Editors Thomas Grady and Paula Huston have assembled seven essays by Catholic writers on the sacraments. They are arranged in the order these rituals might be received: "Each marks one of the spiritual milestones of the great journey: birth, the joining of lives in commitment, the dedication of a life to religious service, death." Within the Catholic tradition, sacraments appeal to the senses and carry an aesthetic as well as a theological impact. When approached with humility and discernment, they open the portals of a believer's imagination.

All of the essays in this collection are original except one by the late Andre Dubus. It is a soul-stirring tribute to the importance of the sacraments in his life. Katharine Vaz looks at baptism through the lens of her relationship with her grandmother. At one point, she calls this sacrament "a laundering service for her soul." Patricia Hampl uncorks the spiritual effervescence of penance in her lively essay. She sees it as "the unbelievable second chance, nothing short of rebirth." Best of all is Mary Gordon's piece on anointing the sick — it is supple, intelligent, and packed with meaning. She concludes that this sacrament "sacralizes the transition between life and death."