As we enter into the third part of Vatican II’s teaching on the liturgy we are invited to look outside of the Mass itself to the Sacraments and sacramentals that flow from it. Perhaps the most important thing we can consider as we enter into this chapter is the difference between a Sacrament and a sacramental. For the sake of brevity, we will only consider the Sacraments in general today.
As we all know, there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Holy Orders. These are the primary tools or instruments that Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church to bring souls to heaven.
Therefore, these are the first two aspects of every Sacrament. First and foremost, they were made by Jesus Christ. We cannot make a Sacrament. They work, not because of their symbolic value, but because the God-man said they would. Second, they have one primary purpose, to help bring souls to heaven. Thus the origin and end of Sacraments is God.
In addition to having their origin and end in God, each sacrament is comprised of two aspects: from and matter. The matter is something concrete and tangible—for example, the pouring of water in Baptism. The matter is the ‘stuff’ of the sacrament. However, water is just water until something more is added. We call this additional element the “form” of a Sacrament.
The form is primarily the words that are used to confer the Sacrament. In the case of Baptism, Christ himself supplied the words as we hear at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the pouring of water with these words that distinguishes a Baptism from a bath.
When the proper form and matter are present, each sacrament infallibly causes a supernatural effect in the souls of those who receive them. For example, Baptism imparts the forgiveness of original sin and all personal sin; it grants the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with everything that comes along with His presence in us.
A surprising truth about a Sacrament is that the person giving a sacrament does not even necessarily need to believe in it for it to work. In an emergency, for example, an atheist nurse can successfully baptize a premature baby in danger of death.
The emergency baptism is successful, because the origin and end of a Sacrament is God. It is His work, not ours. Therefore, each and every one of the sacraments is always the liturgy—the work of God.