Sacraments of the Catholic Church

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The most important Christian and Catholic religious practices are the seven sacraments: 1) baptism; 2) Eucharist (communion); 3) confirmation; 4) penance and confession; 5) marriage; 6) unction (anointing the sick); and 7) holy orders (by which laymen are raised for the priesthood). These sacraments are still recognized by the Catholic Church (and mostly by the Orthodox church) but have been rejected, with the exception of baptism and communion, by the Protestant church. There are other sacraments in the Orthodox church but these are not regarded as important as the seven previously mentioned ones.

Baptism and Eucharist are the central rituals of Christianity and churches were established in part to conduct them. Baptism is something that is performed once and lasts for life. Eucharist is something repeated by the community as a whole as a means of bonding a community and reaffirming their faith.

The three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist are regarded as necessary to complete the Christian initiation. Baptism makes the believer a son of God and washes away original sin while Confirmations invests him with the Holy Spirit. In the old days they were received together during a single ceremony, often performed around Easter and was seen as the introduction of a “neophyte” into the “divine” mysteries of the church.

All the sacraments are carried out so they ascribe to the concept of an individual as being part of a community rather than something onto himself or herself. The church itself is regarded as a source of sanctification and blessing for all aspects of life. In the Orthodox Christian church,a great effort has been made to preserve the material elements of the sacraments. Orthodox Christians look down attempts by the Catholic church to minimize the material side of the sacraments such as pouring water rather than using immersion in baptism and using unleavened rather than leavened bread in the Eucharist.

Michael J. McClymond wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: In Roman Catholicism sacramentals are physical objects or rituals that hold sacred meaning but do not convey grace in the theologically defined way of the sacraments. Included among the sacramentals are holy water (for baptism and sprinkling), holy oil (for anointing the baptized and the sick), crucifixes, pictures or statues of saints, medallions and scapulars (worn on the body for a person's spiritual good), relics of the saints, and water from Lourdes. While the number of Catholic sacraments is fixed at seven, there is no limit to the possible number of sacramentals. Orthodoxy also acknowledges sacramentals, though not in a theologically defined fashion. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Websites and Resources Holy See ; Catholic Online ; Catholic Encyclopedia ; BBC on Christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Sourcebook ;

Catholic View on the Sacraments

Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “Catholicism is a faith that revolves around the seven sacraments - baptism, reconciliation, Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders (joining the priesthood) and the sacrament of the sick (once called extreme unction or the last rites). The importance of receiving Christ's body and blood at communion as the bread of life is central. [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011 |::|]

Paul Halsall of Fordham University wrote: “Although Christians celebrated specific rituals - above all Baptism and the Eucharist - from the beginning, remarkably little time was spent by the early theologians of the Church discussing the meaning of these rituals. The main focus was on Baptism, both as to its meaning and as to its juridical implications. For the Latin West this concern with Baptism was to lead to a very specific terminology for some of the rituals. The Latin word sacramentum - which meant "oath" - was applied to Baptism in connection with its establishing of a "new covenant" between a human being an God. In time this term "sacrament"became the focus of theologization of the Church's rites. For a very long period, the exact number of sacraments was undefined, and even exactly which ceremonies were "sacramental". In the 12th and 13th centuries the Latin Church saw the development of both a popular devotional focus on the sacraments (especially the Eucharist, which came, in some cases, to play the role previously dominated by relics), and of "sacramental theology". [Source: ]

“In Greek Christianity these various Christian rites were called "mysteries" [i.e. things to be hidden from unbelievers] and the exact number of them was defined in a variety of ways. Even though Orthodox Christians today will usually agree that there are seven sacraments, but will also want to include such important rituals as funerals and monastic vows as "sacramental". “It was in its contact with Eastern Christians that the Latin Church was forced to define - for the first time - the number and nature of its sacraments.”

