Catholics, informally declaring seven sacraments, turned to earlier theological authorities such as St. Augustine, who explained sacraments as “the Word made visible.” Rather than what we consider sacraments today, he also considered things such as Easter, preaching, the baptismal font, and ashes to be sacraments—tangible experiences of God’s salvation.
Also, St. Leo the Great believed that sacraments were effective signs of God’s redeeming work as particularly seen in Christ. Like Augustine, he understood sacraments as God’s drawing humanity into a salvific communion through things humans might comprehend. Particularly for Leo, sacraments rested on how salvation was seen and experienced through Christ and then through the multiplicity of sacraments perpetuating Christ’s presence.
More recently, Edward Schillebeeckx proposed how sacraments unify heaven and earth. Since Jesus is God, he enabled people on earth to experience God and heaven through his very being, particularly through his words and deeds. Since the church is the body of Christ, it helps people on earth to experience God and heaven, particularly through its preaching and sacraments. By being like Christ, the church thus offers us an experience here and now of heavenly unity with God.
Augustine, Leo, and Schillebeeckx might have considered the beer can on the tombstone a sacrament because it facilitated in a new way the group’s camaraderie by rendering their dead friend present among them. However, it came directly from their past acts and experiences of fellowship. Also, the seven sacraments offer Catholics grace-filled occasions by which we might recall and experience our resurrected friend, Jesus, in our midst. They are founded not necessarily by explicit divine instruction, but by the very way in which Jesus Christ—God with us—was with us, continues to be with us, and will be with us in heaven.