Catholic Friday:  Are Sacraments Works Based Religion?


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Thinking the 7 Sacraments sounded a whole lot like a works based religion, I've asked Dave Vermont, our 52 Prayers Roman Catholic Representative a slew of questions about why the Catholic Church has the 7 Sacraments and why only some of it's members can partake in it.  Here's what Dave had to say....

What are the 7 sacraments?  What is the point of these? What does it mean when Priests say only members in "good standing" can take Sacrament?  What I guess is considered "good standing"?

The Seven Sacraments are:

  1. Baptism
  2. Reconciliation (aka Confession)
  3. The Eucharist
  4. Confirmation
  5. The Anointing of the Sick
  6. Marriage
  7. Holy Orders

The Sacraments deliver to each person the efficacious grace of God, thereby strengthening them so they my meet the challenges of life as ever more faithful Christians.  Each one delivers the grace “proper to each sacrament” (CCC 1131).  They are tangible gifts from God, they presuppose faith but also nourish, strengthen and express it. 

Baptism: removes the stain of original sin (and in fact all sin, if you are baptized as an adult) and initiates the person into the body of Christ.

Confession: the forgiveness of sins is vocalized by the Priest to the penitent.

The Eucharist: Is considered the most important of the Sacraments and is a topic unto itself.  It will be discussed further in coming weeks.

Confirmation: is the (very) rough equivalent of being “born again” in the sense that is an adult’s public profession of faith.  Confirmation is given to a person that has reached “the age of discernment”.  It is also known as the "laying on of hands" from one of the passages in which its scriptural basis is formed. 

Heb. 6:1–2: Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

The Priest lays hands on the person, anoints them with oil and imbues them with the Holy Spirit, as was done to the Apostles, so they may grow in faith, speak the truth, live according to the moral law and preach the Gospel.  Confirmation perfects the person’s participation in the common priesthood of all believers.  It marks their soul with the seal of God as Christians, as Christ described himself marked with the seal of the father in John 6: 27.  Although Baptism is completely efficacious on its own, Confirmation “completes” one’s Baptism in the sense that, “[the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.  Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed."  (CCC 1285).

The Anointing of the Sick: also colloquially known as “last rites”, the person is anointed with oil.  In his epistle, James says, "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" (Jas. 5:14–15).  The sacrament gives strength to the soul of the sick or dying as it prepares to journey to the next life.  Catholic teaching speaks of the Anointing of the Sick as providing “viaticum” or provisions to the soul.  It provides for the forgiveness of sins even if repentance cannot be vocalized.

Marriage: as Jesus explained, marriage has always existed and has always been permanent.  It produces a family that allows us to experience by living analogy the love God has for his family more deeply.

Holy Orders:  Establishes, three ranks of clergy for the ministerial priesthood.  The Bishop, whose role it is to oversee multiple congregations and who can ordain Priests and Deacons to oversee individual congregations.  The Priests, who is to shepherd a single congregation and instruct them in the Faith and the Deacon, who does the work of the Church.  We see this order established and referred to by the early 2nd Century.  Saint Ignatius of Antioch:

            Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in his death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore—and such is your practice that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, in whom we shall be found, if we live in him. It is necessary also that the deacons, the dispensers of the mysteries  [sacraments] of Jesus Christ, be in every way pleasing to all men. For they are not the deacons of food and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They must therefore guard against blame as against fire. (Letter to the Trallians 2:1–3 [A.D. 110]).

            In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a church. I am confident that you accept this, for I have received the exemplar of your love and have it with me in the person of your bishop. His very demeanor is a great lesson and his meekness is his strength. I believe that even the godless do respect him. (ibid., 3:1–2).

            He that is within the sanctuary is pure; but he that is outside the sanctuary is not pure. In other words, anyone who acts without the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons does not have a clear conscience. (ibid., 7:2).

Generally speaking, Catholics do not use the term “good standing” to describe who may take the Sacraments.  “Good Standing” implies that you must be “dues paid” and certainly there is no financial component to the Sacraments.  

