There are seven sacrament
s in the Roman Catholic Church
. In the Church's teaching, Sacraments are outward signs
of inward grace
given us by Jesus Christ
The seven sacraments are often separated into categories: The Sacraments of Initiation, The Sacraments of Vocation, and the Sacraments of Healing.
All Roman Catholics receive the Sacraments of Initiation and Healing. Sacraments of Vocation, however, are not experienced by all Catholics.
The Sacraments of Initiation are those sacraments that initiate us into full communion with the Church. They are:
Baptism - Baptism is the first sacrament, by which we are washed clean of original sin and brought into the family of the Church. Unique among all of the sacraments, this sacrament can be performed by absolutely any person on the planet, even a die-hard Atheist, provided that the baptism is performed according to the rites of the Church (Holy Water and baptizing "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit".
In addition to this form of baptism, there are two others: Baptism by Fire and Baptism by Desire.
Baptism by Fire occurs when a person is martyred for the glory of God. Regardless of the martyr's faith, Roman Catholics believe that if somebody kills you because of your belief in, or their perceived understanding of your belief in, or because your community believes, and so forth, you are baptized through your martyrdom.
Baptism by Desire occurs when a person wants to be baptized but so far has not been, and dies before the sacrament can be performed. We trust that God, in his infinite mercy, takes the desire for the deed.
Confirmation - Confirmation is a sacrament given to the already baptized, usually at a time in life where the person is old enough to understand the gravity of their choice to be confirmed in their faith. Confirmation is generally administered by a bishop. First the bishop does a laying on of hands, the purpose of which is to bestow the Holy Spirit on the candidate. After this, the candidate is anointed with the holy chrism (oil) accompanied with the words "I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", and then given a very mild slap on the cheek and told "peace be with you".
Catholics believe that through confirmation we receive an increase in sanctifying grace and that we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Eucharist (Holy Communion) - Only a baptized Catholic may participate in Holy Communion in the Catholic church.
Eucharist (which literally means "giving thanks") is better known as Holy Communion. The Body and the Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Catholics believe wholeheartedly that the wafer and the wine are truly transubstantiated into the Real Presence, the true flesh and blood of Christ. During the Mass, the priest performs the ritual that transforms the matter into the species, and then the Eucharist is distributed to the faithful.
Communion is the act of participating in the Eucharistic feast with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and also of taking Jesus into ourselves, making ourselves one with him, communicating with him on a very deeply spiritual level.
The Sacraments of Vocation are the sacraments that guide many (but not all) of us through our stations in life. Not every Catholic will receive either one of these sacraments. They are:
Holy Matrimony - According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the ministers performing this sacrament are the bride and the bridegroom. The priest's presence is only required to celebrate the Mass and bestow God's (and the Church's) blessing on the happy couple.
Catholics believe that matrimony is permanent, even if the couple should separate. We take this directly from scripture where Jesus states that any previously married person who divorces and remarries commits adultery.
Holy Orders - Holy Orders is the sacrament in which Catholic clergy are ordained. There are three ranks of clergy, those being deacon, priest and bishop. Deacons are generally the only clergy within the Catholic church who are allowed to be married, although there are occasional exceptions made, such as in certain geographical regions or for former Episcopal priests who are already married and called to the Catholic priesthood.
The Sacraments of Healing are those sacraments intended to bring about spiritual healing (and occasionally, miraculously, physical healing as well). These are:
Reconciliation (or Confession or Penance) - Reconciliation is more commonly known as confession. In this sacrament, the believer enters the confessional, kneels (or sits, if face to face), crosses him or herself, says the formula words "Bless me Father, for I have sinned", states how long it has been since their last confession, and enumerates their sins. The priest listens, gives spiritual guidance and a penance (which can range from saying a few Hail Marys to getting out there and performing some charitable service, and so forth), then prays the prayer of absolution over the penitent believer.
Through confession, our sins are forgiven by God, through the priest. The priest's main function in confession is to give us a human ear to hear us, a human voice to offer us guidance and solutions, and to act as a conduit for God's love. The priest himself does not forgive our sins, only God can do that.
Anointing of the Sick (or Extreme Unction or Last Rites) - More well known as last rites (but this is not completely accurate), Anointing of the Sick is the sacrament in which those who are ill (be it physical or mental) or in danger of dying are anointed, prayed over, commended to God, and invited to unite themselves with the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Their sins are forgiven, leaving them in a state of grace should they die.
Anointing of the Sick is one of the three sacraments that can be received over and over again, the other two being Reconciliation and Eucharist. It is recommended that Catholics who are about to undergo surgery or go into battle receive this sacrament, as well as any Catholic who suffers a chronic illness or is in advanced old age.
I myself have received this sacrament three times, once after a car accident, once after a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt, and once because my diabetes was so far out of control that I thought that I might die.
This sacrament is often accompanied by Reconciliation just before, and Eucharist just after, but these are not required.
The sacraments are gifts given to human beings by God, and are treasured by those who believe in them.
Sources include but are not limited to:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The New American Bible