Reflection: More on the Sacraments

by Father Don Thomas

In an earlier Reflection, we treated the seven Sacraments in a very general fashion. Now, let us proceed to distinguish between the Sacraments of the Dead and the Sacraments of the Living. May this be informative for both Catholics and Non-Catholics, but let me appeal to Catholics to read it carefully, because in our Church today, a number of abuses have arisen and should be corrected, as they are of a serious nature. I am referring particularly to Catholics receiving Communion and Catholics getting married in the Catholic Church, when in both instances they are not properly disposed. This is why it is important to know the difference between the Sacraments of the Dead and the Sacraments of the Living.

By way of review, we define a Sacrament as an outward or external sign, instituted by Jesus Christ, for the purpose of giving grace or sharing in the life of God. The word “dead” here does not relate to the physical death of the body. It refers to the spiritual condition of the soul. If the soul is without the life or grace of God, it is said to be spiritually dead. The soul is said to be alive when it shares in the life or grace of God. Our question, therefore, is what are the two Sacraments of the Dead, or what two Sacraments can we receive when our soul is without the life or grace of God, when our soul is spiritually dead? One is Baptism, since we are conceived in sin and later born in sin. By no means is it a personal sin, but rather we inherit the Original Sin committed by the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. When we get baptized, there is a death to sin and the soul comes alive with the life or grace of God. The other Sacrament of the Dead is Confession, or as it is technically called, Reconciliation. If, as Catholics, we have the misfortune of committing what we understand to be a mortal or deadly sin, our soul is spiritually dead and can be restored to the life of God (grace) when God forgives us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Those are the two Sacraments of the Dead.

The other five Sacraments are the Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick. For many years, the Sacrament of the Sick was called Extreme Unction or the Last Anointing. These five are called Sacraments of the Living, because for one to approach these five, the soul is supposed to be in the state of grace, alive with the grace or life of God. Our soul is either in the state of grace or in the state of deadly sin, and before we receive these five Sacraments, we, as Catholics, if we know we are in mortal sin, we are expected to confess our sins, seeking God's forgiveness and being restored to His grace. If we do not, and if we receive these five in mortal or serious sin, we are guilty of a sacrilege, which is another serious sin. We do not share in the grace of God in situations like that.

This is a personal responsibility and a serious one—to be properly disposed to receive the Sacraments. Times have changed drastically in the past thirty or forty years as far as observing the commandments of God and the Church—the sexual revolution in society, failure to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, giving up on Confession for months or for years—these and other forms of human weakness may be reasons, among others, for our falling into mortal or serious sin. We lose the friendship of God and our faith reminds us of this fact. It does not necessarily mean that we are now bad persons, but it does mean that we are wrong as far as our relationship with God and the Church is concerned. In situations like this, God would think much more of the one who stays away from Communion, compared to the one who commits the sacrilege. When it comes to Matrimony, we are expected to be in the state of grace on our wedding day, because Matrimony is also a Sacrament of the Living, as is Communion that is offered at the Nuptial Mass.

Just because a Catholic Church is pretty is not a good enough reason to get married in the Church. It is a big step in our lives and we should be seeking the blessing of God. it is important to get off to a good start in our marriage and win the blessing and favor of Almighty God by being properly disposed to receive Matrimony, a Sacrament of the Living. If we feel we are in serious sin, let us get to Confession and receive the forgivenss of God in preparation for such a beautiful and important day in our lives.

Sad to say, some delude themselves into thinking that if they do not have a Mass with their wedding, there will be no Communion, and they can skip Confession. Many of these, I believe, are failing to remember that they are receiving Holy Matrimony, one of the Sacraments of the Living There is no blessing in these situations, and may this Reflection serve to help serious­ minded Catholics prepare properly for their big day.


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