What is a sacrament

To materialists, this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is justa mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists and saints, the world is transparent like a windowpane – it tells of something beyond. For example, a mountain tells of the power of God, the sunset of His beauty, and the snowflake of His purity. A Sacrament, in a very broad sense of the term, combines two elements: one visible, the other invisible – one can be seen, or tasted, or touched, or heard while the other remains unseen to the eyes of the flesh. There is, however, some kind of relation or significance between the two. A spoken word is a kind of sacrament because there is something material or audible about it; there is also something spiritual about it, namely, its meaning. A horse can hear a funny story just as well as a man. It is conceivable that the horse may even hear the words better than the man and at the end of the story the man may laugh, but the horse will never give a horselaugh. The reason is that the horse gets the material side of the ‘sacrament’ namely the sound, but man gets the invisible or the spiritual side, namely, the meaning. A handshake is a kind of sacrament, because there is something seen and felt, namely the clasping of the hands, but there is something mysterious and unseen, namely, the communication of friendship. A kiss is a kind of sacrament, the physical side of it is present if one kisses one’s own hand, but the spiritual side of it is missing because there is no sign of affection for another. No wonder our Lord said to Judas, “are you betraying the son of Man with a kiss?” (Jn 22:48)