Instruction on the Sacraments in General.
is meant an outward sign of inward grace, or a sacred and mysterious sign and ceremony ordained by Christ to convey grace to our souls.
The Sacraments may be compared to channels which convey water from a fountain-head, and the soul to a vessel which one carries to these channels to be filled. The fountain, abounding with water, courses through the channels and fills every vessel which is applied thereto, as far as it can hold; the larger the vessel, the greater the quantity of water it will contain. So the larger the capacity of the soul (which capacity depends upon the soul's dispositions), the greater the portion of grace which it receives through the heavenly channels of the Sacraments. But the conditions required in the receiver are by no means productive of the efficacy of the Sacraments. Take the example of light and heat: fire is not lacking in burning power because it cannot act on incombustible materials; nor are the windows of a room the cause of light, though necessary to give it admission.
The Church has never instituted, and could not institute, any Sacrament—this is a power reserved to God Himself. He alone is the Fountain of Grace: He alone can appoint the channels by which that grace is conveyed to our souls. Since, therefore, as a fact, He has appointed those channels—and no others—which we call Sacraments, by those only can we ordinarily obtain that special grace. Hence it follows that no power on earth can change what was ordained by Jesus Christ in the outward forms of the Sacraments, without destroying them entirely; for if any change is made in what He ordained, it is no longer the same form to which grace is annexed, and consequently ceases to be a Sacrament.
The Passion of Christ is the rich and exhaustless source from which the grace of every Sacrament is derived; for each grace was purchased for us at the price of our Divine Redeemer's Blood.
There are seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
Special Instructions on each Sacrament will be found in their proper places. Of these Sacraments, some give sanctifying grace, and others increase it in our souls. Those that give sanctifying grace are Baptism and Penance; they are called Sacraments of the Dead, because they take away sin, which is the death of the soul, and give grace, which is its life. Those that increase sanctifying grace in the soul are Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony; these are called Sacraments of the Living, because those who receive them worthily are already living the life of grace. They should be received, therefore, in a state of grace; any one receiving the Sacraments of the Living in mortal sin incurs the additional guilt of Sacrilege. The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders imprint what is called a character upon the soul—a spiritual mark which remains for ever—and hence they can be received but once.
Besides the sanctifying grace common to all the Sacraments, God has annexed to each a particular Sacramental grace, which is a special help to enable us to perform the duties and attain the end for which each Sacrament was instituted—e.g., 1. Shortly after we come into the world we are made the children of God by Baptism. 2. As we grow up we are fortified for the combats against our spiritual enemies which we have to undrergo, and are made soldiers of Christ, by Confirmation. 3. The Holy Eucharist is the daily bread which feeds and nourishes our souls to everlasting life. 4. If unhappily we fall in the spiritual conflict, Penance is the remedy which restores life to the soul. 5. In Matrimony special graces are provided to sanctify and assuage the cares of the married state. 6. Holy Orders keeps up the succession of pastors in the Church, and enables them to faithfully discharge their sacred functions. 7. When the Christian soul is on the verge of Eternity, it is strengthened and comforted by the refreshing graces of Extreme Unction, so that the Christian warrior may not be vanquished at the last.