Baptism: the 1st Sacrament

Baptism of Constantine

Baptism is the act by which people are accepted into the church and receive the grace (or power) of Christ by saying certain vows and being doused with water, perhaps followed by the laying on of hands, by a influential member of the religious community. The first of the sacraments, baptism signifies the entering of a new life---a second birth so to speak--- in which the individual will one day die but be able to transcend death. It also marks the initiation of the individual into the church community and the Christian way of life. The water symbolizes the washing away of sins and purification.

Baptism comes from the Greek verb baptao or baptizo , meaning “to plunge." Sometimes the people who are baptized are completely submerged in a river or lake or special pool or basin (known as a font ) within a church. The most significant form in the Catholic church is the triple immersion, complete submersion with the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost." Sometimes those baptized are simply sprinkled with Holy water or have it poured on their head (ablution).

Baptism is regarded as a command of Christ and the most important sacrament. It was done before Christ, and is associated with John Baptist who preceded Jesus. When Gentiles adopted Judaism they were baptized because they were impure, and then circumcised. Jesus was baptized by John Baptist before he launched his career as teacher and miracle worker. He ordered his disciples to baptize all people.

Catholic Baptism

According to the BBC: “The majority of Catholics are baptised as babies before they are old enough to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Their parents and godparents promise to bring them up in the Christian faith following Jesus's example. When they reach an age where they are able to understand the difficulties and challenges of living out the Christian faith, they are invited to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism through confirmation. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

infant baptism

Catholic baptism can involve total immersion but usually involves anointment with oils by a priest and pouring of holy water over the child or adult’s head three times. Most Catholic are baptized as babies with the sprinkling of water. The baptism takes place when a person is a baby to prepare a child for a religious upbringing. The adults who say the infant's vows become the child's godparents. Baptisms of older people usually usually occurs to converts. Infant baptisms usually occur to people born into Catholicism. For Orthodox Christians, the whole body is immersed in water that has been previously blessed by special prayers. Orthodox Christians look down on the Catholic act of just pouring water on the person being baptized.

According to the BBC: “The majority of Catholics are baptised as babies before they are old enough to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Their parents and godparents promise to bring them up in the Christian faith following Jesus's example. When they reach an age where they are able to understand the difficulties and challenges of living out the Christian faith, they are invited to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism through confirmation. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC ]

Baptism, Pope Benedict XVI wrote “is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and its is meant to be the concrete enactment of conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever. It is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God's judgment...descending into the water the candidates for baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of the burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in this same situation? Luke...tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism."

Confirmation: the 2nd Sacrament

Confirmation — the application of a small amount of holy oil on the head of a believer — is a reaffirmation of baptismal vows to remain in the church and follow its teaching. It is regarded by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and some other Christians a sacrament. In the Catholic church after an individual reaffirms the vows a bishop lays hands on him or her, as the Apostles did with early Christians, as a sign of the Pentecost — which brought an end to the mysterious resurrection period and allowed the apostles to go forth and spread the word of their faith. Confirmation is an expression of salvation and “confirms” the existence of Christ.

The holy oil (known as chrism in the Catholic church) is consecrated by a bishop and priest on Maundy Thursday (the day before Goof Friday). It is placed on the forehead and symbolizes the Spirit, which from the point of Confirmation forward is a guiding force behind everything the recipeint does. The person who offers Confirmation — usually a bishop accompanied by priests’says the recipient's name followed by the words “be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit." The confirmed recipient then replies: “Amen." From that moment forward the confirmed person is regarded as a fully fledged member of the People of God, or layman in the church.

Orthodox Christianity differs from Catholicism in that baptism and christening are performed together. Orthodox Christian children are baptized and christened around the age of ten months or earlier to signify salivation. Having this done at such an early age means that their life as a religious participant begin very early.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Confirmation is a sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.It has been variously designated: bebaiosis or confirmatio, a making fast or sure; teleiosis or consummatio, a perfecting or completing, as expressing its relation to baptism. With reference to its effect it is the "Sacrament of the Holy Ghost", the "Sacrament of the Seal" (signaculum, sigillum, sphragis). From the external rite it is known as the "imposition of hands" (epithesis cheiron), or as "anointing with chrism" (unctio, chrismatio, chrisma, myron). The names at present in use are, for the Western Church, confirmatio, and for the Greek, to myron. [Source: New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia]