When we speak of who can take the Sacraments we speak of being “in communion” with the Catholic Church.  A person must believe in Jesus Christ, be faithful and have accepted the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Yes, they must accept all the teachings of the Catholic Church.  No, there is no test, signed oaths, pledges or quizzes.  As a practical matter, being in communion with the Church means that the person seeking to receive the sacraments, seeks the sacrament for its stated purpose, genuinely desires to live a life of Catholic faith and is not doing something that is in open and obvious contradiction to the Church’s teaching.  A person, that is not in communion with the Catholic Church cannot receive the sacraments because to allow them to would be contrary to Christian charity by allowing them to lie through their actions.

There is a loose order to how the Sacraments are received.  Baptism is obviously first.  If you are baptized as an infant generally you will receive Reconciliation and the Eucharist around age 8 and Confirmation around age 14.  If baptized as an adult you would receive Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist on the same day.  The other scenario is that you are baptized as an infant but do not receive Reconciliation and the Eucharist when you are a child but wait until you are an adult.  In that case you would receive Reconciliation, Confirmation and the Eucharist on the same day.

Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Marriage can be received only once (unless your spouse dies).  The Anointing of the Sick, Reconciliation and the Eucharist can be received as often as necessary.

The point must be made that for Catholics that sacraments are one of the fundamental differences between how we see ourselves versus other denominations.  When God became incarnate in the 2nd person of the Trinity, he became tangible, real, and physical.  When Christ was resurrected he was raised body and soul.  When he ascended into heaven, he did not leave behind a world devoid of his physical presence.  Rather, Jesus left behind physical and tangible ways we would know he is with us.  Baptism, done with water, that Jesus’ own baptism forever sanctified, it cleans and washes away prior sins.  Confession, made to a priest, who verbally articulates the forgiveness of God to the penitent.  Confirmation, the laying on of hands and calling down of the Holy Spirit as was done to the Apostles on Pentecost.  Marriage, the union of two persons, together with each other but also with God, to create a family that is part of God’s greater family.  Anointing of the Sick, again with oil as Jesus was anointed shortly before he was turned over and after death, unites the soul of a person that is sick or near death with the suffering of Christ on the Cross.  Holy Orders, carries on the line of Apostolic succession, unbroken from the Apostles until present day.  And the Eucharist, the daily transubstantiation of bread and wine, done in the memory of Jesus Christ as he directed.

For Catholics, the Sacraments are not just signs and symbols.  They are the things we do to be physically, emotionally and spiritually connected to God.  They are like road signs, marking off the miles of our lives.  They have effect when they happen and on into the future.  Especially, Reconciliation and the Eucharist which continually help to keep us on the right track.  They strengthen your soul as food strengthens the body.

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  • Scott

    Scott September 18, 2010

    “In recent years the church has reiterated again
    and again that we are saved by faith AND the
    sacraments of faith. BOTH ARE NECESSARY” (J.D.
    Crichton, Christian Celebration: The Sacraments, p.
    “All children of the Church should nevertheless
    remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on
    the Church, chap. 2, 14, p. 337).
    This is a strange kind of grace. It is a grace that does not provide eternal certainty, but only the POSSIBILITY of living up to God’s requirements. It is a subtle and unscriptural MIXTURE OF GRACE PLUS WORKS that is severely condemned in Galatians 1:6-8.
    Galatians 1:6-8 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  (7)  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  (8)  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

    Sacramental salvation is contrary to the
    Gospel of John, which was written expressly to lead men to eternal life in Christ (John 20:31).
    The first twelve chapters of John describe Jesus’
    ministry to the world of lost men. In these chapters, we are shown by unmistakable emphasis that eternal life and salvation are received by faith in Jesus Christ and faith in Christ alone. “Believe” is the key word in these chapters.
    See John 1:12; 3:16-18, 36; 5:24; 6:28-29; 7:38-39; 8:24; 9:35-38; 11:25-26; 12:36-37. Notice that in all of these verses we are told that salvation is obtained through faith in Christ and there is no hint of sacramentalism.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 19, 2010

    Scott - Always good to hear from you.

