Today’s Catechism sections discuss the sacraments in relation to salvation and eternal life. Supporting material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica”.

IV. The Sacraments of Salvation

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify.48 They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation49 that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God."50 From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.51 "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature52 by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.

V. The Sacraments of Eternal Life

1130 The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord "until he comes," when God will be "everything to everyone."53 Since the apostolic age the liturgy has been drawn toward its goal by the Spirit's groaning in the Church: Marana tha!54 The liturgy thus shares in Jesus' desire: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you . . . until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."55 In the sacraments of Christ the Church already receives the guarantee of her inheritance and even now shares in everlasting life, while "awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus."56 The "Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come . . . Come, Lord Jesus!"'57

St. Thomas sums up the various aspects of sacramental signs: "Therefore a sacrament is a sign that commemorates what precedes it - Christ's Passion; demonstrates what is accomplished in us through Christ's Passion - grace; and prefigures what that Passion pledges to us - future glory."58

IN BRIEF

1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

1132 The Church celebrates the sacraments as a priestly community structured by the baptismal priesthood and the priesthood of ordained ministers.

1133 The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the sacraments by the Word of God and the faith which welcomes that word in well-disposed hearts. Thus the sacraments strengthen faith and express it.

1134 The fruit of sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness.

In his “Summa Theologica”, (3, 60, 1) St. Thomas Aquinas explains the sacraments.

Article 1. Whether a sacrament is a kind of sign?

Objection 1. It seems that a sacrament is not a kind of sign. For sacrament appears to be derived from "sacring" [sacrando; just as medicament, from "medicando" [healing]. But this seems to be of the nature of a cause rather than of a sign. Therefore a sacrament is a kind of cause rather than a kind of sign.

Objection 2. Further, sacrament seems to signify something hidden, according to Tobit 12:7: "It is good to hide the secret [sacramentum] of a king"; and Ephesians 3:9: "What is the dispensation of the mystery [sacramenti] which hath been hidden from eternity in God." But that which is hidden, seems foreign to the nature of a sign; for "a sign is that which conveys something else to the mind, besides the species which it impresses on the senses," as Augustine explains (De Doctr. Christ. ii). Therefore it seems that a sacrament is not a kind of sign.

Objection 3. Further, an oath is sometimes called a sacrament: for it is written in the Decretals (Caus. xxii, qu. 5): "Children who have not attained the use of reason must not be obliged to swear: and whoever has foresworn himself once, must no more be a witness, nor be allowed to take a sacrament," i.e. an oath. But an oath is not a kind of sign, therefore it seems that a sacrament is not a kind of sign.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x): "The visible sacrifice is the sacrament, i.e. the sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice."

I answer that, All things that are ordained to one, even in different ways, can be denominated from it: thus, from health which is in an animal, not only is the animal said to be healthy through being the subject of health: but medicine also is said to be healthy through producing health; diet through preserving it; and urine, through being a sign of health. Consequently, a thing may be called a "sacrament," either from having a certain hidden sanctity, and in this sense a sacrament is a "sacred secret"; or from having some relationship to this sanctity, which relationship may be that of a cause, or of a sign or of any other relation. But now we are speaking of sacraments in a special sense, as implying the habitude of sign: and in this way a sacrament is a kind of sign.

Reply to Objection 1. Because medicine is an efficient cause of health, consequently whatever things are denominated from medicine are to be referred to some first active cause: so that a medicament implies a certain causality. But sanctity from which a sacrament is denominated, is not there taken as an efficient cause, but rather as a formal or a final cause. Therefore it does not follow that a sacrament need always imply causality.

Reply to Objection 2. This argument considers sacrament in the sense of a "sacred secret." Now not only God's but also the king's, secret, is said to be sacred and to be a sacrament: because according to the ancients, whatever it was unlawful to lay violent hands on was said to be holy or sacrosanct, such as the city walls, and persons of high rank. Consequently those secrets, whether Divine or human, which it is unlawful to violate by making them known to anybody whatever, are called "sacred secrets or sacraments."

Reply to Objection 3. Even an oath has a certain relation to sacred things, in so far as it consists in calling a sacred thing to witness. And in this sense it is called a sacrament: not in the sense in which we speak of sacraments now; the word "sacrament" being thus used not equivocally but analogically, i.e. by reason of a different relation to the one thing, viz. something sacred.

Footnotes

48 Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1605; DS 1606.
49 Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1608.
50 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 68, 8.
51 Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1604.
52 Cf. ⇒ 2 Pet 1:4.
53 ⇒ 1 Cor 11:26; ⇒ 15:28.
54 ⇒ 1 Cor 16:22.
55 ⇒ Lk 22:15.
56 ⇒ Titus 2:13.
57 ⇒ Rev 22:17, ⇒ 20.
58 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 60, 3.