Many of us regret things we have done or fail to do, words we have said or thoughts we have harbored, things we are too embarrassed or ashamed to admit. Sometimes these hidden secrets take on much more importance than they deserve, simply because we keep them bottled up and are unable to speak about them. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the opportunity to express our sorrow for things we have done wrong, to heal broken relationships, to forgive ourselves and others, and to open up the channels of communication between ourselves and God.
Confession is above all a place of healing, not a place of judgment or punishment. When we make our confession to a priest in the confidentiality of the confessional or reconciliation room, we experience healing and liberation, discovering again and again how much we are loved by God, how precious we are to Him, and how great is our dignity as His children. Once he has heard our confession, the priest says the words of absolution for our sins:
What the penitent makes known to the priest remains “sealed” because the confidentiality of confession is absolute. Nothing said by the penitent in confession will ever be repeated. This is an experience of mercy and reconciliation, where we can lay down the burdens of guilt and shame that we carry with us. No matter what we think of ourselves or of God, we can still be certain that God forgives us, loves us and wants only to heal us.
Baptism marks the entry of the believer into the Christian community. Along with Confirmation and Eucharist, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation, giving access to the full sacramental life of the Church. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and joined with Christ, sharing in His divinity and destined for eternal life. Baptism leaves us permanently changed, no longer the person we once were, but a new person, dying to death and sin, and rising to new life in Christ.
“We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so too may we live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
The rite consists of pouring water over the head while saying the Trinitarian formula. Anyone can baptize in an emergency, although the usual minister of the sacrament is a priest or deacon. Usually the rite includes anointing the forehead with holy oil to indicate that, even as Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so does the candidate now share in His everlasting life, participating in His glory as a member of His body. The newly baptized then receives a white garment and a candle lit from the paschal candle. Like Christ, who is the light of the world, the newly baptized Christian carries the light of Christ out into the world.
All love comes from God, and all love reflects the love that God has for His creation. The Sacrament of Marriage is, first and foremost, a sign and symbol of this love. Marriage is a sacrament of the self-giving love which two people offer to each other. The love which a couple have for each other mirrors the love God has for men and women.
The minister of the Sacrament of Marriage is the couple themselves. The priest serves as a witness.
The joy and mutual support of married love can be a source of strength which enables married people to serve others in a very powerful way. It should spill out to their children and to those around them and become a source of life, hope and comfort for others. This is reflected in the blessing which the priest often gives the newly-married couples, saying:
“May you always bear witness to the love of God in this world, so that the afflicted and the needy will find in you generous friends and welcome you into the joys of Heaven.”
The Eucharist is the sacrament in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church teaches that Christ is really present in the bread and wine that have been consecrated by the priest at Mass. Although the bread and wine still look and taste like bread and wine, the substance, what is actually there, has changed.
The roots of the Eucharist are in the Jewish Passover meal. This is the meal which commemorates Israel’s delivery from oppression and slavery in Egypt.
As Jesus celebrated the Passover at his last supper with the apostles, He blessed, broke and shared with them bread and wine, declaring that it was His body and blood. He promised that He would truly be with them when they did likewise and shared bread and wine together in memory of Him.
The Mass is the new Passover, with Jesus offering His own body and blood so that we, His present-day followers, might go free. For this reason, as well as being a sacred meal, the Eucharist is also a link with Jesus’ death. When we participate in the Mass together with our fellow believers and receive Him in the Eucharist we take part in the Passover meal which He celebrates now, shedding His blood so that we may be saved.
Anointing of the Sick
Are any among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the Church to pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick ones, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, they will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
Part of Jesus’ ministry was to heal the sick, and He went about curing those who were ill or disabled, showing that suffering and death have no place in the Kingdom of God. By His sacrifice of Himself, He took hold of suffering and death and eliminated their power to separate us from each other or from God. Our faith tells us that, indeed, God suffers with us. Through Jesus’ suffering and death, God joins His suffering to the suffering of human beings. And by doing this, He transforms and gives it a new meaning.
Through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick we are assured that God will raise us up, like Jesus, from our bed of pain and sickness and lead us to eternal life.
Before Jesus was put to death, He promised His followers that He would send His Spirit to comfort and strengthen them. True to His promise, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them on Pentecost, forty days after His resurrection from the dead. The Sacrament of Confirmation is our own Pentecost. When we are confirmed, we receive the Holy Spirit, through the anointing with oil and the laying on of hands by the bishop or a priest appointed by him.
When we receive this sacred seal we show that we belong to God. By their anointing, the prophets, kings and priests of the Old Testament were elevated to a special position in their service of God. So it is with us when we receive the holy oil on our foreheads; we become part of the priesthood of all believers, witnesses to Christ and heirs to His throne.
As people of God, we all share in the priesthood of Christ, and so the Church speaks meaningfully of “the priesthood of all believers.” Each of us is to exercise our priesthood by strengthening and serving one another. Within the Church there are many means of service. One way of service stands out as a sacrament, namely Holy Orders, which ordains the recipient to the office of bishop, priest or deacon.
The priest’s special calling is first and foremost to preach the Good News of God’s love and humanity. In offering himself as a candidate for the priesthood, he must give evidence of wisdom and spiritual maturity, as he is called to lead the Christian community with patience and kindness. The priest celebrates Mass and administers the Sacraments, taking an active role in offering Christ’s gift of Himself.
From earliest times, deacons have had a special place in the pastoral work of the Church, preaching, ministering at baptisms and weddings, and caring for the poor and hungry on behalf of the whole Church. Nowadays, married men are more and more frequently ordained to the diaconate, where they have a strong role in assisting priests and bishops and serving the people.
Finally, bishops are chosen and ordained to supervise and lead priests and deacons, to unify, bless and teach the people and act as a sign of Christ in the local church and community.