The Sacraments – Matrimony

MatrimonyMatrimony, or marriage, is a covenant between a man and a woman by which they establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life. For a valid marriage, a man and a woman must express their conscious and free consent to a definitive self-giving to each other. It is ordinarily celebrated in a nuptial Mass. For much of the Church’s history, no specific ritual was prescribed for celebrating a marriage: Marriage vows did not have to be exchanged in a church, nor was a priest’s presence required. A couple could exchange consent anywhere, anytime.

Matrimony was raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament when he discussed the issue of divorce with some Pharisees. Jesus said to them,
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
[ Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6 ]

The Catholic Church also has requirements before Catholics can be considered validly married in the eyes of the Church. A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the canonical form, i.e., in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorised church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by church authority.

The Church has always recognised the states of virginity and celibacy as superior to the married state. This appears to have stemmed from Saint Paul who recommended celibacy but recognised that not all have the ability to live such a life: “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this: I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” [ 1 Corinthians 7:6–9 ]

MatrimonyOn the right is another detail from the Seven Sacraments painting. Can you find the detail in the full picture?

Below is a romanticised depiction of the marriage in 1170 between Aoife MacMurrough and Strongbow in the ruins of Waterford, painted in 1854 by Daniel Maclise. Nowadays, marriages are usually quieter affairs, with fewer dead bodies. Click the picture to see a bigger copy.Strongbow and Aoife

Holy Orders

The Sacraments – Holy Orders

There are three degrees of ordination: the episcopate (bishop), the presbyterate (priest), and the diaconate (deacon). There are particular duties that belong to each one of the degrees and only a bishop can ordain.
Bishop Lee
The Church confers the sacrament of holy orders only on baptised men whose suitability for the exercise of the ministry has been duly recognized. Church authority alone has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive the sacrament of holy orders.

The essential rite of the sacrament of holy orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop’s laying of hands on the head of the candidate and in the bishop’s specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.


Ordination of a bishopBishops are priests who have been appointed by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, to be the head of a particular diocese. Bishops are regarded as transmitters of the unbroken apostolic succession going back to the beginning of the Church.

The consecration of a new bishop requires the participation of several bishops.


ConsecrationPriests depend on their bishops in the exercise of their pastoral functions – they are called to be the bishops’ prudent co-workers. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or some other office within the diocese.

The promise of obedience they make to the bishop at the moment of ordination and the kiss of peace from him at the end of the ordination liturgy mean that the bishop considers them his co-workers, his sons, his brothers and his friends, and that they in return owe him love and obedience. The sacrament of holy orders for the priesthood is normally conferred only on candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate.

Priests can administer all of the sacraments except holy orders although a bishop normally administers confirmation.


DeaconThe transitional diaconate is a temporary stage which a man passes through on his way to be ordained to the priesthood. Normally, a transitional deacon is ordained as a priest after six months.

Permanent deacons are ministers ordained for tasks of service of the Church; they do not receive the ministerial priesthood, but ordination confers on them important functions in the ministry of the word, divine worship, pastoral governance, and the service of charity – tasks which they must carry out under the pastoral authority of their bishop.

The permanent diaconate is made up of men (who may be married) who can perform baptisms, witness Catholic marriages, assist at burials and the Mass (without consecrating the bread and wine), and deliver sermons and instruction.

As part of a process of renewal of ministries in the Church, both lay and ordained, the Second Vatican Council decided to restore the diaconate as a distinct ministry and the Irish bishops have now established the permanent diaconate in their dioceses.

In 2006 the Irish bishops produced a booklet on the permanent diaconate which may be seen HERE.

The Irish bishops’ website also has some official information regarding the permanent diaconate in Ireland. You can see it HERE.

Anointing of the Sick

The Sacraments – Anointing of the Sick


From the early middle ages until after the Second Vatican Council this sacrament was known as extreme unction (final anointing). It was administered only when death was near and bodily recovery of the sick person was not ordinarily looked for. The emphasis was on preparing the sick person for entry into the next life – forgiveness of sins and Holy Communion were an important part of the rite.

