In this series, a significant number of installments have been devoted to the seven sacraments – treating their origins, purpose, administering and proper reception. Additionally, some contemporary questions pertaining to the sacraments were discussed to further show their true meaning and purpose. In giving a summary to the place of the sacraments in the lives of Catholics, one word covers the multitude of layers: relationship.
Recall the definition of a sacrament according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1131: “Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” While not explicit, this definition presents sacraments as gifts of God’s own life that aid us now by His dwelling within us and which draw us toward dwelling in Him for all eternity. As the sacraments are “instituted by Christ,” they have their foundation in His very life and all that He Himself did and does – especially in His offering of Himself on our behalf in death on the cross, through His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. Simply put: the sacraments are gifts of God that give us a share in the life of Jesus Christ now and unto eternity – a life that has destroyed the power of death and offers eternal life to all who accept them in faith.
In addition, in summarizing the sacraments we need to acknowledge again the very way in which they are effective: through perceivable things. Just as God willed to become visible in the person of Jesus in taking on human flesh, so God has the power to use other perceivable “creatures,” such as water, bread, wine, etc., to become present among us and in us. Such use of natural things (or the “matter” of each sacrament) make the sacraments “efficacious signs,” within which the very grace of God is communicated to us through the specific ritual of each sacramental liturgy (called the “form” of the sacrament). God wills to give Himself in these ways so that you and I, who are a union of body and soul, can receive His life that He desires for us in and through the senses of our bodies for the good of our eternal salvation. The rituals that make present His divine life in the created things work according to their being done as God and the Church intends – thus making God’s life readily available to all who open themselves to receive it.
These truths of the foundation and working of the sacraments as the giving of God’s life to us invite a relationship. Indeed, God in His very nature as love willingly offers us a sharing in His divine life in ways that you and I can readily perceive and receive. As true gifts of God’s love, our call then is to humbly receive them and respond to them in love – by giving ourselves to Him in return through thanksgiving and in remaining faithful to the life He has given to us. Yes, ours is a call to be in relationship with God, not by passively receiving from Him as though these gifts were owed to us or as if our place is to wait on the Lord to work. Rather, we are called (as exemplified by the saints and especially the Virgin Mary) to open ourselves to God’s love for us, receiving His gifts with readiness to respond, offering ourselves to Him in return according to who he has made us to be, living our lives fully for Him. In this way, the sacraments take on a significance of first being God’s grace given to us to restore us, to strengthen us, to sustain us, and to grant us His life to live faithfully our particular vocations in life, calling us to love God through humble acceptance and reception of his gifts, that we would be drawn into the life of the Trinity in eternal communion.
As we conclude this section on the sacraments, therefore, might we always keep in mind the example of the Virgin Mary, who humbly received from the Lord and perfectly responded to His gifts – living out the perfect relationship of love to which all are called.