When talking about Catholicism with our Protestant brothers and sisters, they may ask you to prove your point with Scripture. You may be asked the question “Where is that in the Bible?” While few Christians disagree that Baptism and the Eucharist are found in the Bible, some may ask you where you find the rest of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ in the Word.
The Catholic Church didn’t invent the seven sacraments – each of them can be found in Scripture. It’s important to also remember that the Catholic Church stands on a three-legged stool of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. So while Scripture is important in understanding the basis of our Faith, our faith is not based on Scripture alone.
Catholics also believe that sacraments are efficacious signs of grace. We believe that the sacraments are visible signs in our world today that make grace present in our life. Catholics view sacraments as the channel through which God pours down His grace into our souls.
This view differs from the Protestant understanding of sacraments, which holds baptism, the Eucharist, and marriage are merely signs and reminders.
So where does the Catholic understanding of the sacraments come from? Here’s a quick look at each sacrament that the Catholic Church teaches, and where you can turn to in Scripture to find out more:
In conversation with Christians, baptism is the one sacrament that is the least disputed. This is mainly because Christ, who had no sin, asks John to baptize Him in the Jordan River.
“Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . .We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship,” wrote Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.
But baptism isn’t just found in the Gospels. It’s also emphasized in the life of the early Church, which can be found in the Acts of the Apostles.
Some Christians will argue that, unless Christ specifically practiced or instituted a sacrament, it isn’t legitimate. “Such claims are often hard to make,” writes Dr. Gerard Verschurren in his book Forty Anti-Catholic Lies. “For example, nowhere in the Bible do we read that the apostles were baptized, nor that Jesus Himself had baptized them. But again, the New Testament is not a how-to manual of the sacraments. Only the Church can tell us – but did not always do so in the earliest documents – which sacraments were used and how.”
Our Christian brothers and sisters acknowledge that we’re called to confess our sins. But we differ when it comes to the subject of private confession and the elevation of confession to a sacrament.
Yet the sacrament of penance was instituted by Christ explicitly in Scripture. He tells His apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sin of any they are retained.”
As Christ ascends into Heaven, He reminds His apostles that they are called to imitate His example – which they do. In the early Church, you can turn to the Second Letter to the Corinthians to read about Saint Peter forgiving others in the presence of Christ.
Many denominations of Christians recognize that Christ instituted the Eucharist. But each denomination interprets the Scripture surrounding the sacrament a little bit differently.
Christ institutes the Eucharist explicitly in the Gospel of John. But if you want to discuss with other Christians how the early Church celebrated the Eucharist, turn to Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where Saint Paul takes time to explain the proper understanding of the Eucharist to the new church in Corinth.
Read more: 5 Real Effects of Receiving the Eucharist
“This cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” he asks the Corinthians.
Christ didn’t confirm His followers in the way that we’re used to seeing in today’s celebration of the sacrament. However, there’s evidence that Confirmation was celebrated in the early Church.
Turn to the Book of Acts for not just one, but two examples of the sacrament of Confirmation in the lives of Peter and John.
Later in Acts, Paul encounters Christians who had been baptized by John. He “laid his hands upon them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.”
The early Christian Church used the phrase presbyteros, to refer to priests. This word was translated as ‘elders’. The way that elders were instituted in the Church was through a laying on of hands. This laying on of hands is similar to how the Levites (a tribe of priests!) in the Old Testament passed on their mission.
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to Timothy, tells the young man: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate”
There is no lack of Scripture that discusses Matrimony as an institution. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous,” Saint Paul writes in his Letter to the Hebrews. But can you point to a certain Scripture passage as proof for the sacramental reality of Matrimony?
“Does Marriage have a strong foundation in Scripture?” Dr. Verschurren asks. “As an Institution it certainly does, but not literally as a sacrament. Yet, its sacramental understanding is definitely in line with Church tradition and practice: a visible sign of an important invisible reality in life.”
Anointing of the Sick
Christ Himself instructs His apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.” In the Gospel of Mark, we read that Christ also sent His followers out in pairs and they “anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.”
The Catechism discusses the tradition of blessing the sick with oil. “From ancient times in the liturgy of both the East and West, we have testimonies to the practice of anointing of the sick with oil. Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death.”