrite, we confess our sin.  We always confess to God, but the normal mode instituted by Christ Himself is the Sacrament of Penance, especially for mortal sins.  Here, we confess our sins to a priest of Christ, ordained in the Church He founded.

We are then given a penance, normally, and we agree to carry it out.  This Satisfaction may include retribution to those we have harmed, and prayer as well.  Besides any repaying of those we may have harmed, the penance is not so much for us to repay a debt as it is a medicine for our soul, that we may be turned back to God and trust in doing His will.

Anointing of the Sick

Mark 6:13 and James 5:14-15.

“And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13) Jesus has just sent out the apostles, in twos, to preach the kingdom.  We see here that He has given them a participation in His authority (we will see this even more clearly in Jesus’ words in Matt 28) to be conveyors of His grace.  The casting out of devils and the healing with oil shows both the spiritual and physical care that God has for His people, and the oil demonstrates that Christ, Himself incarnate, of course, uses material means as instruments of grace because we are not merely spiritual but corporeal beings as well.

James tells us that this ministry and sacrament has not ceased with the Ascension of Christ, but continues through His Church. “Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15)


The fruits of this sacrament (CCC 1520-1523).

When we are sick or in old age, we often face grave temptations against the faith.  Even the greatest of saints have often faced temptations against the faith itself as they neared death. In fact, God allows these trials, but He always gives the grace to grow by them.

As the Catechism says, “The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death.” (CCC 1520)

“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24) says Paul. And further, we are “joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” (Rom 8:17)

Sometimes we are truly called upon to suffer with and for Christ, and we can merit for ourselves and even for others when we do so willingly.  The Sacrament of Extreme Unction is a great gift in the grace it gives in such times.

The Eucharist (Feast of Corpus Christi update)

CCC 1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.””The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”

The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread. (1 Cor 10:16-17)

The Eucharist considered as a Passover, the matters used in the Eucharist, and the meaning of wheat bread and of grape wine

The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Passover.  Christ is our paschal lamb, and He is the one sacrifice that is acceptable to the Father. He is perfect man, and offered Himself in perfect love, and now makes intercession for us to the Father in Heaven, “For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech…Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.” (Heb 7:17, 25)

At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . .” “He took the cup filled with wine. . . .” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” – gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering. (CCC 1333)

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The necessity of wheaten bread is deduced immediately from the words of Institution: “The Lord took bread” (ton arton), in connection with which it may be remarked, that in Scripture bread (artos), without any qualifying addition, always signifies wheaten bread.” (

We see St. Ignatius of Antioch, at the beginning of the second century and on the way to his martyrdom, use this vivid imagery:

“I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” (Epistle to the Romans)

In speaking of the wine to be used, St. Thomas says

This sacrament can only be performed with wine from the grape. First of all on account of Christ’s institution, since He instituted this sacrament in wine from the grape, as is evident from His own words, in instituting this sacrament (Matthew 26:29): “I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine.” (ST III, Q. 74)

We see the connection between the wine and the blood throughout Scripture.  A few examples shall suffice:

“Tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass, O my son, to the vine. He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape.” (Gen 49:11)

“I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel.” (Isaiah 63:3)

And the angel thrust in his sharp sickle into the earth, and gathered the vineyard of the earth, and cast it into the great press of the wrath of God: And the press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a thousand and six hundred furlongs. (Rev 14:19-20)

Thanks be to God for the most precious gift of His Body and Blood, which unites us in our created and earthly state to our Lord in Heaven, who takes common things and raises them up, as He takes fallen man and offers him divine and eternal life.

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.”

The Eucharist as a sacrifice in the Council of Trent and in Vatican II and the Real Presence

The Eucharist is called The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used,150 since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. (CCC 1330)

“…the celebration of this sacrament is called Christ’s sacrifice. Hence it is that Ambrose, in commenting on Hebrews 10:1, says: “In Christ was offered up a sacrifice capable of giving eternal salvation; what then do we do? Do we not offer it up every day in memory of His death?” Secondly it is called a sacrifice, in respect of the effect of His Passion: because, to wit, by this sacrament, we are made partakers of the fruit of our Lord’s Passion.” (ST III, Q.83)

A priest is only a priest if He offers sacrifice.  And there is only an altar if there is a sacrifice to be offered.  Our High priest is Christ, who “offered Himself once” on the altar of the Cross, yet continually offers this same Sacrifice as in intercession for us (“Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.” Heb 7:25) In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us “If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift” (Matt 5:23-24).

