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Catholic sacraments

The practice of Catholic Church (and also of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches) consists of seven sacraments:

Eucharist (Communion), is the unbloody sacrifice of Christ, marked by partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ, which replace bread and wine. The changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, held by Roman Catholic dogma to occur, is called transubstantiation. Viaticum the Eucharist administered to a dying person.

Holy orders is the entering into the priesthood and involves a vow of celibacy in the Latin Rite, though in Eastern Rites men who married before they were ordained to the diaconate may be ordained; the sacrament of Holy Orders is given in three degrees: that of the deacon (even in the Latin Rite a permanent deacon may be married before becoming a deacon), that of the priest, and that of the bishop.

Matrimony is one of two sacraments that Catholics hold can be validly performed without the mystical powers of a priest (the other is baptism), because the ministers of the sacrament are the two parties to the marriage.

The Anointing of the Sick is also known as "extreme unction" or the "last rites" and involves the anointing with oil of the sick and dying. It is held that in some cases this sacrament effects a miraculous cure, but only if there are things God wishes the recipient of the sacrament to do before dying.

Reconciliation, which was formerly called Confession, involves admitting sins to a priest (but not through any electronic communications medium -- email has been specifically excluded in early 21st century decisions) and receiving penance (a task to complete in order to achieve absolution or foregiveness from God).

Baptism is given to infants in the Church and upon entering adulthood, the baptised make a personal commitment in the sacrament of Confirmation. Adult converts may be baptized and confirmed. If they have been baptized using a formula naming "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" in another Christian church with the intention of that church in doing what the Catholic church does, they may be simply received into the Church and confirmed.

Confirmation is a sacrament commonly given to young people; the age for the reception of confirmation varies from nation to nation, and even from diocese to diocese in some countries; in Latin-rite Catholic churches it ranges from about 7 to about 15. In Eastern-rite Catholic churches, as in other Eastern churches, neonates are confirmed immediately after baptism, via the rite of chrismation. Adult converts from Protestantism who were previously baptized with a trinitarian formula are received into communion in the Catholic Church by confirmation. Converts from Eastern Orthodoxy or Oriental Orthodoxy who were chrismated in those Eastern churches are not confirmed, because their chrismation in an Eastern church, unlike confirmation in Protestant churches, is held to be a valid confirmation, and confirming someone who has already been confirmed is forbidden by one of the dogmas of the Council of Trent.

Sacramental characters

Three of the seven sacraments may be received only once in a lifetime: baptism, confirmation, and ordination to a particular order (for example, a man who has been ordained a deacon can be ordained a priest, but cannot again receive the diaconal ordination). In case of uncertainty about whether a person has received one of those three sacraments at an earlier time, he or she may receive the sacrament conditionally. In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament, usually a deacon or a priest, rather than saying "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," says "If you are not baptized, I baptize you" etc. The reason for this prohibition is that these three sacraments are held to imprint a sacramental character on the recipient's soul.

While these are the seven acknowledged sacraments of the Catholic church, it is also recognized that a sacrament is received at any time a person is made to know that he/she is in the presence of God or the Holy Spirit. The seven sacraments are acknowledged as such because it is believed that at these specific times the Holy Spirit is present during these rites.

Validity versus licitness

A rite the has the intended sacramental effect is a valid sacrament. Catholics hold that only a priest properly ordained by a bishop who is in a succession of bishops dating back to the Apostles can perform the miraculous transubstantiation necessary for the validity of the Eucharist, and only such a priest can absolve sins of penitents. Such a priest need not be a Catholic in order that those sacraments be valid; priests of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox communions also have the requisite mystical powers according to Catholics, and Protestant ministers do not. However, validity differs from licitness. Although an unordained person -- even a non-Christian -- can validly baptize, that is illegal except in emergencies. After an illicit but valid baptism, the baptized person may not be baptized again; that is determined by validity, not by licitness. Similarly, a priest who is not a bishop can validly perform the sacrament of confirmation, but in Latin-rite Catholic churches, that is forbidden. Five of the seven sacraments can be validly performed only by a priest -- the two exceptions being baptism and matrimony -- and one only by a bishop: holy orders.

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