The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to express a relationship of worship to God; because they are signs, they certainly also belong under the heading of teaching. They not only presuppose faith; they also nourish it, strengthen it and express it, both through words and through objects. This is why they are called sacraments of faith. It is true that they confer grace; but, while they are being celebrated, they also are very powerful in opening people up to receive this same grace fruitfully, so that they can express properly their relationship to God, and enact divine love.
Thus it is most important that the people can easily understand the symbolism of the sacraments, and attend these sacraments, whose purpose is the nourishment of the christian life, frequently and eagerly.
The church has also set up sacramentals. These are sacred signs through which, rather like with the sacraments, effects brought about primarily on the spiritual level are symbolised, and obtained through the prayer of the church. Through them people are opened up to absorb the action of the sacraments, action of such crucial importance; and various features of life are sanctified.
Thus, for believers who are suitably open, the liturgy of sacraments and sacramentals brings it about that practically everything which happens in life is sanctified with the grace that flows from the easter mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection: the source from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. And there is hardly any reputable
use of material things that cannot be pointed towards the sanctifi cation of humanity and the praise of God.
Excerpted from Vatican II: The Essential Texts pp. 56-57 by Norman Tanner, S.J. Copyright © 2012 by Norman Tanner, S.J. Excerpted by permission of Image Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.