Very often our fondest memories of growing up Catholic revolve around sacraments. We remember First Communion day processing into church with all of our friends, the splash of water during the Baptism of a child, the hand of our sponsor on our shoulder, as we are Confirmed and tears at a wedding or funeral Mass. Sacraments are at the heart of the Catholic way of life. A sacrament is a sacred sign by which we worship God, his love is revealed to us. His saving work accomplished in us. In the sacraments God shows us what he does and does what he shows us. Simply put the sacraments are signs or symbols of God's love and presence enriching our faith.
The word sacrament comes from the Latin "sacramentum", meaning "an oath of allegiance, a pledge." The sacraments are a "pledge" of our faith and of our salvation. When we celebrate the sacraments worthily and in faith, we believe that what we celebrate takes place. The sacraments are "effective signs of grace." They make present the Paschal mystery of Christ and allow us to share in it. They are signs of, and give expression to, our faith. This is what the Church means when it describes the sacraments:
"They are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the church, by which divine life is dispensed to us."
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1131
The Church, over the centuries, has come to name seven celebrations of the liturgy to be sacraments. They are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. These sacraments are the first and fundamental prayer of the Church by which we are joined to Christ in his prayer to the Father. The preparation for sacraments is extremely important for our life-long formation in Christian life.
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