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  1. Plural of sacrament

Extensive Definition

This article is about sacraments within Christianity. For the use of the term within Catholicism, see Sacraments of the Catholic Church. For other uses, see Sacrament (disambiguation).
Generally speaking, in Christian teaching a sacrament is a rite that conveys divine grace, blessing, or holiness to the believer who participates in it. Views concerning what rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be sacramental vary among Christian denominations and traditions. Some other religious traditions also have what might be called "sacraments" in a sense, though not necessarily according to the Christian meaning of the term.

General definitions and terms

In western Christianity, a traditional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist, but the traditional seven sacraments or divine mysteries also include Confirmation (Chrismation in the Orthodox tradition), Holy Orders, Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession), Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony.
Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments as recognised by churches in the High church tradition - notably Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic and some Anglicans. The Orthodox Church typically does not limit the number of sacraments, viewing all encounters with reality in life as sacramental in some sense, and the acknowledgment of the number of sacraments at seven as an innovation of convenience not found in the Church Fathers, but used infrequently later on from its later encounter with the West Other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments.
Some post-Reformation denominations (including Protestants and other Christian denominations who reject that label) do not maintain a sacramental theology, although they may practice the rites themselves. These rites may be variously labelled "traditions" or - in the case of Baptism and the Eucharist ("the Lord's Supper") - "ordinances," since they are seen as having been ordained by Christ to be permanently observed by the church. Protestant denominations, both sacramental and non-sacramental, almost invariably affirm only these two as sacraments, traditions, or ordinances; although they may also practice some or all of the other traditional sacraments as well.
Christian churches, denominations, and sects are divided regarding the number and operation of the sacraments, but they are generally held to have been instituted by Jesus Christ. They are usually administered by the clergy to a recipient or recipients, and are generally understood to involve visible and invisible components. The invisible component (manifested inwardly) is understood to be brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit, God's grace working in the sacrament's participants, while the visible (or outward) component entails the use of such things as water, oil, and bread and wine that is blessed or consecrated; the laying-on-of-hands; or a particularly significant covenant that is marked by a public benediction (such as with marriage or absolution of sin in the reconciliation of a penitent).

Catholic teaching


The following are the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church:

St. Thomas Aquinas

For the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Sacraments, see Aquinas and the Sacraments

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox teaching

See also: Eastern Orthodoxy - Mysteries
The seven sacraments are also accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, but these traditions do not limit the number of sacraments to seven, holding that anything the Church does as Church is in some sense sacramental. More specifically, for the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christian the term “Sacrament” is a Westernism that seeks to classify something that may be impossible to classify. Preferably the term “Sacred Mystery” is used, the reason being that the “How it is possible” is unanswerable to human understanding. God touches us through material means such as water, wine, bread, oil, incense, candles, altars, icons, etc. How God does this is a mystery. On a broad level, the Mysteries are an affirmation of the goodness of created matter, and are an emphatic declaration of what that matter was originally created to be.
Despite this broad view, Orthodox divines do write about there being seven "principal" mysteries. On a specific level, while not systematically limiting the mysteries to seven, the most profound Mystery is the Eucharist, in which the partakers, by participation in the liturgy and receiving the consecrated bread and wine, understood to have become the body and blood of Christ itself, directly communicate with God. In this sense, there is no substantial difference from the practice of other churches of the Catholic patrimony.
The emphasis on mystery is, however, characteristic of Orthodox theology, and is often called "apophatic," meaning that any and all positive statements about God and other theological matters must be balanced by negative statements. For example, while it is correct and appropriate to say that God exists, or even that God is the only Being which truly exists, such statements must be understood to also convey the idea that God transcends what is usually meant by the term "to exist."

Anglican teaching

As befits its prevailing self-identity as a via media or "middle path" of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses elements in keeping with its status as a church in the Catholic tradition, and a church of the Reformation. With respect to sacramental theology, that Catholic heritage is perhaps most strongly asserted in the importance Anglicanism places on the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification, and salvation as expressed in the church's liturgy.
Anglicans recognise two sacraments - Baptism and the Holy Eucharist - as having been ordained by Christ ("sacraments of the Gospel," as Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles describes them). Anglo-Catholics have always counted the sacraments at seven. In this sense, Baptism and Eucharist are the "precepted, primary, and principal sacraments ordained for our salvation." This is a view shared by Old Catholics and others.
In the Anglican tradition, the sacerdotal function is assigned to clergy in the three orders of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. Anglicans hold to the principle of ex opere operato with respect to the efficacy of the sacraments vis-a-vis the presider and his or her administration thereof. Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles (entitled Of the unworthiness of ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament) states that the "ministration of the Word and Sacraments" is not done in the name of the one performing the sacerdotal function, "neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness," since the sacraments have their effect "because of Christ's intention and promise, although they be ministered by evil men."

