Secondly, we will look at the rituals surrounding the celebration of the sacraments themselves. There is a theological axiom in the Church, ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ – in English, the law of prayer is the law of belief. This axiom expresses the belief that if we want to understand what we believe we look at how we pray and what we believe dictates how we pray. It also is a convenient way of examining the sacraments individually and is the method we will examine them over the course of this year. We will examine each of the sacraments by using the rituals which govern their celebration, allowing the way the Church administers and “prays” these sacraments to give us an insight and an understanding into what they accomplish. Along with this examination of the rituals we will point out what is considered the matter and form of each sacrament – in other words, what essential realities need to be present materially, as well as in the prayers and words that accompany their celebration, for the sacrament to be validly celebrated.
Finally, we will grow in our understanding of the sacraments by taking a look at their effects, what it is they accomplish and what specific graces God offers to us who receive them. By looking at the roots of the sacraments, examining their celebration and noting their effects, we will come to a deeper understanding of the sacraments themselves.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the seven sacraments are traditionally divided into three categories, the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick) and Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage and Holy Orders). This is also the sequence in which we will examine them, beginning with the Sacraments of Initiation. The Sacraments of Initiation are called sacraments of initiation because each of them binds us to the Church in a particular way, culminating with the greatest unity we can achieve with God in this life and with the entire Church in the Eucharist. We will turn then, in our next article, to the first of the sacraments of initiation, the very gateway to all the rest of the sacraments, the great Sacrament of Baptism.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)