Holy OilThe anointing was done with holy oil, usually on the forehead and hands. The picture shows three jars of holy oil: the Oil of the Infirm (“Oleum Infirmorum”) for the anointing of the sick; the Oil of Catechumens (“Oleum Catechumenorum” or “Oleum Sanctorum”) for baptism; and holy chrism (“Sacrum Chrisma”) for baptism, confirmation, and holy orders.

Since 1972, when the name anointing of the sick was adopted, the emphasis has been on the sick person rather than the dying person. The basis for the sacrament lies, principally, in the letter of James, the Brother of the Lord, but also in the gospel of Mark:

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
[ James 5:14-15 ].

So they [ the twelve apostles ] went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them”.
[ Mark 6:12-13 ].
The picture shows a detail from the Seven Sacraments painting. In the foreground a man is being ordained (see The Sacrament of Holy Orders). In the background a sick man lies in bed. He’s not in great shape and a good feed would do him no harm. Can you find this detail in the full picture?


The Sacraments – Reconciliation

Fenor Confessional Box

This sacrament is also known as the sacrament of penance or confession. It is the method by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism and have them absolved by a priest. A new approach to confession was introduced at the Second Vatican Council, providing other options besides the traditional way of telling sins to a priest in the confessional (see picture opposite of the confessional in Fenor church) and advising us that confession was more about becoming reconciled with God.

Catholics believe that all of the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ himself. In the case of reconciliation, that institution occurred on Easter Sunday, when Jesus first appeared to the apostles after his resurrection. Breathing on them he said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ [ John 20:22-23 ].

Also, St. James, the Brother of the Lord, urged us to ‘Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.’ [ James 5:16 ]

Three things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily:
He/she must be contrite — in other words, sorry for his/her sins.
He/she must confess those sins fully, in kind and in number.
He/she must be willing to do penance and make amends for the sins.

Reconciliation services are held in Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter) when several priests are available to facilitate individual confession for large numbers. These services bring out the community dimension of sin and reconciliation. In some churches individual reconciliation is available on a daily basis.

Stories abound concerning the confessional box but it’s hard to beat “First Confession” by Frank O’Connor. But that was then!

Holy Eucharist

The Sacraments – Holy Eucharist


This sacrament is also called Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, and the Lord’s Supper. It is a commemoration of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples before his arrest and eventual crucifixion (the picture opposite is Leonardo da Vinci’s 1498 painting The Last Supper).

The consecration of bread and wine within the rite recalls the moment at the Last Supper when Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine. It is called a sacrament of initiation because, like Baptism and Confirmation, it brings us into the fullness of our life in Christ.

St. Paul had this to say in his letter to the people of Corinth:
For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that, on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and, after he had given thanks, he broke it and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.‘”
[ 1 Corinthians, 11:23-25 ]

Catholics believe that the consecrated bread and wine that they receive in the Eucharist, usually during Mass, is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine. In this parish, children and parents are prepared together for the ceremony of First Holy Communion by means of the Do This in Memory programme.


The Sacraments – Confirmation

Confirmation is the second sacrament of Christian initiation. It is conferred by the anointing with sacred chrism (oil mixed with balsam), which is done by the laying on of the hand of the minister. The sacrament is normally administered by a bishop who blesses the chrism during Easter week on Holy Thursday. Through this sacrament the grace given in baptism is strengthened and deepened. Like baptism, confirmation may be received only once. The effect of the sacrament of confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The apostles all received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and a group of Samaritans (the people who lived in Samaria) also received the Holy Spirit through the apostles Peter and John:

“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
[ Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17 ]

The sacrament gives us a special strength to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. This effect has been described as making the confirmed person “a soldier of Christ”. It is a great occasion in the parish when the bishop arrives to confirm the boys and girls who have been prepared to receive the sacrament by their parents and schoolteachers.


The Sacraments – Baptism


What is baptism?

This is the first and basic sacrament of Christian initiation. To baptise means to immerse and the early Christians were baptised using either total immersion in water or partial immersion while water was poured over them. In the Catholic Church of today, in Ireland, where we use the Latin Rite of the Church, baptism is usually conferred by pouring a little water three times on the recipient’s head, while reciting words taken from Matthew’s gospel, “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [ Matthew 28:19 ].