Lutheran teaching

Martin Luther defined a sacrament as:
  1. instituted by God;
  2. in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to the visible element;
  3. and by which He offers, gives and seals the forgiveness of sin earned by Christ (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, St. Louis: Concordia, 1991, 236).
This strict definition narrowed the number of sacraments down to just two, Baptism and Holy Communion, with the other five rituals eliminated for not having a visible element or the ability to forgive sin. This definition, and the resulting elimination, has historically been held by Lutheranism.
Within Lutheranism, the sacraments are a Means of Grace, and, together with the Word of God, empower the Church for mission (Use and Means of Grace, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1997, 56).
It is important to note that though Lutherans do not consider the other five rituals sacraments, they are still retained and used in the Lutheran church. Luther's Small Catechism and the various Lutheran liturgical books, for instance, have short orders of and promote private confession and absolution. Though once required for reception of Holy Communion, the practice has fallen out of disuse. Several of the Lutheran denominations have attempted to revive the practice of recent.

Teachings of other Christian traditions

right|frame|The [[Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper) is considered a sacrament, ordinance, or equivalent in most Christian denominations.]]
The enumeration, naming, understanding, and the adoption of the sacraments vary according to denomination. Many Protestants and other post-Reformation traditions affirm Luther's definition and have only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while others see the ritual as merely symbolic, and still others do not have a sacramental dimension at all.
In addition to the traditional seven sacraments, other rituals have been considered sacraments by some Christian traditions. In particular, foot washing as seen in Anabaptist and Brethren groups, and the hearing of the Gospel, as understood by a few Christian groups (such as the Polish National Catholic Church of America), have been considered sacraments by some churches.
Since some post-Reformation denominations do not regard clergy as having a classically sacerdotal or priestly function, they avoid the term "sacrament," preferring the terms "sacerdotal function," "ordinance," or "tradition." This belief invests the efficacy of the ordinance in the obedience and participation of the believer and the witness of the presiding minister and the congregation. This view stems from a highly developed concept of the priesthood of all believers. In this sense, the believer himself or herself performs the sacerdotal role.
Baptists and Pentecostals, among other Christian denominations, use the word ordinance, rather than sacrament because of certain sacerdotal ideas connected, in their view, with the word sacrament. . These churches argue that the word ordinance points to the ordaining authority of Christ which lies behind the practice.
The Community of Christ holds that the sacraments express the continuing presence of Christ through the Church. They help believers establish and continually renew their relationship with God. Through them believers establish or reaffirm their covenant with God in response to God’s grace. This Christian denomination recognizes eight sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Blessing of Children, The Lord's Supper, Marriage, Administration to the sick, Ordination, and Evangelist's blessing.
For members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Sacrament is the Lord's Supper, in which participants eat bread and drink wine (or water, since the late 1800s). It is essentially the same as the Eucharist or Holy Communion in other Christian denominations. In Mormon congregations, the Sacrament is normally provided every Sunday as part of the Sacrament meeting. In LDS teachings, the word ordinance is used approximately as the word Sacrament is used in Christianity in general.
Some denominations do not have a sacramental dimension (or equivalent) at all. The Salvation Army does not practice formal sacraments for a variety of reasons, including a belief that it is better to concentrate on the reality behind the symbols; however, it does not forbid its members from receiving sacraments in other denominations
The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) do not practice formal sacraments, believing that all activities should be considered holy. Rather, they are focused on an inward transformation of one's whole life. The Quakers use the words "Baptism" and "Communion" to describe the experience of Christ's presence and his ministry in worship.

Teachings of other faith traditions

There are a number of religions which also utilize sacraments in a similar context to the Christian Eucharist.
The Native American Church utilizes The Holy Peyote Sacrament as a means of communion with the Great Father. The NAC as well as the Unaio de Vegital are synchronistic in that they believe that The Bible is the written word of God, in addition to the belief that the sacraments are messengers of his will. The UDV consumes a tea called ayahuasca or Huasca, which is believed to be the Holy Communion.


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