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The Sacraments in General

A sacrament is a sensible and efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Jesus Christ to sanctify our souls. All the sacraments signify by means of sensible things, the divine grace which they produce in our souls. By His passion and death, Jesus Christ gave to the sacraments the power of conferring grace.

There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony.

To constitute a sacrament, it is necessary to have the proper matter, the proper form, and the proper minister, who must have the intention to do what the Church does. The matter of the sacraments is the sensible thing used in effecting the sacrament; such as, for example, natural water in Baptism, or oil and balsam in Confirmation. The form of the sacraments is the words which are pronounced in order to effect the sacrament. The minister of the sacraments is the person who administers or confers the sacrament.

The principal effect of the Sacraments is grace, an inward and supernatural gift given to us without any merit of our own, but through the merits of Jesus Christ in order to gain eternal life. Because of the harmful effects of original sin, without the help of the grace of God, and by our own powers alone, we cannot do anything helpful to life everlasting. Grace is given to us by God chiefly through the sacraments, which always confer grace provided they are received with the necessary dispositions. However, because grace does not oppose free will, even when we receive the sacraments, we remain able to resist the grace of God.

Sanctifying grace, which is also called habitual grace, is a supernatural gift inherent in our soul, which renders us just and the adopted children of God, heirs to Paradise. Actual grace is a supernatural gift which enlightens the mind, moves and strengthens the will in order to enable us to do good and avoid evil.

The sacraments also confer sacramental grace, which consists in the right acquired in the reception of a sacrament, to have at the proper time the actual graces necessary to fulfill the obligations arising from the sacrament received. Thus when we were baptized we received the right to have the grace to live a Christian life.

The sacraments most necessary to salvation are Baptism and Penance, which were instituted by Jesus Christ chiefly to restore to the life of grace the soul dead by sin. Baptism is necessary to all, and Penance is necessary to all who have sinned mortally after Baptism. The remaining sacraments increase grace in those who already possess it. Those who receive these sacraments must be free from mortal sin, for it would be a serious sacrilege to receive any of them while conscious that one is not in a state of grace. This is most especially true for the greatest of all the sacraments, the Holy Eucharist, because It contains not only grace, but also Jesus Christ Himself, the Author of grace and of the sacraments.