Our director of apologetics and evangelization, Tim Staples, makes the wild claim that each of the seven sacraments was, in fact, established by Jesus. Can he defend this thesis? Like Bob the Builder—yes, he can.
Cy Kellett: Where did we get the seven sacraments? Tim Staples, next on Catholic Answers Focus.
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and we are delighted here to be joined again by the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, Tim Staples. Hello again, Tim.
Tim Staples: Hello, Cy Kellett.
Cy Kellett: We have a problem here in the Catholic Church, because we added a lot of stuff on that Jesus didn’t add on.
Tim Staples: Boy, I’ve heard that a few times.
Cy Kellett: Have you heard that?
Tim Staples: Yes.
Cy Kellett: Okay, so let’s talk about the seven sacraments, then. In what possible way can we Catholics contend that Jesus himself established the seven sacraments?
Tim Staples: Yes, well-
Cy Kellett: I’ve got you now, Tim Staples.
Tim Staples: I’m going to tell you, brother. A lot of it’s right there in that Bible of ours. Yeah. Actually, the Council of Trent declared all seven sacraments to have been instituted by Jesus Christ, and I think one way to approach this is to first understand that Jesus, in His very nature, in the Incarnation, is sacramental. Everything Jesus did was sacramental. What do I mean by that? John 1:14, “The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” What is a sacrament? The Baltimore Catechism famously says, “An external sign, instituted by Christ, that gives grace.” And we would add, “the grace that it symbolizes.” Right? Well, Jesus is the ultimate sacrament, in that sense.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: Because He is the Word, right? Grace itself, that’s coming into the world. But He comes in a visible form. “The Word was made flesh.” Why? Because, I don’t know if you guys know this, but if you look in the mirror, you can actually see yourself. Did you know that, Cy?
Cy Kellett: Well, I have some Transylvanian friends. Which I’m not, but-
Tim Staples: That’s right. But, yeah. We are made this way. We are a hylomorphic being, a body/soul composite. Hence Jesus, in the Incarnation, reaches us where we are. He didn’t become an angel. He became man. This is where we are. And really, when you look at the Gospels and the way Jesus ministered, everything He did was sacramental. Let me just give you three quick examples. These are my three favorites.
Cy Kellett: All right.
Tim Staples: How Jesus ministers in a sacramental way. And you can look at virtually any page, just read any Gospel, but I love Mark chapter seven, Mark chapter eight, and John chapter nine. You can remember that in your mind. Mark seven, Mark eight, John nine. In Mark seven, we have a deaf and dumb person who comes for healing, and what does Jesus do? Does He just say, “Be healed. Bam.” No. The Bible says… It’s right there in your Bible… He stuck His fingers in His ears. He spat. There’s Jesus, spitting and laying hands on him, and he’s healed. Right? He says, “Be opened,” and he’s healed. His ears are opened, and his tongue is loose. So, Jesus doesn’t just heal, but He sticks His fingers in the ears and He spits. Now, go to chapter eight. Because in chapter eight, now we have a blind person. So, what does Jesus do this time with a blind fellow? This is kind of funny. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh, but this is kind of funny, Cy. He walks up to the man who wants healing, and the man is blind.
Cy Kellett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Staples: And the Scripture says He spits in his eye. I kid you not. Jesus spit on his eyes, then laid hands on his eyes, and He healed him.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: In fact, at first he’s seeing men as trees, and then He lays hands again and he’s healed. But the point is, He spits on his eye. What are you doing, Jesus? All right. Go to John, chapter nine. Now we have another blind guy. This one takes the cake. Another blind guy that wants healing there. And what does Jesus do? He spits on the dirt, and makes a mud pie, and sticks it in his eye.
Cy Kellett: Right.
Tim Staples: You know, I just picture the first blind guy coming, “I need healing.” And all the sudden, “Ugh.” You know? “Who just spit in my eye?”
Cy Kellett: “Excuse me.”
Tim Staples: And then the other guy, “I need healing,” and He puts a mud pie in his eye, and then tells him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” And he’s healed. We could look at more examples like this, but there is a principle here.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: And it is that Jesus chooses to use stuff in the incarnation, the way He ministers. Why? Because we’re made of stuff. Jesus knows that we need stuff. We need to feel and hear and touch, and that’s why we have sacraments that consist of stuff. Right?
