The Sacraments, and in particular the Eucharist, are considered the origin and highest expression of all Christian life. They can be defined as the visible and tangible manifestation of divine Grace bestowed by Christ and offered to the Church. Through them the Holy Spirit participates in the life of the faithful, raising it to a new awareness and dignity and sanctifying it.
All the sacraments have therefore been instituted by Jesus and entrusted by him to the Church, which considers them invested with their own intrinsic value, detached from the merits and dignity of those who celebrate them. They have value as such, regardless of the spiritual merit of the priest who gives them. For it is Christ who acts through the minister. Indeed, in some cases the faithful themselves become ministers of the Sacrament, as in Baptism, thanks to which they become part of the Church, or in Marriage.
From the dawn of Christianity, the sacraments served to place the faithful in communion with Jesus. They were rituals and sacred gestures, which, over time, have reached their definition and differentiation among the various confessions of faith. The purpose of the Sacraments is: to strengthen the faith, to make true worship of God, to sanctify people, to confirm and manifest ecclesial communion.
The Catholic Christian Church recognizes seven Sacraments, divided into Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Healing and Church Building. These Sacraments, all desired by Jesus, have over time been confirmed in their reason for being by the Holy Scriptures and spread by the Fathers of the Church.
After the Second Vatican Council, various keys to reading the Sacraments have been identified, which examine their multiple aspects from time to time: Classical reading key, which refers to the first definition of the same, or signs of Grace, instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church for the salvation of men;
Sacramental or symbolic reading key, which analyzes their symbolic scope, comparing the various components that determine them, human and divine, considering them as visible manifestations of the invisible will of God;
Historical-salvific reading key, which places them within the salvific vision willed by Christ for mankind, tangible signs of the New Covenant between God and Man, placed by Christ within the history of mankind;
Verbal reading key, which observes above all the linguistic and communicative aspects of the Sacraments, focusing attention on the relationship between word and reality, signifier and meaning, arriving at the affirmation that the Sacrament realizes what it expresses; personalist reading key, which sees them as a meeting point of the community of the faithful within it and with Christ.
Who in this interpretation is more than ever a means between men and God and an instrument himself of Salvation and Redemption, and the faithful communicate with Him in communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, of which he is an integral part;
Pneumatological reading key, which recognizes in the Sacraments the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, which transcends gestures, language, words, all rituals linked to the human sphere, making them effective and authentic signs of Christ’s presence, also making all participants indispensable elements of the salvific manifestation, an integral part of the Sacrament as an expression of the divine will;
A liberating reading key, which sees the Sacraments as instruments of liberation, symbols of freedom, declaration of intent for all those who wish to join Christ in the fight against injustice, in the name of mercy, of mutual help, of acting in the name of the common good; a unitary reading key, which examines all the Sacraments in a holistic way, uniting the personal dimension with that of Faith, inserting the Sacrament into the daily life of the faithful, as a predominant and inseparable element.
The Seven Sacraments
Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation or Confirmation (Sacraments of Christian Initiation), by which the faithful become part of the Church and confirm their participation in it and union with Christ;
Penance or Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick (Sacraments of Healing), which make the faithful stronger in times of difficulty, in all those situations that test their faith with physical and moral trials difficult to overcome;
Order and Marriage (Sacraments of the building up of the Church), which make the faithful active members in the creation and propagation of the Church in the world, either as a family or as a Christian community.
Sacraments in other churches
The Orthodox Church also recognizes seven sacraments: chrism, Eucharist, penance or confession, order, marriage, anointing of the sick. The Orthodox call the sacraments ‘Mysteries’. They represent the meeting point between Divine Grace, invisible and intangible, and the visible and real ‘signs’ that make it accessible to the faithful.
Protestant churches recognize only the sacraments directly instituted by Jesus, namely Baptism and Holy Communion. In particular, the latter does not correspond to the Catholic Eucharist. It only celebrates the memory of Jesus’ Last Supper and does not imply the transubstantiation of bread and wine.