There is to be an altar, and to be a Sacrifice, offered forever (see also Malachi 1:11) to God.  This Sacrifice, pleasing to God, can only be the one Sacrifice of Jesus Himself.  As Johannes H. Emminghaus says well in his book The Eucharist, “Time is, after all, only relative; that is, it is simply a quality of our created order (according to place and time) existing in the succession of events. God’s action transcends and surpasses time.  In the ritual symbol, therefore, Christ’s action is really and continually present” (pg. xvii, introduction).

Christ is truly present, in a unique and substantial way, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  His once for all Sacrifice is constantly offered on behalf of His creatures who live in time. He is the Bread of Life, and whoever eats His Body and Drinks His Blood has Zoe, that is, divine life.  It is thus that we become “partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4)” and come to eternal life.

The Councils and the Magisterium reaffirm His real and substantial presence in the Eucharist:

First of all, the holy council teaches and openly and plainly professes that after the consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist…For there is no repugnance in this that our Savior sits always at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to the natural mode of existing, and yet is in many other places sacramentally present to us in His own substance by a manner of existence which, though we can scarcely express in words, yet with our understanding illumined by faith, we can conceive and ought most firmly to believe is possible to God. (Trent, Session XIII)

In these words are highlighted both the sacrifice, which pertains to the essence of the Mass which is celebrated daily, and the sacrament in which the faithful participate in Holy Communion by eating the Flesh of Christ and drinking His Blood, receiving both grace, the beginning of eternal life, and the medicine of immortality. According to the words of Our Lord: “The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Mysterium Fidei)

“Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

So much is left unsaid in this brief treatment of the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but I pray you will wait patiently with me until I can treat of it more deeply…

On second thought, I do not pray you wait patiently but, rather, seek to learn on your own; there are great books and many Scriptures that can build our understanding of the Eucharist, but I recommend above all else that you present yourself to the Lord in Eucharistic adoration and ask Him, who is our one Master, our one Teacher.

Go to our Lord

This is a traditional English translation of the “Pange Lingua” written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Pange Lingua

Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty. Amen.


Acts 10:38 “I take it you know what has been reported all over Judea about Jesus of Nazareth, beginning in Galilee with the baptism John Preached, of the way God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing.”

The sacrament of confirmation presupposes the mark of baptism, and cannot be given without it. The character of Confirmation, of necessity supposes the baptismal character: so that, in effect, if one who is not baptized were to be confirmed, he would receive nothing, but would have to be confirmed again after receiving Baptism. (ST III, 72)

Confirmation makes us soldiers of God.  It has been variously designated a making fast or sure, a perfecting or completing, as it expresses its relation to baptism.It is, after baptism, the next Sacrament of Initiation.  But what does it do?  Again, we listen to St. Thomas:

“Now it has been said above (1; 65, 1) that, just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration unto Christian life, so also is Confirmation a certain spiritual growth bringing man to perfect spiritual age. But it is evident, from a comparison with the life of the body, that the action which is proper to man immediately after birth, is different from the action which is proper to him when he has come to perfect age. And therefore by the sacrament of Confirmation man is given a spiritual power in respect of sacred actions other than those in respect of which he receives power in Baptism. For in Baptism he receives power to do those things which pertain to his own salvation, forasmuch as he lives to himself: whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (Summa III, Q.72)

“There has been much discussion among theologians as to what constitutes the essential matter of this sacrament. Some, e.g. Aureolus and Petavius, held that it consists in the imposition of hands. Others, with St. Thomas, Bellarmine, and Maldonatus, maintain that it is the anointing with chrism.” ( However, both are always present when the sacrament is given. Only the bishop may consecrate the oil, and it is preferred that it always be the bishop that administers the sacrament itself, because it symbolizes communion with fullness of apostolic ministry and origins of the Church.

St. Thomas, quoting the letter of an early pope in the Summa Theologica,  puts it as straight forward as possible:

Pope Eusebius says: “The sacrament of the imposition of the hand should be held in great veneration, and can be given by none but the high priests. Nor is it related or known to have been conferred in apostolic times by others than the apostles themselves; nor can it ever be either licitly or validly performed by others than those who stand in their place. And if anyone presume to do otherwise, it must be considered null and void; nor will such a thing ever be counted among the sacraments of the Church.” Therefore it is essential to this sacrament, which is called “the sacrament of the imposition of the hand,” that it be given by a bishop.(Summa III, Q.72)

Besides sanctifying grace, the sacrament also confers the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These are, according to Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.(CCC 1831)


Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.(CCC 1275)

In the next few posts, I intend to make a few brief remarks about the Sacraments of initiation.  At a later date, I will, of course, expand greatly upon these, Biblically and historically, and, God willing, we will explore the Summa Theologica, Part III as it deals with the Sacraments in depth, much as we are currently doing with the Incarnation.


“Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.”

It is clear from Scripture that it is Christ Himself who instituted baptism, although exactly when is disputed. In the third part of his Summa, Question 66, article 2, Thomas Aquinas tells us that:

“Sacraments derive from their institution the power of conferring grace. Wherefore it seems that a sacrament is then instituted, when it receives the power of producing its effect. Now Baptism received this power when Christ was baptized. Consequently Baptism was truly instituted then, if we consider it as a sacrament. But the obligation of receiving this sacrament was proclaimed to mankind after the Passion and Resurrection.”

Thus Christ tells us in Mark 16:16 that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Furthermore, he instructs the disciples, saying “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)

But baptism, like any sacrament, binds us, but not God.  Therefore, He can certainly save those that are not baptized.  I offer here a few examples from the Catechism.  However, this in no way implies that salvation is “universal” and somehow conferred on all.

CCC 1258-1259: The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

Nevertheless, the normal way to enter the Church is through baptism, the first sacrament of initiation. Is immersion necessary for a proper baptism?  Again, Thomas tells us:

“Although it is safer to baptize by immersion, because this is the more ordinary fashion, yet Baptism can be conferred by sprinkling or also by pouring, according to Ezekiel 36:25: “I will pour upon you clean water.” (III, Q.66)

One of the earliest Christian documents we have, after those of the New Testament itself, is the Didache. In chapter seven of this short work, it tells us, concerning baptism:

“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”

What, then, is the importance of water?  It symbolizes many things, one being a washing from sin. But more primarily, it is a symbol of death, as in the flood, or the parting of the Red Sea, when wickedness was destroyed.  Paul tells us in Romans 6 what happens in baptism:

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

Sacraments, Sacramentals, and the Sacramental Economy

1.  Some objections and answers that might clarify the Sacraments

A sacrament is “a sign that effects what it signifies, instituted by Christ to give grace.” As the Catechism puts it, in paragraph 1131, “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.”

If a sacrament is a sign, something that “signifies,” then fundamentalism is already concerned here, for it seems that man is making an image, bringing down the spiritual into the material, and already approaching making an idol for himself. (Never mind here that God Himself, in becoming Incarnate, has already made this real with His own authority).  Rejection of the Sacraments is often an implicit (though certainly denied) rejection of the Incarnation; denial of the Sacraments demonstrates a mind that has trouble really believing that God can use matter in a sanctified way.

Now, we also see that Sacraments effect what they signify; that they confer grace.  Here, we encounter, of course, the same objection: using matter for spiritual purposes.  But this goes further.  Grace, for the fundamentalist, is merely the favor of God imputed to the Elect.  It has no intrinsic effect, in the sense of imparted righteousness as Catholics understand it, and further, it is a once for all imputation by Christ, and thus cannot be “quantified,” as they would claim Catholics must understand it.  Grace, received and lived “over time,” can have little meaning in a theology of salvation by faith alone, and certainly not within the mainstream fundamentalist belief of eternal security.

Yet according to Aquinas, since God is the author of history, historical events can signify as well as effect. For example, the parting of the Red Sea both effected salvation from Egypt for Israel and also signified salvation from sin and death through Christ. Fundamentalists resist symbolism in considering historical events, and resist “real presence” and effects when considering sacramental signs. “This is my body” they interpret as wholly symbolic, merely symbolic; yet most of the rest of Scripture they see as not symbolic at all.

Fundamentalists may agree that the Sacraments were instituted by Christ, but they usually limit these to two; the Eucharist and Baptism.  Of course, these are not understood in the same way as Catholicism understands them, as they are merely “done in obedience” to Christ by an “already completely justified person.” For them, they are an effect of “being saved,” but not a cause.

Most importantly, however, the Sacraments seem to be an introduction of Pagan ritual back into the Church.  Equating ritual with paganism and magic, they believe all ritual,  as far as religion goes, to be contrary to the “simple Gospel.”


2. – Ex opere Operato and the validity of the sacraments.


The sacraments produce grace of themselves, apart and distinct from the person conferring the sacrament. The phrase means “from the work done,” and distinguishes it from the “worker doing.” Although the phrase wasn’t widely used until the medieval period, its concept was well established by such controversies as Augustine’s rebuttal of the Donatist heresy.