“Confirmation can be held at any age. In the Eastern Churches, it is conferred on infants straight after baptism. In the West, most denominations insist that participants are old enough to understand the significance of their promises. Christians believe Jesus instituted the sacrament or rite of confirmation when he promised to send another counsellor to empower his disciples to bear witness. (John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:13). |::|

The roots of the practice of confirmation are found in the Acts of the Apostles: “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” — Acts 8:14-17 |::|

“Confirmation candidates attend a series of special classes to learn about the sacrament, their faith and Christian responsibilities. Confirmation preparation helps candidates to have a proper understanding of how to live as a follower of Christ. At one time, candidates were required to learn a series of questions and answers by heart known as the catechism. Today's classes are more comprehensive and the particular needs of candidates will be borne in mind.

Confirmation by Nicolas Poussin

Catholic Confirmation

Catholic Confirmation is usually done to a child as he or she nears adolescence to signify they have become an adult in the faith or a grown Christian. It usually involve some “profession of faith." In France, where there is a “solemn communion," believers can be confirmed before making a profession of faith.

According to the BBC: “The majority of Catholics are baptised as babies before they are old enough to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Their parents and godparents promise to bring them up in the Christian faith following Jesus's example. When they reach an age where they are able to understand the difficulties and challenges of living out the Christian faith, they are invited to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism through confirmation. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

According to the BBC: “In most Catholic churches today, Catholics are confirmed when they are about 14 years old. The sacrament of confirmation is often held on Pentecost Sunday when Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Catholics believe confirmation is one of seven sacraments instituted by Christ. The effect of the sacrament of confirmation is a special outpouring of the Spirit as granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. A bishop usually confers confirmation although a priest is sometimes allowed to administer the sacrament if a person has already been baptised into another Christian Church and is entering into full communion with the Catholic Church through confirmation. A priest is also allowed to confer the sacrament if a person (adult or child) is in danger of death. (Code of Canon Law, canon 884) As the sacrament is usually reserved to a bishop, it is common in the Catholic Church to confirm large groups of older children and young adults together during Mass. |::|

“The bishop lays his hands on the head of each candidate. This is a sign that he is appointing them to be true witnesses to Christ. The bishop prays that each person will receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: reverence, understanding, courage, knowledge, wisdom, awe and wonder and right judgment. He makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads with holy chrism oil. This is a sign of strength and a reminder of their commitment to follow Christ even to the cross. In many English-speaking countries, candidates will take the name of a saint. The saint will act as a patron and guide to the person seeking confirmation. Candidates will usually devote time during their confirmation classes to choosing a saint who particularly inspires them. |::|

“Catholics are usually confirmed after they have received their first Holy Communion. However, this is not the traditional order for conferring the three sacraments of Christian initiation. When an adult is initiated into the Catholic Church, he or she must receive baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion in that order. In some parts of the world, Catholic dioceses are returning to the traditional order, allowing children to be confirmed before they receive their first Holy Communion for the first time at the age of seven or eight. |::|

Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Eucharist: the 3rd Sacrament

Eucharist is the sacrament of Holy Communion, in which the consecrated bread and wine are swallowed by worshipers. It is a re-enactment of the Last Supper and the meal Jesus had with his followers after the resurrection. Symbolizing Christ's promise to remain faithful to his followers forever, it is a focus of church life and is focal point of Christian beliefs in that “it was of Christ and his mission could be applied to it."

Eucharist (from the Greek word eucharista , “act of grace”) is the key to personal redemption and is an offering in which Christ's sacrifice becomes a personal reality. Lying at the heart of Christian life, it is equated with Jewish Passover the same way that Baptism is equated with Jewish circumcision. It: 1) reaffirms the Covenant relationship between God and humanity; 2) is a kind of symbolic sacrifice; and 3) signifies that Christ continues to sacrifice himself after his resurrection and ascendance.

