August 26, 2022

Ken’s 12-Pack / Ken Ogorek

Things most Catholics wish they knew better: ‘Sacraments, schmacraments: Who needs ‘em?!’

Ken Ogorek

Eighth in a yearlong catechetical series

The sacraments aren’t what they used to be. At least you could get that impression, given the declining role of our seven sacraments in the lives of many folks who think of themselves as Catholic.

But the sacraments haven’t changed. It’s us who’ve changed—or at least our understanding and appreciation of these seven beautiful gifts from our loving God have decreased. And the doctrinally deficient catechesis of the 1970s and 1980s didn’t help.

“That’s not fair!”

It would be unfair to blame the doctrinal quality of catechesis from the late 1960s through the early 1990s for decreases in practices like Mass attendance and frequent confession, as if documented deficiencies in religion textbooks were the only reason for our mysterious neglect of the sacred mysteries. But shortcomings like these didn’t help:

  • Catechetical texts often didn’t treat the sacraments within the paschal mystery, that is, the sacraments weren’t explicitly presented as the means by which you share in the new life of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
  • Sacraments were often presented as important events in human life in which God becomes a part, rather than as effective signs of divine life in which humans participate; this led to a deficient understanding of the divine action and the graced transformation that is at the heart of each of the sacraments.
  • Particularly, the sacraments of the Eucharist and holy orders evidenced deficiency because the texts usually didn’t present the character and role of the ordained minister in the life of the ecclesial community.

“Yes, Virginia. We need a Revival.”

By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Catholics throughout the U.S. are invited into a three-year period of intense focus on the Eucharist—on encountering Jesus in the unique and irreplaceable way offered to us in the sacrament of the holy Eucharist. We encounter Jesus in many ways, each helping us grow closer to our Lord in its own way.

Sacramental encounters with Jesus, though, are special, and meant to have a high priority in the life of his disciples—Christians who live their personal relationship with Jesus in full communion with his mystical body and spotless bride: the holy Catholic Church.

Many adult Catholics—folks catechized in the 1970s and 1980s, people who came of age amidst the rise of secularism, radical individualism, and obsession with novelty—are depriving themselves of a treasure shared through the ages: an opportunity to interact with the Son of God in the intimate, life-changing, soul-saving way that the sacrament of the Eucharist makes easily accessible for us all.

“This livestreaming thing is kind of nice!”

We recently lived through a time when access to the sacraments, for almost all Catholics, wasn’t available. To our credit, many of us strived to maintain a connection to our eucharistic Lord Jesus via livestreamed Masses and spiritual communions.

But grace is real and no virtual experience substitutes for the role of sacramental grace in the life of each Catholic. Thankfully, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church and related excellent resources speaking clearly to us about the role of sacraments throughout our earthly journey.

The seven sacraments give us a foretaste of heaven. Let’s capitalize on the sustaining gift of sacramental grace by getting to Mass, by celebrating the sacrament of penance frequently—in short, by giving the sacraments their proper place of very high priority in our walk of Christian faith.

(Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis, has lost his six-pack abs. But his 12-part series, whose theme is: Things Most Catholics Wish They Knew Better, will run through December. He can be reached at his archdiocesan e-mail address or by using the contact information at

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