Now what i a sacrament? Sacraments are visible or sensuous signs instituted by God, so to speak ,as medicaments, in which under the cover of visible things, Divine powers are hiddenly working. There we have the ideas: Divine institution, visible signs, medicaments (the medical symbol is very important), the hidden powers of the Divine under the cover of the sensuous realities. A sacrament is valid if it has a material substance, a form (the words by which it is instituted), and the intention of the minister to do what the Church does. These three elements are necessary. The sign (we would say symbol) contains the matter. Therefore the sacrament has causality: it causes something in the inner part of the soul, something Divine. But it has not ultimate causality. It is dependent on the ultimate causality, namely, on God. The sacraments give the grace. You always should translate “grace” as Divine power of being, or power of New Being, which justifies or sanctifies – these two words are identical in Catholicism while in Protestantism they are far removed from each other. Grace, i. e., the Divine power of the New Being, is poured by the sacraments into the essence of the soul. into its very innermost center. And there is no other way to receive grace, justifying and sanctifying, than through the sacraments. From the substance which pours through the center of the soul, it has effects on the different functions of the soul ; or mind, as we would say. The intellect is driven towards faith, by the sacramental grace; the will is driven towards hope; and the whole being is driven towards love.
And now the decisive statement: the sacrament is effective in us ex opere operato by its mere performance, not by any human virtue. There is only one subjective presupposition, namely the faith that the sacraments are sacraments, but not faith in God, not a special relationship to God. It is a “minimum” theory: those who do not resist the Divine grace can receive it even if they are not worthy, if they only do not resist by denying that the sacrament is the medium of the Divine grace. I. e., the theory of ex opere operata (by its very performance) makes the sacrament an objective event of a quasi-magical character. This was the point where the Reformers were most radical. The whole life stood under the effects of the sacrament. Baptism removes original sin; the Eucharist removes venial sins; penance removes mortal sins; extreme unction, what is still eft over of one’s sins before death; confirmation makes a man a fighter for the Church; ordination introduces him into the clergy; marriage, into the natural vocation of man and wife.
But beyond them all is one sacrament which is a part of the Eucharist but which has become independent of it, namely the sacrament of the Mass. The sacrifice of Christ repeated every day in every church of Christianity, in terms of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into body and blood, is the foundation of the presence of the Divine and the foundation of the sacramental and hierarchical power of the Church. Therefore this was, so to speak, the sacrament of sacraments.