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: Even if it’s just appearances when it comes to the Eucharist, the bread and wine, this is made of stuff. Right? Whether it’s water of baptism, the oil of the anointing, the laying on of hands in Holy Orders. Sacraments consist, just as our Lord did, of both a spiritual component… He’s the word made flesh… and a material component. That is, the water, the oils, and such, to minister to us where we are. When you get that as kind of a foundation, Cy, it makes sense, when you start hearing things like this: “Unless you are born of water and spirit, you cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Cy Kellett: That’s almost the definition of a sacrament you just gave us.
Tim Staples: Yeah, that’s right. So water, spirit. The spiritual component, and the stuff that constitutes a sacrament. And now my Protestant friends would say, “Well, that’s not talking about baptism. That’s talking about accepting Jesus, or being… You know, accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” Well, there’s no doubt that He’s talking about a sacrament here of baptism. Because if you look at the context, in John 1:31, Jesus is baptized.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: Then in John chapter two, what does He do? Wedding feast of Cana. He transforms the baptismal waters of the Jews, the waters of the purification rites there, in John 2:6. Which we know, from places like Mark 7:4, these were baptismos, or baptismoi, baptismal waters. He transforms them from water into wine, a symbol of new covenant life. Then right after that, what does He do? If you read down a little bit further, you will get to the famous born-again discourse. And then right after the born-again discourse, what do you do? You get to John 3:22, right after the born-again discourse. This is the only place in the whole Bible where the Bible says, “And there Jesus baptized.”
Cy Kellett: Yes.
Tim Staples: Jesus Himself, according to John 3:22, baptized. And then you go to chapter four, verses one and two, and He sends out the Apostles to baptize. So, the whole context is talking about baptism. But baptism is an awesome example of a sacrament, because its form was given to us by Jesus Himself, in Matthew 28:18 through 20. He says, “Go into all the world. Teach all nations. Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teaches them to do and say all, in accordance with what I commanded you, and lo, I will be with you til the end of the age.” So, there you have the form, the spiritual component, the words, and you have the matter being water. That’s what a sacrament is.
Tim Staples: And if you go down the list of sacraments, you will discover that all of the sacraments were instituted… Just like baptism there. Not only did He teach it in John 3:5, but then He commanded the Apostles to do it there in Matthew 28. And in Mark 16:16, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” But we could go down the list, as does the Council of Trent. And by the way, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, as well.
You look at confirmation. Jesus Himself instituted it. He told the Apostles, “Don’t go anywhere. Stay in Jerusalem.” Right? “Wait a minute. I thought you were going to send us-” “No, not yet.” Why? Because they hadn’t received the power from on high. He said, “Tarry. Wait, and you will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” That’s the sacrament of confirmation, given through the laying on of hands, which is insinuated in Hebrews 6:4-6. This is included in what the inspired author refers to as some of the foundational teachings of our Christian faith, the laying on of hands, which would refer to Holy Orders, as well as the sacrament of confirmation.
Tim Staples: Now, of course our tradition will clarify all of these things. Now, if we had time, we could go through all of the sacraments, and show how each one of them… Confession, Jesus Himself institutes in the clearest of terms, in John 20:21-23. He breathes on the Apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven. Whosoever’s sins you retain are retained.” Jesus clearly there institutes the sacrament of confession as well, and He empowers them, then, to do the same thing that He did, namely forgiving sins, like the paralytic in Matthew 9:2-6. He says, “I forgive you of your sins.” So, when Jesus empowers the Apostles to do exactly what He did, He empowers them to be able to say the same words. Which is what, of course, our priests do today. The priests do not say, “Jesus forgives you of your sins.” They say, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Tim Staples: I know we’re going to run out of time here. I would love to be able to go down all of the sacraments, including the anointing of the sick. Which, unfortunately, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Catholics say, “Well, that wasn’t really instituted by Jesus. It was instituted by the Apostle James.” Wrong.
Cy Kellett: Oh, right.
Tim Staples: You know, the Council’s-
Cy Kellett: The Apostle James is sharing what has already been established.
Tim Staples: That’s right.
Cy Kellett: Okay.
Tim Staples: He is propagating what… In fact, it’s alluded to as early as Mark 6:12, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Council of Trent. And very importantly, that’s actually an infallible teaching of the church. If you go to session 14, I believe it is, of the Council of Trent, one of the canons… There’s only like three canons, and I forget which canon it was… says, “If anyone does not acknowledge that this sacrament was instituted by Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” All right? That-
Cy Kellett: Oh, I don’t want to do that.