    Is baptism necessary for salvation?  B/c baptism is a sacrament clearly and unambiguously instituted by Christ.

    That paragraph from the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution simply says that the faithful must remember that all their blessing come from God, and that the more blessed they are, they more that is required of them.  I would think that everyone would agree with that.

    I don’t see anything in Galatians 1:6-8 that touches on the definitions of grace or sacraments.  That passage is clearly discussing the preaching of the Gospel as whole.  Which of course, raises the questions that always underlies these discussions, who has authority to teach the Gospel?  It the Holy Spirit speaks to you, to Jess and to me - and we reach different conclusions .... How do we know who is correct?

    As for the book of John, who would deny that faith in Jesus Christ the manner in which we are saved?  Not I.  Not the Church.  However, the question that flows from that is - After you have faith then what?  James 2:24.  -“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  In John, does not Jesus also say that the he is the vine and we are the branches.  Are not the branches that do not produce good fruit cut off and thrown into the fire?  What is the fruit that must be produced?  I would say works.  Does not Jesus also say to the apostles in John, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained”? So the Apostles have some role in the salvation of men.  Jesus doesn’t say ‘whose sins you retain are retained unless they have faith’. 

    You seem to interpret these sacraments as a burden imposed by the Church on the faithful but in fact it is the opposite.  The sacraments are a gift, given to the faithful by Christ, to help make faith real, tangible, physical.  We are spiritual and physical beings, the sacraments intersect those two world for the benefit of the faithful.

  • Scott

    Scott September 19, 2010

    Is baptism necessary for salvation? No. Baptism is a public profession of your being born again which comes after you have repented and looked to Jesus Christ as your Saviour—trusting in nothing else.

    The quotes I provided from Catholic resources both point out that salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ AND keeping the sacraments.

    James wrote: James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

    Paul wrote: Galatians 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

    So are James and Paul at odds? Of course not. What is being taught is that when a person has the true faith in Jesus Christ, then it will be evident by their works. They will want to obey Jesus Christ and do the things that are pleasing to Him in obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit. But there is nothing in James or Paul that states that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. Instead, they teach that the works are the product (fruit) of the faith.

    However, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the keeping of the sacraments is necessary for salvation. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Jesus purchased salvation and spiritual blessing and has given these to the Church for distribution to men through the sacraments. As men take part in these rituals, they allegedly receive salvation, blessing, and spiritual strength. This is stated in the words of Catholic
    theologians as follows:
    “The Church is primarily an institution for
    salvation” (Karl Adam, One and Holy, p. 90).
    “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by
    Christ to give grace. The sacraments receive their
    power to give grace from God, through the merits of Jesus Christ. The sacraments give sanctifying grace. Each of the sacraments also gives a special grace. ... The sacraments always give grace if we receive them with the right dispositions. Baptism and Penance are called sacraments of the dead because their chief purpose is to give the supernatural life of sanctifying grace to souls spiritually dead through sin” (L.G.Lovasik, The Eucharist in Catholic Life, pp. 11,12).

    Rome teaches that men must exercise faith as the sacraments are observed, but it also teaches that faith in Christ is not sufficient apart from the sacraments. Rome’s gospel is that of faith PLUS works, rather than the true gospel of faith THEN works.
    Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  (9)  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  (10)  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

  • Scott

    Scott September 19, 2010

    The passage you quoted from the Gospel by John is from chapter 15—and Jesus Christ is speaking to the apostles. A different set of circumstances than I referred to in my original quote (John 1-12).

    Throughout the first twelve chapters of John, we see Jesus Christ reaching out to the lost. The first twelve chapters of John describe Jesus’
    ministry to the world of lost men. In these chapters, we are shown by unmistakable emphasis that eternal life and salvation are received by faith in Jesus Christ and faith in Christ alone.

    “Believe” is the key word in these chapters.
    See John 1:12; 3:16-18, 36; 5:24; 6:28-29; 7:38-39; 8:24; 9:35-38; 11:25-26; 12:36-37.

    Notice that in all of these verses we are told that salvation is obtained through faith in Christ and there is no hint of sacramentalism.