When partaking in the Eucharist, Christians symbolically become participants in the crucifixion and passion of Christ in the present-day church. The earliest sermons served as a kind of introduction to the Eucharist and served as a way of filling time until all the members of the church were present (the Eucharist traditionally could only be performed when all members were present).

Religious Basis of the Eucharist

The Eucharist is regarded as a command of Christ. The earliest account of Communion was in St Paul's first epistle Corinthians 2:23-25: “For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me."

Eucharist by Sandro Botticelli

“The Eucharist symbolises the new covenant given by God to his followers. The old covenant was the one given by God to Israel when he freed his people from slavery in Egypt. The new sacrament symbolises freedom from the slavery of sin and the promise of eternal life. According to the Synpotic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus, who said the following: “Take, eat, this is my body... Take, drink, this is my blood... Do this in remembrance of me.” Christians believe that the piece of bread that is "taken, blessed, broken and given" becomes the life of Jesus, the body of Christ. But they don't all mean the same thing by it, and some of the biggest disputes among Christians are about exactly what they do mean.

Religious people have argued for centuries over whether or not wine and wafer are "transubstantiated" into the corporal substances of Christ's blood and body. Catholics believe the bread and wine really become Christ's body and blood. Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris argues that wafer and wine are offered at "communion" instead of more substantial food because the Christian church wanted to be released from its commitment of providing large quantities of food during Christian feasts. The Council of Laodicea of A.D. 363 prohibited the practice of holding feast on church premises.

According to the BBC: “It's very easy to get stuck into complex arguments about what happens to the piece of bread; what exactly it turns into, and how. There's a risk that if people get stuck in an argument about magical changes in bread they'll forget that they are part of the ritual, and the way they respond to it is a vital part of the package. [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC |::|]

“But you can get a great deal of meaning about the Eucharist without worrying about that. Christians say that there is a common action in what happens to the bread, and what God has done with Jesus and with human lives. In Jesus, God took a human body, blessed it, and was broken in it. Ordinary Christians believe that God has taken their lives, blessed them, broken them, and remade them. The piece of bread is taken, blessed and broken, too. |And in all three of these actions human bodies, or pieces of bread become filled with the life of Christ. |::|

Catholic Eucharist

Catholic Eucharist

Eucharist is the heart of the Catholic religious experience. Catholics believe that bread and wine are necessary to validate a Mass and transform them to Christ's body and blood. The reasoning goes that Jesus could make only one sacrifice by dying on the cross. But each Eucharist “is a sacrifice because it re-represents, that is, makes present, the sacrifice of the cross...The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice”

First communions are a big deal in the Catholic church. They have become major social events in which parents buy their children fancy clothes and have a nice dinner. It is against Catholic church law to receive communion at a Protestant church.

Among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, communion is conducted at an altar or table and worshipers approach the later to be given a wafer and wine by a priest. Among many Protestant denominations worshipers remain in their seats and are given communion by a preacher who walks around to them.

Eucharist is the central act of Catholic mass, where it is accompanied by a spoken liturgy, songs, prayers and several reading from the Bible. During the Eucharist liturgy the bread and wine are “transformed” on the altar into the body and blood of Christ. As far as Catholic and Orthodox Christians are concerned a real transformation of substances occurs during the consecration, or “transubstantiation." For most Protestants the bread and wine are merely symbols.

Catholic Versus Orthodox Christian Eucharist Rituals

Mass formally begins with the Offertory. Dogma battles over the way in which this was carried out led to the schism between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Catholics blessed their bread during the ceremony while Greek Orthodox blessed it before the service began. The Orthodox pierced the bread with a miniature lance and this bread was regarded as representing the dead Christ before resurrection.

Orthodox Eucharist

The religious scholar Nicolas Zernov wrote: “The Eucharist is seen by the Orthodox Christians as the revelation of the divine Presence in the material world. Their rite has no single culminating point, but represents a gradual unveiling of Christ's mystical presidency over the assembly of the faithful” and that “man is a worthy recipient of sacred mysteries." The Eucharist “is based on the idea that matter is spirit-bearing and its it is not only the participants but also their bodies and the fruits of the Earth transformed into bread and wine by their labors, which are sanctified and brought into sacramental union with the risen Christ and his glory."

