The seven sacraments are all actions of the Christian community which Jesus himself uses to touch us in specific ways. They are the visible signs of Jesus’ invisible working among us. They are not the only way he works, but they are the main ones.
Any human community needs seven basic rituals to survive, especially once it spreads and gathers momentum:
- A rite of welcome, drawing someone into the community.
- A rite of full membership, commissioning a person to take full responsibility.
- A rite of coming together, especially at a meal where we share our lives together.
- A rite to heal divisions and overcome weakness.
- A rite coping with serious sickness.
- A rite integrating love and family into the community.
- A rite commissioning people for a gathering, guiding and leadership role.
Jesus himself does all these things in his Church through the sacramental rites of the Church. It is important to see the sacraments as the ‘mediated immediacy’ of Jesus himself, coming to meet us, reaching out to us and touching us in various ways. Without this idea of Jesus ministering to us through visible signs, the Catholic view of Baptism, Confirmation, Mass, Reconciliation (or Confession), Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders, makes no sense, and just seems like imposing institutional ceremonies on people.
A sacrament is all about Jesus himself coming into our lives and touching us in a very personal way, but in a way suited to us as human beings.
As in any personal relationship, such signs do not work like magic. Jesus guarantees his presence in each sacrament; if we are to grow closer to him, then we must respond with love.