  • Jessica

    Jessica September 19, 2010

    “If the Holy Spirit speaks to you, to Jess and to me - and we reach different conclusions .... How do we know who is correct?”

    Dave-this always bothers me.  I admit.  It’s frustrating that so many different denominations all see TOTALLY different things in the Bible.  I don’t get how that’s possible.  Some say it doesn’t matter, but it does matter.  It matters if one thinks baptism is critical for salvation while the other does not.  It matters.  My hope is that it only matters to me and you though and not to God and when the time comes He’ll be understanding.  However, I’m not so sure that will be the case.  But again, it’s certainly my hope because if not, there are a whole lotta lost out there that think they’re saved.

    Also, just a side note:  I think the fruit that is referred to in John is the fruit of the Spirit not works and it’s saying if we don’t have that fruit we’ll be “cut off”  While I don’t disagree that some things are necessary bi-products of faith (for instance baptism)I don’t think this specific verse was talking about works being fruit, I think it’s love, joy, peace, etc., I could be wrong though.

    Finally, about this baptism thing:  If it’s not “necessary” for salvation—(even though I know it wasn’t the specific point of this verse) can someone explain this verse:  John 3:5

    Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

  • Scott

    Scott September 20, 2010

    you must first start with John 3:3.
    John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

    Jesus Christ is talking about two births that people must experience before being to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus asked Jesus Christ if He meant that a person had to be physically born twice.
    John 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

    Jesus Christ replies that a person must be born twice: the first time is physical, the second time is spiritual.
    John 3:5, 6 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    John 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

    Think of it as two columns and at the top of one column is “physical”, and at the top of the second column is “spirit.” Under the column marked “physical”, place the phrase “a man be born of water”, and under the column marked “spirit” place the phrase “a man be born of the Spirit.”

    Next, under the column marked “physical” place the phrase “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”, and under the column marked “spirit” place the phrase “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

    What you seeing in looking at the two columns is that Jesus Christ is stating that everyone is physically born (born of the flesh, born of water—if you have attended a birth there is a lot of water released when a baby is born). In order to enter the kingdom of God, the person must then be born spiritually (born of the spirit)—in other words, they must be born again. Jesus Christ is not talking about being born again through baptism, He is talking about being born again through the Holy Spirit. Consider also that Jesus Christ does not mention water baptism in The Gospel by John, and nowhere in the Bible is “baptism by intent” taught. 

    It is a similar speaking style that John the Baptist uses in John 3:31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

  • Scott

    Scott September 20, 2010

    ““If the Holy Spirit speaks to you, to Jess and to me - and we reach different conclusions .... How do we know who is correct?”

    Dave-this always bothers me.  I admit.  It’s frustrating that so many different denominations all see TOTALLY different things in the Bible.  I don’t get how that’s possible.”

    One thing you need to do is stick to the Scriptures Only. Too many denominations require the Bible plus… the Magisterium and the Catechism and the church fathers, or the writings of Joseph Smith, or the writings of Charles Taze Russell, or the writings of Ellen White, or the writings of Jack Hyles…

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 20, 2010

    The “bible alone” is exactly what gets us into this problem.  Scott has his interpretation of the scripture and I have mine. For example, Jesus Christ himself was baptized IN WATER.  He directed the Apostles to go out and baptize.  The books of Acts is full of baptism by water.  The Ethiopian eunuch stops his chariot immediately upon coming to faith b/c they see a pool of water and he can immediately be baptized.

    Not surprisingly my answer to the question of how do we know is - b/c Jesus told us.  He gave Peter the keys.  He gave the Apostles the authority to bind and loose.  He directed them to go out and teach the Gospel.  He directed them to baptize.  He directed them to forgive sins.  He said heaven would be bound by their decisions.  He promised to send the Holy Spirit to protect them from teaching error.  If God gave authority to 11 men to do these things all you have to do is ask where this authority went.  The answer is obvious, the Apostles passed it on.  When Judas committed suicide his position was filled by Mathias, who the Apostles and selected as a replacement.  In Acts 6, Stephen and others are selected to lead, they are taken to the Apostles who lay hands on them so they may be given authority. 

