What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a visible sign of faith and a cause of grace. It is an efficacious sign, that is, it is a symbolic act that causes what it points to. A sacrament celebrates what it represents.
This definition fits both Jesus and his Church. Jesus not only signifies God’s love for us, he IS God’s love for us. His teachings, his healings, other miracles and his sacrifice on the cross all symbolize the love God has for us. But Jesus is more than just a sign of God’s love; he is God-made-man; Love-made-flesh. Jesus is the living proof of God’s care for His people. The mysteries of His life serve as the foundation of what he gives to us in the sacraments through the ministers of the Church.
The Church is also a type of sacrament. We are an efficacious sign of salvation. The Holy Spirit gives life to the Church. The Risen Lord lives and works in the community of salvation which serves the cause of God’s kingdom. Through the Church, we encounter Christ. We meet him serving us in and through the Church. We hear him speak to us today when his Word is proclaimed.
Jesus calls us through His Church to be a sacramental people. Jesus invites us to be light to the world, beacons whose faithful lives of service point the way to him and his Father.
With this rich definition of a sacrament in mind, we can see how the seven sacraments are special actions of Christ entrusted to and working in the Church. Sacraments are effective, symbolic actions that not only point to God’s life, but actually convey it to the members of the Church. These Christ-instituted, efficacious signs of grace bring about the divine life to which they point. If we receive them properly, they bear great fruit in us.