The baptism of infants is often referred to as christening which we think of as a naming ceremony. But to christen is really to Christ-en. The child’s name is usually added to the beginning of the words of baptism as in “Mary, I baptise you in the name of …” Most Christians were babies when they were baptised but adults, too, are baptised if they become Christians later in life. When baptised, the recipient is freed from all sins and enters into the life of the Church.


What about anointing?

The Greek word cristos means “anointed” and Jesus was called the Christ, the anointed one, because he was rather special. In biblical times, people were anointed with oil to signify God’s blessing or call on that person’s life. Anointing is also part of the baptismal ceremony in which a little perfumed oil is rubbed or smeared on the forehead and chest of the recipient.
This is what Jesus had to say about His own anointing when He first began to preach:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” [ Luke 4:18-19 ].

The symbols of baptism

The many symbols of baptism include a white garment, symbolising innocence and purity; a candle, symbolising the Light of Christ; the sacred chrism (a Greek word that means an anointing), which is used to anoint the recipient; and the water, which symbolises cleansing and the washing away of sin.

Sponsors, Godparents, and Witnesses

The role of the sponsor is to assist an adult in Christian initiation or, together with the parents, to present a child for baptism and to help it to live a Christian life befitting the baptised and to fulfil faithfully the duties inherent in baptism. Only one sponsor is needed who may be a man or a woman, but there can be two who must be a man and a woman. Also, each sponsor must be a Catholic at least sixteen years old who has been confirmed and has already received the sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on. The recipient’s father or mother cannot be sponsors.

The sponsors are sometimes called godparents but this is not the official title. There can be as as many godfathers and godmothers as are wanted but only the sponsors may be registered in the baptismal record. A witness is a baptised non-Catholic Christian who participates in the ceremony together with one of the sponsors. Witnesses are also named in the baptismal record. Of course, if you have non-Catholic friends or relatives, they may attend the ceremony without taking part in it in the way that an official witness does.

Baptism at Pisa

BaptisteryAt baptism, a person becomes a member of the Church. Traditionally, this was signified by holding the rite (or ceremony) of baptism outside the doors of the main part of the church. In some large churches a separate building, the baptistery, was used for baptism and for instructing the catechumens (those adults who wished to become members of the Church). The recipient entered the baptistery by one door and, after baptism, left by a second door. This led to the main door of the church which the newly baptised person was now permitted to enter. The photograph shows the magnificent baptistery in the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Italy. Two of the Fenor churches, one on top of the other, would fit nicely inside the baptistery. Most churches don’t have such a baptistery but the ceremony usually begins at the door of the church where everyone is welcomed by the priest.

Planning and Forethought

As well as being of religious significance for the recipient, baptism is also an important religious and social occasion for family and friends. As such, it requires some forethought and planning. Here is a checklist that may be helpful:

  • Confirm dates for baptism preparation.
  • Confirm date for baptism.
  • Think about possible scripture readings.
  • Choose sponsors and godparents.
  • Choose witnesses, if appropriate.
  • Prepare prayers of intercession.
  • Plan your family celebration.


The Sacraments

The Sacraments

What is a sacrament?

A sacrament is a solemn Christian rite or ceremony through which God gives us his unmerited assistance (which we call grace) for our regeneration and sanctification. Sacraments are usually, but not always, administered in a church.

Through each sacrament God bestows a particular grace such as incorporation into the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service. The Church teaches that the effect of a sacrament comes by the very fact of being administered, regardless of the personal holiness of the minister administering it or the person receiving it.

The Seven Sacraments

SacramentsIn the Catholic Church there are seven sacraments:
baptism, confirmation, Holy Eucharist (or Holy Communion), reconciliation, anointing of the sick, matrimony, and holy orders.

The first three are sacraments of initiation, the next two are sacraments of healing, and the last two are sacraments of ministry. Though not every individual has to receive every sacrament, the Church affirms that, for believers as a whole, the sacraments are necessary for salvation, as they are the modes of grace instituted by Christ himself.

Anglican churches recognise only baptism and Eucharist as “sacraments of the gospel” ordained by Jesus Christ.

The picture shows the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece triptych by the artist Rogier van der Weyden. It was painted from 1445 to 1450 and depicts the seven sacraments.

The menu on the left provides access to a series of articles on the sacraments. The articles are not exhaustive and are not highly theological. Instead, they provide a little information of a general nature that anyone might like to read. We hope that you find the articles useful.