Sacraments: An Overview
We are human beings. We speak human languages . . . English, Spanish, Chinese, German, Arabic, and so forth. When we want to communicate something to another, we generally make use of one or more of the spoken languages of the earth. God, by contrast, is God. He speaks the language of Heaven. God speaks Sacrament.
God is always present and active in our lives, of course, but there are specific times in our lives, such as at our birth, or when we are in need of spiritual or physical healing, or when we take a spouse, or suchlike, when we have His promise that He will be present and active in a particular way. At those times, we cannot see God acting. God is Spirit, and He acts invisibly. Yet, He wants to communicate to us what He is doing. He want to make His actions visible. This He does by speaking the language of Sacraments.
At the most basic level, this is what a Sacrament is: something chosen by God to make His invisible actions (grace) visible to us -- a means by which we can get a peek into Heaven. Sacraments are the way by which Heaven speaks to earth. Through them, we are told what our God is doing in our lives.
The primary invisible reality that we need to have made visible to us is, of course, God Himself. Since God is Spirit, we do not and cannot see Him with our human eyes. And while it is indeed the case that one can “see” God through the light of faith, yet we have a yearning to see Him “face to face,” as it says in the Scriptures. God, since He created us with this yearning, wills that it be fulfilled, and thus He became visible to us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christ Himself said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Because He perfectly reveals the Father to us, Jesus Himself is the first sacrament, or the Primordial Sacrament of the Catholic Faith.
“All well and good,” you might say, “but Jesus has passed beyond our sight in the Ascension. He no longer makes the Father visible to us, because He Himself is no longer visible to us.” And right you would be . . . Jesus no longer is physically present on this earth. And yet, He does remain visible to the world; His Body has remained present here. “You,” says St. Paul to the Church, “are the body of Christ and individually a member of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) The Church itself makes Christ visible, and Christ makes God visible. Thus the Church is called the Fundamental Sacrament. It is through us, His Mystical Body, that Christ has willed to remain present in this world.
The Seven Sacraments of the Church -- Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick -- are the heartbeat of the Mystical Body of Christ. Through them, Jesus is made visible to the members of His Body, so that they can in turn make Him visible to a world that does not know Him.