By Scott P. Richert Updated June 25, 2019
The seven sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick—are the life of the Catholic Church. All of the sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself, and each is an outward sign of an inward grace. When we participate in them worthily, each provides us with graces—with the life of God in our soul. In worship, we give to God that which we owe Him; in the sacraments, He gives us the graces necessary to live a truly human life.
The first three sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion—are known as the sacraments of initiation, because the rest of our life as a Christian depends on them. (Click on the name of each sacrament to learn more about that sacrament.)
The Sacrament of Baptism, the first of the three sacraments of initiation, is also the first of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. It removes the guilt and effects of Original Sin and incorporates the baptized into the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ on earth. We cannot be saved without Baptism.
The Sacrament of Confirmation is the second of the three sacraments of initiation because, historically, it was administered immediately after the Sacrament of Baptism. Confirmation perfects our baptism and brings us the graces of the Holy Spirit that were granted to the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday.
While Catholics in the West today normally make their First Communion before they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the reception of Christ's Body and Blood, was historically the third of the three sacraments of initiation. This sacrament, the one we receive most often throughout our lives, is the source of great graces that sanctify us and help us grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is also sometimes called the Eucharist.
The Sacrament of Confession, also known as the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is one of the least understood, and least utilized, sacraments in the Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and Catholics are encouraged to take advantage of it often, even if they are not aware of having committed a mortal sin.
Marriage, a lifelong union between a man and a woman for procreation and mutual support, is a natural institution, but it is also one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. As a sacrament, it reflects the union of Jesus Christ and His Church. The Sacrament of Marriage is also known as the Sacrament of Matrimony.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the continuation of Christ's priesthood, which He bestowed upon His Apostles. There are three levels to this sacrament of ordination: the episcopate, the priesthood, and the diaconate.
Traditionally referred to as Extreme Unction or Last Rites, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is administered both to the dying and to those who are gravely ill or are about to undergo a serious operation, for the recovery of their health and for spiritual strength.