It is critically important that we remember the sacraments are not traditions. They are not little rituals we play out like the make-believe games of childhood. They have the power to bring heaven to earth, rip the veil between all things seen and unseen, and allow humanity and eternity to commingle in mysterious, yet palpable ways. Through the sacraments, heaven comes, not just to visit, but to live with us and in us. In the sacraments, we are graced.
My appreciation for how the Church upholds and protects the seven sacraments has been vividly reawakened as I watch my brother prepare for the priesthood. Living a sacramental life is the great gift and calling of every Catholic, and we sometimes forget just how powerful and healing that is.
Learning the history of how a particular sacrament developed is a useful way to reignite our respect for its practice. For example, the rite of ordination has developed over centuries, but from apostolic times, we believe the prayers of consecration combine with the laying on of hands to effect the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Here, when the bishop calls upon the Holy Spirit, an indelible spiritual mark impresses upon the soul of a man and he becomes typos tou Patros, the living image of God the Father. Here, he is graced for the duties of his ministry. Here, he becomes a priest forever.
During the ordinations I have attended in recent years, as I watch the ordinands stretched out on the floor, knowing that one day soon it will be my own brother lying there, prostrate and anointed, there is one simple thought which consumes me: “This is a really big deal.” Here’s some more news: all the sacraments are—they’re a really big deal. For each of us.
It is particularly important for us to teach children that sacraments are so much more than a ceremony to prepare for; they are God’s way of reaching down to us and offering us a lifelong gift—a gift of grace that gives us a glimpse of heaven and a taste of eternity.