By contrast, according to the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, the materials of the bread and wine keep their appearance of bread and wine but change their material substance into the Body and Blood of Christ through consecration in the Eucharist.

The Orthodox Eucharist is treated a feast of both soul and the body. The communion table is called the “Throne." The screen, whose doors and opened and closed at various points of the service, are vital for the presentation of the Eucharist. A recipient of the Orthodox Eucharist does kneel after he has consumed the bread and wine. Leavened bread and red wine mixed with hot water are used.

Eucharist Bread and Wine

The “bread” used in Communion is usually in the form of small wafers of unleavened bread, which are called hosts in the Catholic church. Unleavened bread is what was served in the Jewish Passover meal. Orthodox Christians observe Eucharist with leavened bread.

In the Catholic church, the hosts which are consecrated in a special gold- or silver-plated shallow dish called a patens . Afterwards the consecrated hosts are placed in a special cup called a ciborium, used to store them, which is placed in the tabernacle---a small, ornate, locked cupboard on a wall or side-altar---from which they are later taken out and given to the faithful in a gold or silver plated vessel called a monstrance.

Priest holding the Eucharist wafer (bread)

The Catholic church's Code of Canon Law gives a precise description of communion wine: “The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine and not corrupt” (canon 924). It must therefore be the result of natural fermentation of pure grape juice. During the last Supper it was the “fruit of the vine” which Jesus transformed into his own blood. Wine has long been a fixture of Judeao-Christian feasts. According to Isaiah in the Old Testament such wines must be a “well-strained wine." In Roman Catholic mass, white wine is generally used because it doesn't stain any vestments (garments). The wine is offered in a fine gold or silver chalice.

Confession and Penance: the 4th Sacrament

Confession is a ritual closely associated with Catholicism but is also performed in the Orthodox church. In confession, believers acknowledge their sins and promise to be better in the future. Confession can be done privately, communally with a congregation, or it can be done at a church in front of a priest. The idea is that a person confesses his sins and serves some kind of penance to atone for those sins. Sins are generally regarded as breaking the commandments. Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust.

Penance is regarded by Catholics and some other Christians as a sacrament. It refers to carrying out some act as retribution for sinning. Confession and penance generally go hand and hand. Some Christians go to extreme measures to show their penitence. The customs of self-flagellation and wearing hair shirts as acts of contrition became popular in the 13th century.

While baptism washes away original sin, penance (for reconciliation) cleans up the sins people commit in their daily lives. In the Gospels, Christ affirms that he was give the divine privilege of forgiving sins while curing the paralyzed man. On the evening of his resurrection, he transferred this power to the apostles and from them it was passed on to the church hierarchy of priests. Before sin can be forgiven the sinner must make an act of contrition by confessing the sins and expressing regret.

Orthodox Christians receive their first confession at around age seven. The event is preceded with instruction about moral responsibility. Afterwards they are deemed old enough to fast, reflect on themselves morally and receive confession. In the Russian church the taking of Holy Communion is always preceded by confession. Among other Orthodox groups confessing is not so commonly used.

Orthodox Confession is not a simple confession before a priest after one has sinned. In accordance with Orthodox teachings, a sinner is expected to make amends with the people who have been harmed by his actions first . Only then does he go before priest to confess.

Catholic Confession


Catholics churches generally have confession booths, wooden boxes which stand on the side aisles of churches, where believers tell their sins to a priest who is concealed behind a screen. In many cases, penitents can be received in a small room, in which longer dialogues are possible. First confessions are a big deal. Often the only people who show up for confession these days are old ladies.

In a Catholic confession, a priests acts as a judge and decides what an individual can do to be absolved of his sin. The priest occupies the seat of judgement and the penitent kneels before him. Priests are given the power from Christ to declare God's forgiveness and offer absolution to sinners. Those that are forgiven are told to undertake reparation or some form of thanksgiving to show their penitence, usually in the form a few prayers. Those guilty of small are often told to repeat “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” a number of times.

