Overview of the Sacraments

I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.

The sacraments are rites in which Jesus imparts blessing to those who participate with faith. I should note that God blesses us in many ways, not just through sacraments. Thus, the Church has sacraments, but the Church lifeof Christians is not fundamentally sacramental.

The sacraments from the Bible...

The Sacraments were instituted by Jesus.

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

Those doing the binding and loosing were, at first, the apostles; later, the elders and bishops; today, the various Church leaders.

The idea that whatever the elder, pastor, or ministerbinds on earth, God binds in heaven, is not hard to understand or to believe. After all, God witnesses the sacrament and he knows the disposition of the person. Jesus wishes for people to intercede for others, and this intercession is effective such that actual grace is imparted.

The same goes for sacramentals, for example, blessing water, Rosary beads, a crucifix, or a church or home. God sees the person bless the water and knows that the water has been blessed. Then when someone dips their finger in the water and crosses themselves with it in memory of their baptism, God blesses them based on their disposition and faith.

This also explains why unholy people can act on behalf of God. It is not their power that provides the blessing, but God's power. If God refused to bless people because the person blessing was unholy, then God would be limited in his blessing. But God wishes to bless us.

For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue [power] had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. (Mark 5:28-30,34)

We see in this passage the key ingredients of sacraments and sacramentals...

  1. Jesus never specifically taught that touching his clothes would result in healing. Perhaps people came to believe this worked because it happened to someone before, so it became a tradition. God honors our human traditions even though they are totally arbitrary.
  2. Power flowed from Jesus to the woman resulting in her healing. In sacraments and sacramentals, actual spiritual power and grace is imparted from God to us.
  3. Her faith in the power of Jesus' to heal her, combined with her performing the physical act, resulted in her receiving. Note that the physical act of touching his clothes was required — she would not have been healed otherwise.
  4. If the woman had believed that interacting with Jesus in some other way would cause her healing, then Jesus would have used that. There is a certain arbitrariness to the physical components of sacraments and sacramentals.

Baptism

Certainly Jesus taught baptism; that those who receive the word of God are to enter into the Church via baptism and that, as a result, their sins are forgiven.

Christian baptism is based on the baptism for the repentance of sins by John the Baptist. Although we are no longer required to be baptized into John's baptism, we must still repent from our sins as a prerequisite to baptism.

The assumption of all this is that people who join the Church via baptism have truly repented of their sins and truly have saving faith. Without these ingredients, baptism is useless.

The apostolic church did not consider the situation of a person who was baptized without faith, or who apostatized after baptism; about whether or not they needed to be baptized again to join the church after a subsequent conversion. After a few generations they concluded that re-baptism was not needed, nor was it proper, because the grace of the original baptism was permanent. I have no opinion one way or another about this. Certainly, God remembers that we were baptized the first time and can apply saving grace to those who have reconverted. And I doubt if God will be offended or annoyed if these people are re-baptized. I also have no opinion about infant baptism; certainly God can apply the grace of baptism to a person who later comes to faith.


Confirmation

This is nothing more than the laying on of hands performed during baptism. I shall not discuss it further.


Reconciliation / Penance / Confession

The Catholic sacrament has no biblical or historical basis. The only hint of anything like it in the early church fathers is mention that we are to confess our sins during mass. This was probably performed in a group in which everyone recited a prayer of confession much as is done in mass today.

That being said, I think God honors sacramental confession just as he honored the woman touching his garment. But sadly, I often hear priests mentioning things that they heard in the confessional which they are supposed to keep a secret.


Eucharist

Jesus established the sacrament of the Eucharistand it was continued by the apostles from the very beginning of the Church.

The Eucharist is a sacrifice. It is the representation of Christ's sacrifice at Calvary.


Holy Orders

Jesus ordained the 12 apostles.Certainly their ordination was irreversible and was for the purpose of building up the Church and ministering to Christians and to the world. But note the assumption that they be holy, orthodox in their teaching, righteous, just, and truly dedicated to the Lord and his redeemed. Without these key ingredients ordination means nothing, as demonstrated by Judas who fell away and had to be replaced.

The apostles ordained bishopsand this practice continued on throughout church history, from generation to generation. But notice from this passage in Titus that bishops must be spiritually qualified, holy men, good teachers of the true faith.

Sadly, over time, the Church began to disregard the need for bishops to be qualified as a condition of their ordination and some of the heresies were promoted by bishops. And bishops became political rulers rather than spiritual, religious shepherds.

Bishops were originally intended to teach and defend the true faith. Nowadays they seem to think they can teach whatever they want and claim that these teachings were taught by Jesus and passed-down from Jesus. They claim this even when they teach things never intended by Jesus and never taught by Jesus. They claim to have received the teaching authority of Christ which was passed along in a continuous line of succession.


Marriage

It is wrong to say that Jesus established the sacrament of marriage or that there even is such a sacrament at all. Marriage was instituted in the book of Genesisand Jesus confirms this.


Anointing of the Sick (Last Rites / Extreme Unction)

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders 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, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14,15)

What good is the sacrament used for preparing someone for death if their sins are not forgiven? God honors this sacrament because he wishes to bless people.

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)

Notice that the Church has the power to forgive sins in Jesus' name. Of course, it is not the elders who are forgiving the sins, it is Jesus. He is merely honoring their request to forgive the sins. And Jesus will not forgive unrepented sins so the person being prayed over must be truly repentant. I suspect that people on their deathbed are more likely to have a proper disposition of heart than others — all their excuses of why they can wait to deal with the moral issues have run out.