What Makes a Sacrament a Sacrament?


I really do not know what is the meaning of Sacrament. I know we have seven, all which I believe are very important and true. But when I saw someone saying “Marriage is not a Sacrament” I couldn’t really defend my belief. All I’ve heard is that a Sacrament is basically a grace from God which he offers it through his ordained priests, or something like that! Is that correct? Can you point me to where I can read and learn about it, please?

Thank you :slight_smile:


A Sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ that in the mystery of faith signifies what it effects. Most symbols do not symbolize or signify its effect. The red light is a symbol to stop. However, the red light alone does not cause a stopping of cars because it is up to us to do so. In contrast, baptism’s sign is water but it also really washes sins away. Confirmation’s sign is anointing but it truly effects the coming of the Holy Spirit as in Pentecost. The exception is the Eucharist because the Eucharist is not a symbol of Christ but is Christ Himself. We believe all sacraments to have been instituted by Christ. Any clarifications?


The Catechism has a beautiful section on the Sacraments:



The classic catechetical formulation is this:

  1. A visible sign
  2. instituted by Christ
  3. that gives grace.


You can look in the Catechism, Catholic Encyclopedia, and search here on the Catholic Answers site for information on the Sacraments.

Powerful evidence, to me, is that the different Christian Churches, east and west, Catholic, Coptic, and Eastern Orthodox, even though physically separated for centuries, all believe in the same seven Sacraments. It was only when the Protestant reformers decided to apply their human judgment to the Apostolic Faith that they started to dismiss sacraments.

What has been the fruit of the demotion of marriage from a Sacrament to something less? The family breakdown that we see today.


Was the person in question a Protestant? Most Protestants who recognize the existence of sacraments at all, only profess belief in two, Baptism and Holy Communion. The reason for this is their doctrine of “Scripture alone” as the rule of faith, combined with their interpretation of the biblical texts regarding the sacraments. Christ’s institution of Matrimony, for example, is not at all explicit in Scripture (he was present at the wedding of Cana); but we know from Tradition and Magisterial teaching that he did in fact elevate natural marriage to the level of a sacrament by his presence at that wedding. The irony, if I am not mistaken, is that the two sacraments possible for Protestants without Apostolic Succession, are Baptism and Matrimony.


Please do not take offense but you are deficient in some basic Catholic catechism. So was I and it made me nuts trying to respond to such comments by other denominations without ready knowledge.

I would suggest starting with a children’s catechism, or a YouCat (for teens) or an old simple catechism that explains the basics. It was really eye opening to read our Church’s beliefs.

I have graduated to the big Catechism but still keep the simpler ones nearby for quick answers. The bigger "Catechism of the Catholic Church " is full of amazing things and references to ideas, issues, and beliefs (with their scriptural references, by the way, to inform those who claim we aren’t scriptural).

I have also found that taking an RCIA class for enrichment, teaching or assisting in a youth catechism, and just reading and refreshing my knowledge by reading the kids’ books have been helpful in making me a better apologist to others with questions or criticisms.


Any Sacrament is the power of God made available through the Holy Spirit which makes present His Grace when He is invoked through the faith of those who make the request. A priest is not always essential since Baptism may be performed by those who are lay persons as well as Marriage but the rest of the Sacraments must have a priest except for Ordination and Confirmation which needs a Bishop. I think in the Catholic Church the emphasis on the Sacrament of Marriage is on the couple while a priest or deacon is there only to be a witness and this differs to the Eastern Churches that lay the Sacrament more on the hands of the priest. In any case the presence of the Holy Spirit is enacted to be this reality to confer His Strength whenever He is invoked. If you want to read more on this since you are Catholic choose either The Catechism of the Catholic Church or YouCat or both. YouCat is an excellent introductory of the Catholic Church made possible for a younger crowd.


No offense taken. I know nothing about the Catechism, but I have the big one and trying to read it soon. I returned to church 6 months ago. And though I think I’ve learned tons, I know my current knowledge is not half of what I should know.


I’m not sure but I think she wasn’t a Catholic.


That’s so sad! Thanx for explaining.


Where is the sign in marriage?


Thank you. That is good explanation. :slight_smile:


When I grew up with Baltimore Catechism we were required to memorize the definition
of many things in order to defend our Faith. So now I finally have a chance to answer one
of those questions:

What I remember: A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by God, to give grace.

Now this definition may have changed since I learned it, but it seems accurate to me.


The exchange of vows.

Marriage is somewhat unique among the sacraments because it existed before Jesus in a real way. But Jesus came along and raised it to the level of a sacrament. So we can say that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Marriage as a sacrament, even though natural marriage was around ever since the beginning of the human race.


A, read all posters above
B, a sacrament is a sacrament if it is instituted by christ as a sacrament.
C, it is valid if there is form,matter and intent.
D, infalliable popes taught abot sacarments. Period.
E, church fathers, too. Period.


Many people object to the concept of sacraments because they do not accept the reality and significance of the physical world in God’s plan. Faith can become over-spiritualized or hyper-spiritualized. They do not believe the physical world has much meaning and they do not connect the physical world to God’s plan.

God created all that exists to reflect his glory and serve him. He created it good, as scripture tells us. The physical world has a God-given meaning and purpose. Christ himself took on human nature!! We are a union of body and soul, we are not just souls, and we are not just bodies. In marriage, one has to accept that the bodies of the man and woman are created in God’s image and designed to participate in his existence, loving sacrificially and creating new life. Our bodies reflect a higher reality (sign, sacrament), especially when they are bound to together in union. And bound together we reflect and signify Christ’s love for his people. Nothing could be more sacramental than marriage.

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