    In Acts 9, after Paul was converted and taught the Gospel by Christ himself, he STILL has hands laid on him by Ananias and is baptized so he could receive the Holy Spirit before he could teach.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!  Think about that.  Christ himself selects the greatest evangelical preacher in history and he still has to receive baptism and the laying on of hands.  Why?  Jesus is God and personally selects Paul.  He could do whatever he wanted.  If he says Paul is an Apostle then Paul is an Apostle, why then Baptism and the laying of hands for Paul.  For you Jess.  For you and for every person in history form that moment forward, so you and everyone else can see that God’s authority rests in God’s church and is passed on.  Only one Church on earth can make any claim to be that church today.

    Let me interpose a question… Who says any one verse of scripture has to mean only one thing?  The Catholic church has defined the meaning of (I believe) only 9 passages of Scripture.  Think about that: 2,000 years - 9 passages.  And look at the wisdom of the Church it says those 9 passages mean X but not only X.  If you read them and you find other meaning in them that is fine all you are obligated to believe as a Catholic is that the passages include the interpretation defined by the Church.  The “bible alone” does not free you from the authority of the Church, it condemns you to an endless maze of interpretations and re-interpretations by an endless parade of “preachers of the day”.  This problem has been going on since the beginning, see 2 Corinthians 11 , where Paul condemns the “superapostles” (Paul’s word) that have been lending their own interpretations to the Gospel of Christ.  So how do we know that Paul’s Gospel was the true Gospel?  B/c it comes directly from Christ through the Apostles via baptism and the laying on of hands. 

    Scott says, “One thing you need to do is stick to the Scriptures Only. Too many denominations require the Bible plus…” and lumps the Magesterium in with other denominations based on people who wrote thousands of years later.  But this very advice from Scott, betrays the fallacy of his position.  One of my favorite passage, the Ethiopian Eunuch, says we all need teachers.  Thus, we see Scott’s position is false on its face.  “Stick to the scriptures” alone and read the bible all you want, I’m reading it now, but without a teacher, without authority, you will get what we have now, a thousand different interpretations.  Some will be good and generally holy and send people like James to far away countries to spread the Gospel and help the poor (Mother Theresa comes to mind).  Some gospel preachers will burn Korans and protest at soldiers funerals.  However, at Pentecost, Christ gave us authoritative teachers.  He promised to protect them from error.  He made that promise to you and me.  I take him at his word.  I don’t doubt him and God willing I never will.  That doesn’t mean I follow blindly.  I think, I use my common sense, I read, interpret and love the Bible within the guidelines established by Christ’s Church so I can be confident I don’t fall into error.

    For me, it comes down to one question: Where did the authority to teach that Jesus gave the Apostles go?  If you can show me that Scott has it, I’ll quit the Church tomorrow and join up with him.  But I know you won’t be able to show me that b/c God keeps his promises and Jesus told his new Church that he would always be with them.  He made this promise to all his people.  To me.  To you.

  • Scott

    Scott September 21, 2010

    The quick answer and I will fill in more later:
    If the Roman Catholic church had its way, you would not even own a Bible, Dave. The reason you do now is because they could not stop the printing press.

  • Scott

    Scott September 25, 2010

    Since you brought up Mother Teresa, she was very good at helping those in need. She fed the poor and nursed the sick and that is great.

    She also neglected the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    In the biography Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work, she is quoted by Desmond Doig as follows: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we ... become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are ... What God is in your mind you must accept.”

    The April 7-13, 1990, issue of Radio Times told the story of Mother Teresa sheltering an old Hindu priest. “She nursed him with her own hands and helped him to die reconciled with his own gods.”

    When Mother Teresa died, her longtime friend and biographer Naveen Chawla said that he once asked her bluntly, “Do you convert?” She replied, “Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him” (“Mother Teresa Touched other Faiths,” Associated Press, Sept. 7, 1997).

    What happened? How did Mother Teresa stray from what the Bible teaches? Because followed first what the catholic church teaches.

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