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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Cynthia Stewart

Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist are the sacraments of initiation, bringing the infant or the converted adult into the divine life as lived in the Church. Baptism was traditionally understood as washing away the stain of original sin, but is now seen as welcoming the new believer into the Christian community. Confirmation is an affirmation of the gift of grace through the Holy Spirit, usually made after the child is of an age to make decisions for himself or herself.  When unbaptized adults convert to Catholicism, they usually celebrate Baptism and Confirmation at the same time.

Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick are the sacraments of healing, the first dealing with the spiritual sickness of sin and the second with illness of the body. Reconciliation is the process of contrition and confession of sins to a priest, who in the name of God grants absolution, or forgiveness, for the sins. The Anointing of the Sick, also called Extreme Unction, is the ritual blessing of a person who is gravely ill. When close to death, a person may receive the Last Rites, which includes the sacraments of Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist, in preparation for the journey beyond death. 

The Sacraments of vocation, Marriage and Holy Orders, are designed to lead someone other than the recipient toward salvation; they confer a mission on the recipient as well as the grace to carry it out. Marriage is the sacramental joining of a man and a woman into a communion. This is the one sacrament not performed by a priest: although a priest presides at the wedding and grants the Church's blessing, the bride and groom actually confer the sacrament on each other. The sacrament of Holy Orders confers an apostolic ministry on men as they become deacons, priests, or bishops serving the Church; women do not receive Holy Orders.

Study Questions:
     1.    How is Mass structured? What is its purpose?
     2.    What is transubstantiation? How does it create community?
     3.    Why is tradition important to the integrity of the Catholic Church?
     4.    How are Catholic sacraments divided? What is the purpose of each?


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