Confession is often associated with St. Augustine, who recounted is life in his important book Confessions (See St. Augustine). Contrition, confession and satisfaction are regarded as necessary steps in obtaining absolution. Catholics require believers to engage in confession at least once a year, often around Easter in conjunction with communion. With the understanding that communion feeds and confession cleanses us.

In a Catholic confession, the priest act as a judge and decides what an individual can do to be absolved of his sin. An Orthodox priest by contrast acts as a witness not a judge. He gives an introductory prayer and tells the penitent that only Jesus Christ can heal him. The priest acts as a fellow member of the church and a shoulder to cry on so to speak and offers advise on how the penitent can repent. At the end of the confession the priest asks God to reconcile the penitent to the church and forgive him of his sins.

Ordination: the 5th Sacrament

Priests are men who have been ordained (officially designated) by the Catholic church to carry out the holy sacraments such as baptism and communion. Monsignor is the official title of a priest. It is s derived from “monseigneur”, the French word for "my lord." Originally priests were set up to be assistants to the bishops to administer the Eucharist acting in “persoana Christ” (“in the person of Christ”). An official who becomes a priest must be ordained by a bishop. Ordination allows the priest to consecrate the bread and wine for the Eucharist.

Ordination in the Catholic church is a special ceremony in which bishops, priests, deacons and other clergy take the Holy Orders (special vows) and are officially designated to do the work of the church. It is regarded by Catholics and some other Christians a sacrament. Holy Orders are conferred by the laying of hands on the head of the ordained and then by the prayer of ordination. During the ordination of new priests, ordained priests must lay their hands on the new candidate. Anointment to the heads of bishops and to the hands of priests are complementary rituals.

An official who becomes a priest must be ordained by a bishop. Ordination allows the priest to consecrate the bread and wine for the Eucharist. According to Catholic teaching only a bishop in the Apostolic succession has the right to ordain priests and deacons through the laying of hands, while for Protestants all that is needed is an inner calling and training and the determination and dedication necessary to become a priest. The laying of hands by other ministers is mostly symbolic.

Unction (Anointing the Sick): the 6th Sacrament

Unction is anointing the sick with oil. Regarded by Catholics and some other Christians as a sacrament, it is thought to alleviate suffering by bringing peace to the souls of the sick, dying and aged. Orthodox Christians regard as a kind of faith healing that is used to treat people with physical, mental and spiritual problems or who need purification.

The Gospels report that Christ cured the sick and brought them to their feet by the laying-on of hands. He introduced this form of healing to the Apostles, adding to it the anointment of oil. In his Epistle Saint James wrote: “Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again," and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven." (Jer 5:14-15). As this scripture makes clear absolution entails spiritual healing as well as physical healing.

Under the procedures prescribed by this sacrament in the Catholic church, a priest silently lays hands on the sick person, anointing the sick with oil — blessed by a bishop on Maundy Thursday (three days before Easter) during the chrism mass — on the forehead and the hands accompanied with the name of the sick person and worlds: “through his holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."

Extreme Unction refers to ritual anointment when death seems imminent. In the old days for superstitious reasons, so not to invite death, families waited until the last moment before calling in a priest to perform the last anointment and viaticum (last communion, or last rites). The Second Vatican Council reintroduced anointing the sick which negated the need to wait until the last moment for anointment.

extreme unction by Poussin

Marriage: the 7th Sacrament

Catholics made marriage a sacrament, declaring the bond between man and wife is insoluble. The Vatican emphasizes the unity, indissolubility and commitment to raising children. This belief is based on it role as a sacrament of the church and because if this sacrament is not honored it can produce a lot of unhappy people.

Official Catholic doctrine regarding marriage: “1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises "an institution, confirmed by the divine law. . . even in the eyes of society." The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man: "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love."

“1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptised persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. — Catechism of the Catholic Church.A catechism is a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons stained glass from St. Juan Diego Catholic Church

Text Sources:Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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