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Learning by Heart: What Is a Sacrament?
by Judith Costello
This teaching tool uses visual clues to trigger memorization.
See the end of this article for a catechist guide and puzzle page to help students memorize all of the Seven Sacraments.

This teaching tool uses visual clues to trigger memorization. Presented as a puzzle, it is a unique way to remember key elements of our faith, including prayers, Scripture, facts on Catholic teachings and traditions.

Why should we, as catechists, include learning by heart—memorization—in our methodologies? Here’s what you need to know:

* “While the content of the faith cannot be reduced to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood, learning by heart has had a special place in catechesis and should continue to have that place in catechesis today” (National Directory for Catechesis, n. 29F).
 * Memorizing has been proven to strengthen the mind. Like pulling clay, memorizing makes the mind more flexible, capable of grasping and retaining more information. Memorization helps learners grasp information about the Church and our Catholic faith. 
* Memorizing helps key elements of our faith—including prayers, Scripture, Catholic teachings and traditions—take root in the mind. Learners can retrieve the information when it is most needed, often during times of crisis.
* Understanding and committing to memory key elements of Catholic teaching helps students learn by heart so that they can live by faith.

Here is a Learning by Heart exercise to use with your students.

What Is a Sacrament?

This is an important question. Our lives, as Catholics, revolve around the great gift of the Sacraments. But what are they?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (n. 1131). “They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church” (n. 1116). To simplify this definition we can say: A Sacrament is a sign given by Christ in which we received God’s life in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In teaching this to students, we want to emphasize that Sacraments are biblical. Although Jesus did not use the word “Sacrament,” he created seven special ways for us to grow closer to him.
* Jesus is baptized. His disciples then begin to baptize others (Mark 1:9; John 4:1-3).
* Jesus breathes on the disciples before sending them out into the world. This Scripture is the basis for Confirmation (John 20:21-22; Acts 2:3-4).
* Jesus tells the Apostles to forgive sins (John 20:23). 
* Jesus describes himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:48, 51). He breaks the bread and blesses it and blesses the cup and gives them to his Apostles (Luke 22:19-20). Thus he instituted the Eucharist.
* Jesus says that Marriage joins a man and woman and they become one flesh, that “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6).
* Jesus calls the Twelve Apostles, appoints them as authority figures in the Church, and so gives them a share in his mission. This is the beginning of Holy Orders (Mark 3:14-15).
* Jesus cures the sick. Likewise, the Apostles anoint the sick with oil and many are cured (Mark 6:13).

Each of the Sacraments has a visual sign to signify that we are receiving grace, which is “God’s life in us.”

Using the Puzzle Page

This puzzle [CLICK HERE FOR CATECHIST PAGE for “What Is a Sacrament?”] can help students learn what a Sacrament is. Here’s how to use it:
1. Before presenting this exercise, review the puzzle and become familiar with the images used in association with the words:
* A road sign symbolizes that a Sacrament points us toward God. A Sacrament is a visible sign that confirms the invisible work of the Spirit.
* The hands with holes in them symbolize that Sacraments were created and given to us by Christ.
* A child holds out a hand and looks up, symbolizing our openness to receive God’s life.
* The figure with a decorative “G” inside of it represents God’s life in us.
* Sacraments come to us “through the work of” the Holy Spirit, represented by the dove.
* The border is made of flames, representing the presence of the Holy Spirit working in each Sacrament.
2. Repeat the question and answer several times: What is a Sacrament? A Sacrament is a sign given by Christ in which we receive God’s life in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Have students work the puzzle [CLICK HERE FOR STUDENT PAGE for “What Is a Sacrament?”] by writing on the lines the words associated with the images.
4. Students can color or decorate the page.
5. Repeat the question and answer.
6. Repeat the exercise as often as needed.
Judith Costello, MA, writes for national and regional publications and is a Third Order Carmelite (OCSD). She is an artist, freelance writer, and catechist. Judith can be reached at

Memorizing the Seven Sacraments Catechist Guide

Each of the Sacraments includes an outward sign signifying the grace, or “God’s life in us,” we receive. This puzzle [CLICK HERE FOR STUDENT PAGE] offers symbols that will help students memorize the Seven Sacraments.
* Baptism is symbolized by water. We are cleansed from original sin.
* Confirmation is symbolized by the flame and the dove, reminding us of the coming of the Holy Spirit as he came at Pentecost.
* In the Holy Eucharist, we see the bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Jesus, represented here with a chalice and a host.
* During Penance, or Reconciliation, the priest extends his hand in a blessing of absolution which, by power entrusted to the Church by Jesus Christ, pardons us of our sins.
* In the Anointing of the Sick, the priest uses holy oil just as the early Apostles did.
* In Holy Orders, a man becomes ordained to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. The stole is a symbol of ordained ministry and the priestly office.
* When two people enter into Matrimony, they exchange rings to symbolize their union and commitment.
Note: These outward signs are not the only signs used to represent the Sacraments.

Younger students can memorize the names of the Sacraments. As students continue on their journey of faith, understanding and appreciation for the Sacraments will grow and deepen. For now, go over the names of each of the Sacraments and the symbols commonly used, and then have students fill in the name of the Sacrament under the corresponding image.

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