The Average Catholic and Sacraments with a Small s

June 13, 2011

A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace. The Average Catholic cherishes the seven sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Reconciliation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. These are the Sacraments with a big S. There are also sacraments with a small s. We receive the Sacraments once or many times over a lifetime. But we give sacraments every moment of our lives.

  • We give a sacrament of baptism every time we behold another as a child of God.
  • We offer a sacrament of reconciliation every time we say to someone “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.”
  • Every time a wife says to her husband or a husband to his wife, “I love you,”—or better, when a husband gets a cold cloth and puts it on his wife’s forehead when she has a headache, or a when a wife gives her husband a hug for no other reason than she knows he needs it—is a sacrament of marriage.
  • A sacrament of eucharist happens every time family or friends gather around a table to share in the good of God.
  • Every time someone decides to live a better life is a sacrament of confirmation.
  • Everyone who makes a radical commitment to be here not for himself but for God expresses a sacrament of holy orders.
  • Every time we visit a sick person in a hospital or nursing home and just kiss them on the cheek is an anointing of the sick.

What could be more beautiful?

An old song says, “Little things mean a lot.” Sacraments with a small s mean everything to those who give them and to those who receive them.

Please share any other sacraments with a small s that come to mind. Maybe we can make a big list to inspire others.

Today’s post is excerpted from my book Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question.


Fran Rossi Szpylczyn June 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

You have offered so many lovely examples and my pre-caffeinated brain has no examples at the moment… I just think that the notion of sacramentality change how we approach and see the world, how we experience our lives and are transformed.

Let me add that I am ever more convinced, as I live out the privilege of being the parish secretary, that any of us who think of sacraments as something “given” or “dispensed” might want to let that thought go. Your post articulates just what happens – we are as much a part of any sacrament, big S or small S. It is all about dynamism and not some linear exchange. Just think of that Holy Spirit wind blowing… all about dynamism, all about love.

Mike June 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Gotta tell you, Fran, your posts and links on Facebook each day are sacraments for me and all your friends. Grazie!

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn June 14, 2011 at 2:26 am

Mike, thank you. You know I do think of it is as my mission field.

Bob June 13, 2011 at 9:40 am

You started a great list, and I feel much like Fran at 5:30 AM EST.
But as a parent of former teenagers, there is a lot that can be added about the sacrament of reconciliation. For example, when a teen comes in after curfew, a parent offering forgiveness (after having first given “penance”) is a real example, or when the family car gets a dent in it after the teen has driven his buddies around. Lots of room for reconcilation there!
I think blessing people, for example, making the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead, is definitely another sacrament. Could be baptism, or confirmation or even holy orders. Many people want/need that when then are going through personal turmoil – the loss of a job/loved one, sickness, etc., etc.
Have a great day.

Mike June 13, 2011 at 5:37 pm

These are beautiful, Bob. Maybe such sacraments with our teens deserve a big S! And I love the idea of blessing people with a touch, that is so Jesus like.

Mary-Ellin June 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Absolutely beautiful! I’ll keep the small s’s in mind as I go through my week. Peace & blessings!

Mike June 13, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Thanks, Mary-Ellin. Peace and love to you!

Cherry O'Neill June 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm


Right now, I am experiencing something that feels like a lot of little s sacraments, and even though it is not the first time I have experienced some of them, it is the final time I will be going through this particular gateway. My youngest is graduating from high school on Wednesday and she will be moving out of our house just five short days after that. In a way, I feel as if we are sharing several different sacraments with her right now. She is going through a sort of baptism, in that she is entering full-fledged adulthood, a life of mature adult responsibility as she launches out on her own (although not fully without our additional, though temporary financial support). She is going through a kind of confirmation, in that we are sending her on her own journey, equipped with the values and principles with which she has been raised, but now with the job of tending the growth of her own personhood, without our constant watchful eye and daily maintenance. She is also going through a kind of sacrament of “holy orders”, in that she is embarking on her personal path of faith, passion, independence and work. She is finding the individual course God has set for her, using the incredible gifts and talents He has provided her with, to pursue a life of purpose and meaning that only she can find, with His guidance and call. She will be of service to God and others while fulfilling this personal purpose and pursuing her own potential.

For us, I kind of feel like I am going through a death (Do they still perform Last Rites? Is that considered a Sacrament?)…as I said, I have been through this stage before, with our four older kids, but this is the final time to send one of our children into the great unknown! It is both scary and emotional…a beginning and an ending—a kind of death of the role of daily parent and the birth of the role of occasional consultant. And finally, perhaps this is the renewal of our sacrament of marriage. Dan and I have raised five kids, starting about 30 years ago, and that was only after having been married for 6 years. We have spent most of our marriage raising our kids, and now we will be able to get back to just being married (not that we won’t still have kids reaching out to us from time to time, but just not every day). This is both exciting and a little uncertain…probably a really good time to focus on some reconciliation and communion!

So, while I have participated in the big S sacraments at different times in my life, I feel a little bit like I am experiencing all of them, with little s’s, at once right now. It is definitely a time to recognize that, in spite of the emotions and anxiety involved in this pivotal time in our lives, it is all bathed in God’s grace! Good to remember at a time like this….thanks for the reminder, Mike!

Mike June 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Thanks, Cherry, so true. I hope, and expect, that the next years will be the best ever for you and Dan.

Mike June 14, 2011 at 2:39 am

I love hearing from you, Cherry. Sounds like a blessed time is coming for you and Dan. There’s nothing like the two of you toward the end just like you were at the beginning but without all the pressures. It will take a while till they are all on their own but still every little step is the Chorus Line dancing back into the mirror. And what you will see is a clearer reflectioin of all of you as one. And so will they. Being alone togetehr, hubby and wife, is very good. Just watch it happen.

Fran Rossi Szypylczyn June 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Small s sacrament du jour… just seeing the hummingbird feed at the hanging plant outside my office window!

Ginny Kubitz Moyer June 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Pregnancy and delivery definitely felt very eucharistic to me. “This is my body, which will be given up for you” — those words had a new meaning when my boys were in utero, and I was sacrificing my physical comforts so that another person could have life.

Mike June 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Beautiful, Ginny. Our daughter-in-law is giving birth to twins (Mae and Jackson) in August and I can see her in a special new way now. Thanks!

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