The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines “Sacraments” as the following:

“Sacraments are instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church by which divine life is dispensed to us: they are signs and means which express and strengthen the faith, render worship to God, and effect the sanctification of humanity.” (CCC 840)

Sacraments are visible (physical) signs of an invisible (spiritual) reality. They are efficacious signs (the sign has the power to accomplish what it symbolises) instituted (given to us) by Christ to give grace (the gift of God’s goodness and life). In other words, Jesus touches our lives when we receive the sacraments. Each sacrament is associated with signs: objects, words, and actions. Each sign brings God’s grace and blessings in a special way.

There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders. They are divided into three categories: Sacraments of Initiation, Sacraments of Healing; and Sacraments of Service.

The sacraments work by their own power, regardless of the spiritual state of the person administering them. This principle is called “ex opere operato” (which literally means: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”).