The Eucharist, for example, consecrated by an ordained priest who is in the state of mortal sin, is not invalidated for that reason.  Certainly, the state of the minister has effects upon him, but the objective character of the Sacrament itself remains.  As Christ is the power and minister behind all the Sacraments, the Sacrament itself, if validly conferred, as far as the form and the matter, is valid.

A separate but important issue is whether or not the reception of the Sacrament is licit. Certain Sacraments, for example, presuppose the prior reception of others. One must be in a state of grace to receive the “living” Sacraments, that is, those besides baptism and confession.  The Eucharist, received in the state of mortal sin, would be valid, yet received illicitly, and in this case is also a sacrilege.

For a Sacrament to be valid, there are five conditions that must be met. There must be a valid minister, a valid recipient, and a proper intention.  Further, the form and the matter, particular to the Sacrament, must be correct.

The validity of the minister depends upon the Sacrament.  For most Sacraments, an ordained minister is required.  This is usually the Bishop, or a priest he has conferred this validity to.  Some Sacraments, such as baptism in an emergency, can be performed by a layperson, even a non-believer.

The recipient of the Sacrament depends on each Sacrament in particular.  By way of example, for any Sacrament besides baptism, baptism is a prerequisite. Marriage must be between two freely consenting baptized couples of opposite gender and not already married or divorced.

The minister of the Sacrament must intend the Sacrament as the Church intends it.  For example, when two people get married, they must truly intend a union for life, open to children, and faithful to one another. To not do so would invalidate the Sacrament.  In this example, we see that an annulment is sometimes given when it is recognized that a valid marriage never took place.

Valid form and matter are particular to each Sacrament, as established by the Church.  For instance, using grape juice and the words “This represents My Blood” would be both invalid matter (grape juice) and form (wrong words of consecration).

3. – Sacraments and Sacramentals


The Sacraments, numbering seven, were instituted by Christ, either explicitly or implicitly.  The Eucharist, for example, was clearly and explicitly implemented at the Last Supper. “This is My Body, do this in memory of me.”  Likewise, Jesus tells us that one must be “born of water and the Spirit,” a clear institution of Baptism.

Concerning Confirmation, for example, St. Thomas tells us:

And therefore we must hold that Christ instituted this sacrament, not by showing it but by promising it, according to the text, “If I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” And this because in this sacrament the fullness of the Holy Ghost is given, which was not to be given before Christ’s resurrection and ascension, according to the text, “As yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Summa Theologica III.72.1).

The New Catholic Encyclopedia remarks that this implies an implicit institution of the Sacrament, as understood by St. Thomas. There is no explicit institution that we saw in the examples above of Baptism and the Eucharist, yet it is not simply something the Church, in her authority derived from Christ, instituted on her own.

The sacramentals, by contrast, are instituted by the Church, and not directly by Christ.  By the power and authority given by Christ, Who is the same source of grace, the sacramentals dispose men to receive the benefits of the Sacraments. More will be said of them in section 4.

The Sacraments, defined explicitly as the seven we have today, were defined at the Council of Trent. They were defined as having been all instituted by Christ. This was made explicit by the Council in Session VII:


CANON I.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Sacramental rites are dependent on the Church which established them, and which therefore has the right to maintain, develop, modify, or abrogate them. After Peter Lombard the use and definition of the word “sacramental” had a fixed character and was exclusively applicable to those rites presenting an external resemblance to the sacraments but not applicable to the sensible signs of Divine institution. These include such things as blessed salt, medals and scapulars.  We see evidence very early of their use.  Blessed salt is likely referred to by Augustine:

Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with His salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in You.
                                                                                    -St. Augustine, Confessions


4. – The nature and purpose of the sacramentals.

The sacramentals, as mentioned briefly in section 2, are sacred signs bearing a resemblance to the Sacraments proper.  They were not directly instituted by Christ, but by the authority He has given the Church as intercessor, to dispose men to receive the benefits of the Sacraments.

Many of the Sacraments are received but once, while others, most importantly the Eucharist and confession, can and should be received often. However, the Christian life is such that every moment and, if possible, all things should be used for sanctification.  It is here that the Church’s use of sacramentals is important for the Christian life.

The sacramentals are many and varied, always geared towards the sanctification of those who receive and/or use them.  “They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism).”(CCC 1668)

The Catechism continues: “Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” (CCC 1670) Again, they are not Sacraments instituted by Christ, but it is from the same wellspring of grace that their power flows.

Grace is certainly conferred really and truly in the reception of the Sacraments, but grace is not limited to them.  God offers His grace in many ways.  It is actual grace that leads one to want to seek God in the first place, even before conversion.  And at conversion, grace is likewise received.  “The [Sacraments and] sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” (CCC 1670)