Catholic life revolves around the celebration of the sacraments.
Sacraments are signs: signs of God’s action in our lives; signs of God’s relationship with his people (which we call the New Covenant); signs of grace given to the recipient for their salvation.
There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. These can be grouped into three categories: sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing, and sacraments of service.
The sacraments of initiation lay the foundations for our life as Christians. We are born again in Baptism, strengthened by Confirmation and nourished by our regular reception of the Eucharist.
Our new life received in Baptism is carried in ‘earthen vessels’, as St Paul says, and we can find ourselves weak and fragile, subject to suffering and sin. Christ has therefore instituted two sacraments of healing: Penance, by which sins can be forgiven, and Anointing of the Sick, in which we are offered the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to bring us healing and wholeness.
The remaining two sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, direct us to the service of others. In the celebration of Matrimony, a man and a woman commit themselves to loving one another and, if they are able to have children, to bring them up to know and love God. In Holy Orders, men offer themselves for the service of the Christian community.
A celebration of any of the sacraments is always a celebration of the whole Church, even if the rest of the community are unable to be present. It is also always a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit: a meeting which takes the form of a dialogue involving both words and actions. In each sacrament God’s Word is spoken to us and we respond; God’s grace is proffered to us and we accept.