Without grace, it is impossible for man to obtain salvation. Therefore, the attainment of grace should be one of the most important goals in one’s life. The two ways for one to receive grace are through prayer and the sacraments. However, prayer obtains grace for man while the sacraments actually produce grace in him. This would imply that the sacraments are one of the most important ways for one to obtain grace.
The word sacrament has had many meanings in the past. Most of them were very similar to the word “mysterious.” In fact, in the early church, the word sacrament was used to mean anything the faithful kept hidden from the pagans. Today, the Church’s definition of the word sacrament is, “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give inward grace to souls.” This definition covers the three things that are necessary for a sacrament. Firstly, every sacrament must be instituted by Christ. Secondly, there is some type of inward grace being produced in the receiver of the sacrament. Thirdly, an outward sign is used to confer the inward grace because man is composed of both body and soul. Visible, or outward, signs signify and, therefore, help man to understand what the inward grace is doing.
The outward sign consists of two parts: form and matter. Form would be the words spoken when the matter is applied. For example, in the Sacrament of Baptism, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” is the form. The matter is the physical thing or act used in the sacrament. There is remote and proximate matter in every sacrament. To use baptism as an example again, the water is the remote matter (the matter in itself) while the pouring of the water (what the matter is used for) is the proximate matter. Giving physical things the power to produce grace in man is something that can only be done by God. That is why the Church cannot institute sacraments. However, the Church can create ceremonies to be used with the administration of the sacraments. The ceremonies are not necessary but they are important. They are very useful in preparing the soul for the reception of the sacrament, increasing man’s devotion and reverence, and representing the dignity of the sacrament to man.
Sacraments are outward signs, instituted by Christ to give grace. Christ used outward signs to help man understand better what the inward grace is doing. The outward signs of a sacrament consist of two parts: form and matter. Only Christ can institute sacraments because only God has the power to make the reception of grace through outward signs possible. The sacraments are an essential part of man’s spiritual life because they produce grace in us, and grace is necessary for our salvation.
This post will be the first of a short series which will seek to condense selected sections of Fr. Laux’s book: Mass and the Sacraments. This series of posts will make the information more easily accessible to those interested in learning about their faith. Stay tuned for the next post which will be on the Sacrament of Baptism!
Laux, John. Mass and the Sacraments. Charlotte: Tan Books, 2013