The Seven Sacraments

From the Latin word sacrare, meaning “to consecrate", sacraments are Christian rites symbolic of the spirit. The Book of Common Prayer (p. 857) defines sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” The Episcopal Church recognizes two major or "gospel" sacraments, Baptism and Communion. Minor sacraments include Confirmation and Marriage.

There are 7 sacraments in the Episcopal Church: a brief description of each follows here. For a deeper look into the sacraments and the Episcopal Church in general, visit the Episcopal Church website.

  • Baptism
  • Holy Eucharist
  • Confirmation
  • Marriage (Holy Matrimony)
  • Anointing the Sick (Unction)
  • Reconciliation (Confession)
  • Ordination
Baptism
Baptism is a ritual of inclusion and belonging that indicates our desire to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church. We baptize adults and infants in the Episcopal Church on the belief that God's love extends to everyone regardless of their age. Baptism always takes place within the Sunday Eucharist.

Infant Baptism: For infants or children who cannot understand these promises, we ask parents and sponsors (also known as godparents) to make these promises as well, plus an additional promise: to teach the Christian faith to the child being baptized. This will prepare the child for the time when they can assume responsibility for the promises made on their behalf at Baptism. This happens through the sacrament of Confirmation.

Adult Baptism: Before one is baptized, certain promises must be made to God, in the presence of God's people (which is why almost all baptisms are done in the context of public worship). These promises, which are explored in a series of classes before and after baptism, are:

To resist what is wrong - This promise is called a "renunciation" - to renounce something means to reject its power and influence over us. We renounce evil in all its forms.

To believe what is true - This promise is an acceptance of Jesus as Savior, to put one's whole trust in his grace and love, and to follow and obey him as the Lord.

To do what is right - This is a promise to live according to Christ's teachings. We know these through reading the Bible, by praying, and by committing ourselves to learn and grow spiritually in the Christian faith.

Holy Eucharist
Also known as the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, the Eucharist is "the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again." The Book of Common Prayer, p. 859.

In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians, whatever your denomination, are invited to receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist at our altar. At St. Luke's, we celebrate the Eucharist weekly, believing that it gives us the spiritual food we need to sustain us in our spiritual journeys.

Confirmation / Reception
In Confirmation, a baptized Christian makes "a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop." (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857) It completes the initiation rite that began at baptism by transferring responsibility for the promises made at baptism from the sponsors to the one being confirmed. One can be confirmed whenever he or she is ready to accept that responsibility; usually this happens during adolescence if one is raised in a church. Confirmation expresses not only a desire to live as an adult Christian, it also indicates a desire to do so in the Episcopal Church and the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Reception into the Episcopal Church is a sacramental rite for baptized Christians who have been confirmed in other denominations by a bishop in apostolic succession (Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or Eastern Orthodox) and wish to be received into the Episcopal Church by the Bishop. Those who have been baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church but for some special reason wish to re-commit themselves to the life of faith may also choose to reaffirm their baptismal covenant with the Bishop.

Marriage, or Holy Matrimony
"Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows." The Book of Common Prayer, p. 859.

Simply stated, the purpose of marriage is to give life and love to the world. A married couple, by the way they fulfill their marriage vows, will love, honor and nurture each other. But in Christian marriage, the relationship is also meant to be for others -- an example (or an icon) of what it means to be loving and faithful to another human being.

Anointing the Sick, or Unction
"Unction is the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God's grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body." The Book of Common Prayer, p. 859.
This sacrament exists for the purpose of healing -- to restore a person to physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness. When we anoint and pray for people, we ask God to release them from anything that prevents a person from being whole. Christians recognize that there is a difference between being healed and being cured. In the sacrament of Unction, we pray for healing and wholeness, which may or may not include a cure.

Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, or Confession
"Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution." The Book of Common Prayer, p. 859.

Also known as Confession, this sacrament is perhaps the least understood. Why tell God something that God already knows … in the presence of another person? Because there are times in our lives when things we do (or don't do) block us from growing spiritually. They stand between us and God and we can't get around them. Penance is a way of removing the barriers that our bad behaviors create. Someone once said, "Talking about things makes them real." To do so with a person who is obligated to confidentiality -- and then hear that God loves and forgives us in spite of what we've done -- can be a very healing experience. It is meant to be a regular part of a Christian's spiritual development.

In the Episcopal Church, a general Confession is part of our regular Sunday Holy Eucharist service. Penance is not mandatory before receiving Eucharist as it is in some denominations. There is a simple rule that applies here: "All can, some should, none must."

Ordination
God calls all people into a spiritual relationship and gives us particular gifts with which to live our lives as Christians. We use the word "ministry" to describe our response to God's call to live a certain way and do particular things. Everyone has a ministry because everyone is called.

In the Episcopal Church, some are called to a special ministry within the church to train, equip and empower Christians to be effective. These are the clergy, and ordination is the sacrament by which men and women become members of the clergy. We describe all the ministries of the church in this way:

Who are the ministers of the Church?
The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

What is the ministry of the laity?
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

What is the ministry of a bishop?
The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry.

What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

What is the ministry of a deacon?
The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

What is the duty of all Christians?
The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God.

Burial of the Dead, although not a sacrament, is a time to utilize the pastoral and liturgical ministry of the Church. The death of a member of the Church should be reported as soon as possible to, and arrangements for the funeral should be made in consultation with, the Minister of the Congregation. Burial of cremated remains in St. Luke’s Memorial Garden is available to members and the family of members of St. Luke’s Church. The two services for The Burial of the Dead: Rite One and Rite Two begin on page 469 of The Book of Common Prayer.