During the Easter Vigil mass Catechumens at parishes everywhere are brought into the faith to whichever degree is most appropriate. Adults who may have been suitably baptised in churches outside full communion with the Catholic Church need only to receive First Communion and Confirmation. In many diocese children do not receive confirmation until a given age.
One of the lasting effects of the sacraments is their ability to unite. Jesus will draw all men to himself, the devil conversely looks to separate us like stray sheep without a shepherd. Through a series of visible signs and symbols grace is confered to its recipient through the sacramental celebration. To recap, the sacraments are Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick (the order in which they are received in my diocese, and I think all those in Australia). Going through this order let’s look at how each of these unites one thing to another.
…Person to the community
Usually received a short time after birth baptism is a rebirth in Christ, one is effectively born again. And yes, Catholics are born again. So is anyone validly baptised. Through this sacrament one is brought into the community of the faithful, the chosen people of God. In effect then the sacrament unites the individual to the community. This is done by God’s grace which removes the stain of original sin, the one prerequisite of becoming the chosen people of God. Outside the community you are a welcome guest but a guest nonetheless. Join the community and the benefits and responsibilities become yours. Much like a guest in a house.
…Person to the self
The confession of sins: the recognition of our wrongfulness and our desire for reparation. While sin separates us from God it separates us from the community too. Returning to God requires we first return to the community, but returning to the community requires us to repair our sinful nature like that done in baptism. So in God’s grace he has given us this merciful gift of reconciliation which reinstates our integrity and allows us to be reunited personally with God. The many unitive effects of reconciliation is based on the one unitive act of the integration of the person, once sin is gone the person is again made whole in Christ.
…Person to the Divine (Christ)
The most intimate gift; God himself. The Eucharist, we believe, is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the person of Jesus Christ. A bit hard to get your head around I know. I don’t think we will ever know how it works. But through this mystery Jesus is received physically into our very being. A plethora of graces are found in the Eucharist which is the most powerful of sacraments when taken in the right conditions.
…Person to the world
Having been united to the community and to God, having been integrated with the self and made whole, and hopefully having been catechised correctly, we are sent into the world to proclaim the Gospel. This mission of all the faithful unites us to the world differently as it unites us to community. As we are in the world but not of it (or as St. Mary of the Cross puts it, “we are but travellers here”) we are united to the world like one might be united to their home, to their school or to their workplace. It is the battlefield of life in which we search for souls.
…Person to another
Probably the most common and clear example of the unity of the sacraments marriage not only unites two people but also any children produced from such an intimate bond. This particular unity becomes a symbol of humanity: the unity of man to woman and of adult to child and thus reflecting the image of God as relationship. In its wisdom the church recognises that because all the necessary elements are there the family is the first church and the nucleus of society; the building blocks of humanity in which we are called to bring salvation.
…Person to church
The church exists primarily for the salvation of souls, for redemption of fallen humanity. As such it offers to the community the complete means to salvation. Being then a servant to the people of God the church herself needs people to fill the role of servants in a special way. Just as in marriage (entered into by a sacrament) all the elements of church exist so to, obviously, that the church reflects these elements. Entering into by the sacrament of Holy Orders priests (Fathers) commit themselves to the church and her children (the community). This by the way becomes one good reason why only men can become priests as the role of Father is most perfectly filled by a man.
…Person to death
Having lived through this life with the strength of sacramental graces so one can enter the next life with that same strength. This sacrament prepares us for death, the threshold of the new life, and helps us to be thankful for what the earthly life has given us, and us it. Often given with viaticum and reconciliation anointing, being the ancient sign of kingship, enables us to be closer united to the people of God in heaven and enjoy his glory. We quite literally become saint like. Praise God for his great mercy.