“People cannot be united in any religion, whether it be true or false, unless they are brought together through a common sharing of some visible signs or sacraments; and the power of these sacraments is so effective that scorning them is considered sacrilegious.”
The term “sacrament’ comes from the Latin word sacramentum. In pre-Christian times, a sacramentum was a pledge of money or property which was deposited in a temple as part of a lawsuit or contract. A sacramentum was forfeited when one lost the suit or broke the contract. It later became also an oath of allegiance made by soldiers to their commanding officer and the gods of Rome. In both of these cases, the sacramentum involved a religious ceremony in a sacred space.
Christian writers in the Early Church borrowed the term to talk to their Roman contemporaries about the process of Christian Initiation. These early writers, when describing the ritual of Baptism, referred to it as a sacramentum wherein people began a new life of service to God. By the time of Augustine in the fifth century, any sacred ceremony was referred to as a sacramentum.
Augustine even defined the word as “a sign of sacred reality.” Christian usage of the word became more restricted and by the twelfth century it applied only to the seven church rituals that we today call the seven Sacraments.
Today when you hear about sacraments the
seven sacraments come to mind. Why do we have these
sacraments? The Church clearly gives a purpose of having the
sacraments. "The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify
men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give
worship to God. Because they are signs they also instruct.
They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they
also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are
called 'sacraments of faith.'" (CCC no. 1123) The
sacraments presuppose faith because they are from the Church and
were founded by Christ. The Church's faith was before the
believer coming forth. When the Church celebrates the
sacraments she confesses the faith of the apostles.
"The seven sacraments are the signs and
instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ
the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church,
then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she
signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is
called a "sacrament." (CCC no.
774) Through the seven sacraments, Jesus becomes alive and
active within our lives. As Catholics we celebrate the presence
of Christ in the Word of God, in the observance of sacred
liturgies and rites, in hymns, in religious art and even in one
another. But, nowhere do we celebrate the presence of Christ
among us more completely than in the sacraments.
An efficacious sign of grace, instituted by
Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is
dispensed to us by the work of the Holy Spirit.