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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE TENTH ARTICLE: "The Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins."
    • THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS: A REVIEW
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THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS: A REVIEW

 

This communication takes place through the Sacraments of the Church in

which operate the merits of the passion of Christ, which in turn operates

for the conferring of grace unto the remission of sins. These Sacraments of

the Church are seven in number.

 

"Baptism." - The first is Baptism which is a certain spiritual regeneration.

Just as there can be no physical life unless man is first born in the

flesh, so spiritual life or grace cannot be had unless man is spiritually

reborn. This rebirth is effected through Baptism: "Unless a man be born

again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of

God."4 It must be known that, just as a man can be born but once, so only

once is he baptized. Hence, the holy Fathers put into the Nicene Creed: "I

confess one baptism." The power of Baptism consists in this, that it

cleanses from all sins as regards both their guilt and their punishment.

For this reason no penance is imposed on those who are baptized, no matter

to what extent they had been sinners. Moreover, if they should die

immediately after Baptism, they would without delay go to heaven. Another

result is that, although only priests "ex officio" may baptize, yet any one

may baptize in case of necessity, provided that the proper form of Baptism

is used. This is: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the

Son, and of the Holy Ghost." This Sacrament receives its power from the

passion of Christ. "All we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in

His death."5 Accordingly there is a threefold immersion in water after the

three days in which Christ was in the sepulchre.6

 

"Confirmation." - The second Sacrament is Confirmation. Just as they who are

physically born need certain powers to act, so those who are reborn

spiritually must have the strength of the Holy Spirit which is imparted to

them in this Sacrament. In order that they might become strong, the

Apostles received the Holy Spirit after the Ascension of Christ: "Stay you

in the city till you be endowed with power from on high."7 This power is

given in the Sacrament of Confirmation. They, therefore, who have the care

of children should be very careful to see that they be confirmed, because

great grace is conferred in Confirmation. He who is confirmed will, when he

dies, enjoy greater glory than one not confirmed, because greater grace

will be his.

 

"Holy Eucharist." - The Eucharist is the third Sacrament. In the physical

life, after man is born and acquires powers, he needs food to sustain and

strengthen him. Likewise in the spiritual life, after being fortified, he

has need of spiritual food; this is the Body of Christ: "Except you eat the

flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you

"8 According to the prescribed law of the Church, therefore, every

Christian must at least once a year receive the Body of Christ, and in a

worthy manner and with a clean conscience: "For he that eateth and drinketh

unworthily [that is, by being conscious of unconfessed mortal sin on his

soul, or with no intent to abstain from it] eateth and drinketh judgment to

himself."9

 

"Penance." - The fourth Sacrament is Penance. In the physical life, one who

is sick and does not have recourse to medicine, dies; so in the spiritual

order, one becomes ill because of sin. Thus, medicine is necessary for

recovery of health; and this is the grace which is conferred in the

Sacrament of Penance: "Who forgiveth all thy iniquities; who healeth all

thy diseases."10 Three things must be present in the Sacrament of Penance:

contrition, which is sorrow for sin together with a resolution not to sin

again; confession of sins, as far as possible entire; and satisfaction

which is accomplished by good works.

 

"Extreme Unction." - Extreme Unction is the fifth Sacrament. In this life

there are many things which prevent one from a perfect purification from

one's sins. But since no one can enter into eternal life until he is well

cleansed, there is need of another Sacrament which will purify man of his

sins, and both free him from sickness and prepare him for entry into the

heavenly kingdom. This is the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. That this

Sacrament does not always restore health to the body is due to this, that

perhaps to live is not to the advantage of the soul's salvation. "Is any

man sick amongst you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church and let

them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the

prayer of faith shall save the sick man. And the Lord shall raise him up;

and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him."11 It is now clear that

the fullness of life is had from these five Sacraments.

 

"Holy Orders." - It is necessary that these Sacraments be administered by

chosen ministers. Therefore, the Sacrament of Orders is necessary, by whose

powers these Sacraments are dispensed. Nor need one note the life of such

ministers, if here and there one fail in his office, but remember the

virtue of Christ through whose merits the Sacraments have their efficacy,

and in whose Name the ministers are but dispensers: "Let a man so account

of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of

God."12 This then is the sixth Sacrament, namely, Orders.

 

"Matrimony." - The seventh Sacrament is Matrimony, and in it men, if they

live uprightly, are saved; and thereby they are enabled to live without

mortal sin. Sometimes the partners in marriage fall into venial sin, when

their concupiscence does not extend beyond the rights of matrimony; but if

they do go beyond such rights, they sin mortally.13

 




4. John iii. 5.

 



5. Rom., vi. 3.

 



6. Immersion is the act of dipping or plunging the subject into the water

used in the administration of Baptism. It was a method generally employed

in the early Church, and was still in vogue at the time ot St. Thomas. The

Greek Church still retains it; but though valid, for obvious reasons

immersion is practically no longer employed in the Latin Church. It is

practiscd by some sects to-day in America.

 



7. Luke, xxiv. 49.

 



8. John, vi. 54

 



9. I Cor., xi. 29.

 



10. Ps. cii. 3.

 



11. James, v. 1 4- 15.

 



12. Cor., iv. 1.

 



13. See the "Explanation of the Sacraments," p. 130; and "The

Commandments." p. 99.

 






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