A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
Thus there are three things absolutely necessary to constitute a sacrament:
- institution by Christ;
- an outward sign, and
- power to give grace.
1. Only Christ instituted the sacraments, because only God can endow signs with the power to give grace.
- From the teaching of the Church, from tradition, and from Holy Scripture, we know that Christ instituted the seven sacraments. All the schismatic Eastern churches that separated from the Catholic Church in the early years of the Christian era continue to recognize the same seven sacraments that the Church does. The Church has no power to institute sacraments.
2. An outward sign is something perceived by the senses. The external thing or action is called the matter, and the formula of words, the form, of the sacrament.
- For example, we see the water used in baptism; we hear the words pronounce as the water is poured. These are sensible signs perceived by the senses of sight and hearing.
3. The sacraments signify the graces they actually give. Thus the washing in Baptism signifies the inward washing of the soul from sin. The sacraments always give the graces they signify, provided the recipient puts no obstacles.
- It is principally through the sacraments that we obtain the grace of God. They are channels by which grace enters our souls, to give them divine life and to nourish them.
The sacraments are “actions of Christ.” By them His grace enters our soul to give it divine life and to nourish it.
The sacraments derive their efficacy from Christ, by Whose merits we possess them. They do not derive any merit from the person administering them. Good medicine is good regardless of the druggist or physician.