How Do The
Sacraments Function in the Life of a Catholic Believer? -- Part 2
by Dr. John
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
As noted previously, the sacraments
are believed to work ex opere operato—merely by virtue of the
performance of the act. This explains why in some pagan countries
overzealous Catholic priests have, apparently, actually thrown buckets
of water on natives—hoping to infuse the graces of baptism merely by the
Nevertheless, if we look at the
sacraments collectively, we can see that each one is intended to perform
a special function at a special time. Thus, just as baptism,
confirmation and marriage are pivotal points in a person’s life, the
function of penance, the Mass, and anointing the sick also relate to
crucial moments in life.
Space does not permit discussing each sacrament in
detail; however, to illustrate the sacraments we will discuss baptism,
Holy Eucharist (in Part 3), and penance (in Part 4). These and other
sacraments will briefly be discussed again when we look at the Catholic
view of salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that baptism remits
original sin, actual guilt and all punishment due to sin.1
The Catholic Church also teaches that baptism confers (1) justification,
(2) spiritual rebirth or regeneration and (3) sanctification. Catholic
apologist Karl Keating teaches, "The Catholic Church has always taught
that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism" and "baptism
is the justifying act."2 Thus, "the justification that occurs at baptism
effects a real change in the soul.…"3
The Catholic Encyclopedia
also explains the importance of baptism in the scheme of salvation:
The effects of this sacrament are: (1) it cleanses us from original
sin; (2) it makes us Christians through grace by sharing in Christ’s
death and resurrection and setting up an initial program of living...
(3) it makes us children of God as the life of Christ is brought forth
within us.... Vatican II declared: "...baptism constitutes a
sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of
it. But baptism, of itself, is only a beginning.
[But]... baptism is necessary for salvation.…4
Baptism, however, is only the beginning of
justification because in Catholic teaching subsequent good works
increase grace (spiritual power) and help perfect justification.
Baptism does not save automatically, for Catholicism holds that
salvation can be lost through mortal ("deadly") sin or other means. But
salvation cannot be had without it. Because baptism produces
regeneration, a person is made capable of faith. Once he exercises
faith, he grows in sanctification which is then followed by his further
justification, since baptism makes it possible for a person to cooperate
with divine grace, allowing for further growth in righteousness.
In Outlines of the Catholic Faith we read the
following about baptism:
The Sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin. In those
who have the use of reason Baptism also removes actual sin and the
temporal punishment due to sin. In Baptism we are reborn as children
of God, made members of his Church, and heirs to the kingdom of
heaven. Baptism permanently relates us to God and is necessary for
salvation.... The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and
Charity are infused with grace into the soul by Baptism. Baptism
imprints an indelible character on the soul and can be received only
Because Catholicism teaches baptism places "an indelible mark.... on
your soul"6 the Church of Rome
holds that once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Again, of course, to
always be a Catholic does not necessarily mean one cannot end up in
Nevertheless, the fact that Catholicism teaches
baptism is an essential requirement for salvation underscores a
system of works salvation. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
declares, "Baptism by water is, since the promulgation of the gospel,
necessary for all men without exception, for salvation."7
But nowhere in all the Bible can this teaching be
justified. It would be strange indeed—if baptism conferred all the above
upon the believer—that the Apostle Paul himself would even think of
saying that "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the
gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). To say that baptism is necessary for
salvation is to undercut the basic biblical teaching of salvation by
1 John Hardon, The Catholic Catechism: The Contemporary
Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 1975), pp. 506-507.
2 Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia,
revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 254.
3 Rod Rosenblad and Karl Keating, "The Salvation Debate," conducted
at Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, CA (March 11, 1989),
4 Broderick, ed., p. 65, emphasis added.
5 Leaflet Missal Company, Outlines of the Catholic Faith
(St. Paul, MN: 1978), p. 18.
6 Karl Keating, What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record
Straight (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1992), p. 19.
7 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL:
Tan Books and Publishers, 1974), p. 356, emphasis added.
Mr. Mike Gendron
Mr. Greg Durel
Carlos Tomas Knott
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute