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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • The seven sacraments in general
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The seven sacraments in general
The seven Sacraments have some things which they all hold in common, and 
some things which are proper to each one. That which is common to all the 
Sacraments is that they confer grace. It is also common to all the 
Sacraments that a Sacrament is made up of words and physical acts. And so 
also Christ, who is the Author of the Sacraments, is the Word made flesh. 
And just as the flesh of Christ was sanctified, and has the power of 
sanctifying because of the Word united to itself, so also the Sacraments 
are made holy and have the power of sanctifying through the words which 
accompany the action. Thus, St. Augustine says: "The word is joined to the 
element, and the Sacrament is made."10 Now, the words by which the 
Sacraments are sanctified are called the form of the Sacraments; and the 
things which are sanctified are called the matter of the Sacraments. Water, 
for example, is the matter of Baptism, and the holy chrism is the matter of 
In each Sacrament there is required a minister, who confers the Sacrament 
with the intention of doing that which the Church intends. If any one of 
these three requirements is lacking, the Sacrament is not brought into 
being, viz., if there is lacking the due form of the words, or if the 
matter is not present, or if the minister does not intend to confer the 
The effect of the Sacrament is likewise impeded through the fault of the 
recipient, for example, if one feigns to receive it and with a heart 
unprepared to receive worthily. Such a one, although he actually receives 
the Sacrament, does not receive the effect of the Sacrament, that is, the 
grace of the Holy Spirit. "For the Holy Spirit of discipline will flee from 
the deceitful."12 On the other hand, however, there are some who never even 
receive sacramentally, yet who receive the effect of the Sacrament because 
of their devotion towards the Sacrament, which they may have in desire or 
in a vow.
There are some things which are characteristic of each individual 
Sacrament. Certain ones impress a character on the soul which is a certain 
spiritual sign distinct from the other Sacraments. Such are the Sacraments 
of Orders, Baptism, and Confirmation. The Sacraments which give a character 
are never repeated in the same person who has once received it. Thus, he 
who is baptized need never again receive this Sacrament; neither can he who 
has been confirmed receive Confirmation again; and one who has been 
ordained need never repeat his ordination. The reason is that the character 
which each of these Sacraments impresses is indelible.
In the other Sacraments, however, a character is not impressed on the 
recipient, and hence they can be repeated as far as the person is 
concerned, not however as far as the matter is concerned. Thus, one can 
frequently receive Penance, frequently receive the Eucharist, and can be 
anointed more than once with Extreme Unction, and likewise he can be 
married more than once. Yet, regarding the matter, the same Host cannot be 
frequently consecrated, nor ought the oil of the sick be frequently 

. "In Joan.," Tract. LXXX, 3.

. "It should be explained that the pastor will inform the faithful that 
the 'sensible thing' which enters into the definition of a Sacrament as 
already given, although constituting but one sign, is of a twofold nature. 
Every Sacrament consists of two things: 'matter' which is called the 
element, and 'form' which is commonly called the word. . . . In order to 
make the meaning of the rite that is being performed easier and clearer, 
words had to be added to the matter. Water for example, has the quality of 
cooling as well as of making clean, and may e symbolic of either. In 
Baptism, therefore, unless the words were added, it would not be certain 
which meaning of the sign was intended. When the words are added, we 
immediately understand that the Sacrament possesses
and signifies the power of cleansing. . . . Although God is the author and 
dispenser of the Sacraments, He nevertheless willed that they should be 
administered by men in His Church, not by Angels. The ministers of the 
Sacraments, in performing their duties, do not act in their own persons but 
in that they represent Christ, and hence, be they good or bad, they validly 
confer the Sacraments as long as they make use of the matter and the form 
always observed in the Catholic Church according to the institution of 
Christ, and intend to do what the Church does in the administration of the 
Sacraments" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 16 and 24).

. Wis., i. 5.

. "This character has a twofold effect. It qualifies us to receive or 
perform a sacred act, and distinguishes us by some mark one from another. 
This is seen for example, in Baptism, whose character first renders one 
qualified to recieve the other Sacraments, and, secondly, by it the 
Christian is distinguished from those who do not profess the faith" ("Roman 
Catechism," "loc. cit.," 31).

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