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What are the Catholic Sacraments?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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Sacraments in the Catholic Church are defined as both the symbol of the thing and the thing itself. There are seven sacraments. The sacraments are different blessings, vows and activities that are considered most holy and sacred. Participating in the different sacraments is meant to bring someone closer to God.

The seven sacraments are baptism, Eucharist or Holy Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick or Last Rites. Most practicing Catholics will not participate in all of the sacraments. For example, taking Holy Orders essentially precludes marriage.

Last Rites is often thought of as prayers before a Catholic dies, however, the sacrament is actually termed Anointing of the Sick. A person may receive this sacrament more than once, if he or she is ill and recovers. Not all Catholics will receive Anointing of the Sick, and this is one of the sacraments that causes confusion. Dying without Last Rites does not mean one is barred from heaven.

Instead this sacrament blesses the person and calls on the healing powers of Christ. It is also meant to comfort those who are ill and their families by reminding all present that they have more than a physical body, and that life in one form or another is eternal through the love of Jesus Christ.

The first of the sacraments normally received, however, is baptism. This usually occurs within a few months of a baby being born. The baptism for a newborn is meant to welcome the child into the Catholic Church, and also is a promise that the child will be raised as a Catholic. It is no longer believed that unbaptized children are not welcome in heaven.

Much emphasis in baptism used to be placed on the rinsing away of original sin, or casting out potential evils in a child. Now more emphasis in the sacrament is based on a commitment to welcoming the child into the church. The same holds for adults who were not baptized as children. This is a time to officially become part of the church.

For a baptized child, Eucharist and Reconciliation are sacraments often received together when a child reaches the age of seven or eight. Reconciliation is usually the first sacrament taken. This is known to most of the world as confession.

A person who makes a heartfelt confession to a priest is absolved of sins committed. Once a heartfelt confession is made, a person has a clean slate. Confession used to be more common in the US, and now has waned in popularity.

Holy communion or Eucharist occurs when people take the bread of Christ, and the wine of Christ. This is both symbolic, and very real to the Catholic. By participating in communion, the person is literally taking Christ into him or herself.

Confirmation used to occur for children at the age of about 13 or 14. It now may be made at a much later time, or never made at all. An unconfirmed Catholic is no less a Catholic. This is often called baptism by the Holy Spirit. It repeats the ritual of baptism, but also is an affirmation by the person that they are committed to Catholicism consciously.

Marriage or Holy Orders are both viewed as sacraments, and are sacred blessing of the church. Marriage joins two people together in the eyes of the church and with Christ’s blessings. It is a very serious commitment, which is meant to last through one’s life. Divorce in the Catholic Church is difficult when people participate in the sacrament of marriage, since the union is considered holy.

Holy Orders are vows to serve the church as priests or deacons. These are again serious vows. Both Marriage and Holy Orders are considered sacraments of vocations. They are a statement of how a person is called to serve the church. Some are called by marriage to serve the church as good husbands and wives. Others are called to serve the church more directly as ministers to the people.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon322247 — On Feb 26, 2013

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 1446 that, "Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.""

According to Pope John Paul II the Catechism of the Catholic Church "is given as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine."

By anon265984 — On May 03, 2012

What is conformation? It's when the bishop puts a cross on your forehead with oil. It's usually done in high school so you choose to be a catholic. It's saying I'm going to continue this faith and it's your choice in high school and you're filled with the Holy Spirit.

By anon265983 — On May 03, 2012

@IWant2know: These are in bible a lot! For baptism, Jesus and St. John the Baptist! First communion? At the Last Supper. Reconciliation? Jesus always forgives and people confess. The priest takes the place of God. He is close enough.

Then marriage is a lot like the wedding at Cana and holy orders, like many priests like peter, and anointing of the sick, well Jesus heals.

By anon89930 — On Jun 13, 2010

Iwant2know: that's why we started the Protestants!

By Iwant2know — On Dec 19, 2009

Where in the Bible is it mentioned that these things are required? And if we can talk directly to God, why should we confess to a priest?

By anon43550 — On Aug 30, 2009

Hi, my son is eight and has taken the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation and communion, which he completed over a 2 year cycle. He attends a catholic school and they worked closely with our local catholic church. It was so great to be part of this for my son and now my daughter is due to start this year. I myself am looking to become catholic and am going to take part in RCIA this year which I am looking forward to. Good luck.

By anon17866 — On Sep 09, 2008

Magicsoul, Most churches offer religion classes for kids. How long these take and what is taught is up to the individual church. If the church is very small, there may not be many classes. If you're interested, I'd suggest calling up your local catholic church or the local parish you live in to ask about religion classes, preparation for receiving communion, baptism or confirmation.

Very often these classes are quite inexpensive, and if you can't afford it, that usually is no problem. Hope this helps, Tricia EC

By magicsoul — On Sep 08, 2008

How long do the classes for confirmation take if a child doesn't go to catholic school and how long does each class last?

By WGwriter — On Sep 08, 2008

Hi MagicSoul, If you are interested in confirmation there are classes at most local churches called RCIA classes. People attending Catholic high school frequently are prepared through standard religion classes in school, though confirmation is optional. You normally have to be baptized and have received your first communion (but sometimes for adults all three sacraments occur at the same time, usually around Easter Vigil). Also, you don't have to be confirmed in the church to take communion or avail yourself of other sacraments like the Eucharist/ Marriage/ Anointing of the Sick. It is wholly optional.

By magicsoul — On Sep 07, 2008

What is confirmation and does a person have to take classes for this?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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