A judge who says, “I sentence you to death” is not merely declaring a decision that has already been rendered in some other forum. Rather, by his declaration, the judge is passing the sentence. Speaking the words is doing the deed. Similarly, the captain who says, “I now name you the Queen Mary” has actually named the ship, and the pastor who says “I now pronounce you man and wife” has made the man and woman man and wife. Wittgenstein said it simply: “Words are deeds.”
Just as words are “performative,” so the sacraments as visible words actually do things. They not only remind us and teach us about Christ’s death, but confirm, sustain, and nourish our relationship with the Triune God. Through sacramental “words,” we make promises, receive warnings, establish or renew covenants. Sacraments are indeed “words” from God, but not so much visible as performative words.