Tim Staples: That means that’s a no-go. Okay? This is an infallible teaching of the Church. But the beauty of it all… You know, I will resist the temptation of going down the list of all of the sacraments. But the beauty of it all is, I like to focus on that last statement I made, from Matthew 9:2-6, which is one of the crucial reasons why Jesus gave us sacraments. And that is, “Jesus loves us.” And He loves us so much, that He knows what we need. He knew what that paralytic needed. He needed to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” And Jesus loves us so much that He gives us a priesthood, so that we, too, can hear the same words that that paralytic heard. That’s true. Jesus loves you as much as He loved that paralytic, and He wants you to hear, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which gives to us the greatest level of certainty that’s possible to have, this side of heaven.
Cy Kellett: Right.
Tim Staples: By hearing those words of our Lord and Savior. And really, that’s what sacraments are all about. God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son. He became man. The word was made flesh, to minister to us where we are, to lift us up to where He is. And that’s what sacraments do. These are external signs. Yes, they are symbols or signs that communicate the grace that they symbolize, to empower us to make heaven our home.
Cy Kellett: A couple weeks ago, we talked about the radical call of discipleship. It strikes me, as you’re speaking about it, that we’re not radical enough in our understanding of the sacraments.
Tim Staples: Yeah.
Cy Kellett: We tend to be a little bit… Well, they’re like a birthday party, or something. They’re like a life marker kind of thing.
Tim Staples: Yes.
Cy Kellett: But they actually have the power to save us.
Tim Staples: You know, it’s interesting. I was just doing an article for our magazine… In fact, I just submitted it to Tim Ryland today, so you’ll be reading it soon… on Seventh-Day Adventism. Which, I have a CD set on Seventh-Day Adventism coming up shortly, as well. But I was doing a little research on their view of baptism, and it saddened my heart when I read the article on their official website on baptism. It says, “Baptism: A Rite of Christian Passage.” Right?
Cy Kellett: Wow. Yeah.
Tim Staples: It’s a rite of passage. It’s kind of like a bar mitzvah, or it’s, you know, the quinceanara. You know?
Cy Kellett: Yeah, right. Yeah, for a 15-year-old Mexican girl. Right.
Tim Staples: Or… No. It’s so much more than that.
Cy Kellett: That’s totally different than being radically configured to Jesus Christ.
Tim Staples: Yes. Amen. And first Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism does now save us.” Right? I mean, Jesus… Or I should say, in Acts 22:16, it was Ananias who said to then Saul, “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins.” Right? This is our entrance into Jesus Christ. And what about the ultimate sacrament, the sacrament of sacraments, toward which all other sacraments are ordered? That is the most blessed sacrament of the altar, where Jesus says to us… You know, I like to put it this way, Cy. You know me. I always get back to love, because Jesus does.
Cy Kellett: Yeah.
Tim Staples: Right? But when you think about it, “For God so loved the world,” is in past tense, 2,000 years ago He came. “God so loved the world.”
Cy Kellett: Right.
Tim Staples: But the Eucharist says to us, “God so loves the world.” In a sense, the Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation, because He continues to humiliate Himself. When you think about the humiliation of God becoming man, we could spend a whole broadcast on that. But that wasn’t enough for Jesus. He continues to humiliate Himself now, in taking upon Himself, in a sense, the form of bread and wine. Why? So that we can consume Him. That’s the ultimate sacrament. We consume Him. And in that consumption, when Jesus goes into our very physical bodies, graces are confected in a unique way. There is an intimate… You talk about a personal relationship with Jesus? This is it.
Cy Kellett: Yes. That’s the ultimate personal relationship.
Tim Staples: Now, it doesn’t happen by magic, because we have to be properly disposed. Otherwise it can be our damnation, if we’re in mortal sin. But if we’re cooperating with God’s grace, we’re talking about an intimacy of a relationship, and grace is confected in a unique way, to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. That, my friends, is what sacraments are all about.
Cy Kellett: Tim Staples, thank you again.
Tim Staples: Too much of a blessing, my friend. But I want to do it some more.
Cy Kellett: Okay. All right. Yeah. Well, you bring up these other things, like the humiliation of Jesus becoming man, and you say we could do hours on that. Well, there we go.
Tim Staples: There we go.
Cy Kellett: There’s our next one. Tim Staples is the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers. His most, as far as his print work goes, probably most famous for writing one of the great books on Mary, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, which you can and should get at shop.catholic.com. This is Catholic Answers Focus, and I’ll ask you again. Please, wherever you get your podcasts, give us a thumbs up, or a like, or a comment, or something, and share with friends that we’re doing this. We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.