The Seven Sacramental Mysteries
The saving and sanctifying action of the Church is accomplished in seven Holy Mysteries. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist, Repentance, Holy Anointing, Marriage, and Orders. Through these sacred actions of the Church, Christ grants the grace of the Holy Spirit. Through these Mysteries the Church sanctifies the faithful on their journey to the fullness of life in Christ. Through visible signs (e.g., water, chrism, bread and wine, the laying on of hands) Christ builds up his Church in the Holy Mysteries. In the liturgical actions of the Mysteries it is God’s grace that acts, and believers enter into God’s life. By participating in the visible form of a Mystery, that is, through the liturgical action, we become partakers of God’s salvific action of grace. The external form of the rite and its material expressions are vital as they signify our deification and manifest the first fruits of transfigured nature.
Baptism is the first Mystery that a person needs to receive in order to enter the Church, the ark of salvation. It is the means by which one becomes a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. “Whence is it that we are Christians? Through our faith would be the universal answer. And in what way are we saved? Plainly because we were regenerated through the grace given in our baptism.”
Baptism unlocks the access to the other Holy Mysteries and sacred rites in the Church through which the Lord sanctifies, vivifies, and leads his Church as a whole and each believer in particular. This is why the baptized already become “heirs of the kingdom” and receive the “blessedness of the saints.”
As the Paschal mystery of Christ finds its completion in the sending of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, so our rebirth in Christ is sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Chrismation is the seal of the gift that we received in Baptism. It manifests that every baptized person receives the coming of the Holy Spirit, as did the apostles at Pentecost. This anointing by the Holy Spirit indicates that every Christian is born to new life in Christ and becomes a child of the Father in order to take part in the royal, priestly, and prophetic ministry of Christ for the salvation of the world.
The Mystery of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the third of the Mysteries of Christian initiation. In the Eucharist the newly baptized, who was born in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, receives the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ at the holy Eucharistic table. But unlike Baptism and Chrismation, which we receive only once, we receive the Mystery of the Eucharist throughout our lives, since it is through this Mystery that we grow in the grace received in Baptism and Chrismation—the grace to be sons and daughters of God.
For this reason our Church offers Communion to the newly baptized. In the Mystery of Holy Communion, Christ gives us his very self, his Body and Blood, as nourishment for our growth in the new life. At the Mystical Supper (Last Supper) Christ offered himself for us so that we might be able to offer our lives for our neighbour, as he offered his life (see Jn 13:34). Receiving Communion in the Lord’s Body and Blood, we receive a pledge of life eternal: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” ( Jn 6:54). Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we already have eternal life, the fullness of which will be revealed in the glorious second coming of Christ. “For since he bestowed on us his own image and his own spirit and we did not guard them, he took himself a share in our poor and weak nature, in order that he might cleanse us and make us incorruptible, and establish us once more as partakers of his divinity.”
Reconciliation (Repentance or Confession)
The Holy Mystery of Repentance (or Confession) is a marvellous manifestation of God’s love and mercy towards us sinners. This is because the Lord does not reject us and does not turn away from us when we, having been washed of our sins in Baptism and endowed with divine grace, sin again through malice or weakness. Indeed, the Lord awaits our repentance. He forgives us if we repent and confess our sins (see Lk 15:12-32).
In the celebration of the Holy Mystery of Repentance, the Church actualizes the words of the Lord to the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). Every priest continues the apostolic ministry in the Mystery of Repentance when he absolves the faithful of their sins and reconciles them with the Church. The priest pronounces the prayer of absolution (the loosing from the bondage of sin) and every penitent thereby receives Christ’s forgiveness.
The Mystery of Holy Anointing, received at the time of suffering and illness, is celebrated in order to strengthen our faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death. In Holy Anointing, God grants the grace to renew a person’s inner wholeness—their healing and further spiritual growth. The apostle Paul teaches that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). Therefore our suffering and illness can have great spiritual value: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
The Mystery of Holy Anointing is performed collegially, by the prayer of the whole Church, for the healing of soul and body. Its purpose is to strengthen trust in God and bestow forgiveness of sins as well as physical recovery. This is why the Mystery is administered to the sick and not only to the dying. By the power of the grace of the Mystery of Holy Anointing, the sick person becomes capable of seeing their illness in the light of Divine Providence and receives the strength to bear their illness and overcome it. By changing his or her attitude toward the illness, the afflicted person joins their own suffering to the salvific sufferings of Christ.
In the Mystery of Holy Anointing, by the prayer of the Church, the sick person receives forgiveness of sins. This Mystery, however, does not replace the Mystery of Confession. Nonetheless, if the one anointed repents but for some reason does not have an opportunity to approach the Mystery of Confession, they receive forgiveness of sins. The Church teaches that the Mystery of Holy Anointing grants spiritual healing, even if physical recovery does not accompany it.
In the Holy Mystery of Marriage, the Church blesses a man and woman called by Christ to create a Christian family.
In the Church, the marriage union is a Holy Mystery in which the man and woman manifest the new life in Christ. A Christian marriage is not only a natural relationship, a shared life and experience; it is an occasion of sanctification. Marriage is a Holy Mystery (Sacrament) in which by the grace of the Holy Spirit a man and a woman are united into one body and create a domestic church. The family union created by marriage is a community of persons which, according to God’s plan, is an icon of the relationship of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
“By you, O God, a woman is joined to man as a helpmate and for the continuance of the human race … you blessed them, saying: ‘increase and multiply and rule the earth.’ Through wedlock you made the two of them one body.”
The priesthood of Christ is the actualization in the Church of Christ’s mediation and intercession through persons chosen by God. In the Mystery of Holy Orders, the sacred ministers receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to exercise Christ’s priesthood in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries and pastoral service. In all of the sacred minister’s service “it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock … Teacher of Truth.”
But pre-eminently in the Eucharistic offering, the sacred minister acts in the name of Christ, the Supreme and Eternal High Priest. The sacred minister also acts “in the name of the whole Church presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.”