What are Sacraments?
“Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace”
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 857).
In the Episcopal Church we take part in certain regular acts of worship. These are called sacraments or reenactments of Christ’s ministries on earth. The two primary sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion.
We believe that God is actively present in the world and in us. In the sacraments we realize his presence and his favor towards us. Through the sacraments, which are freely given to us by God, our sins are forgiven, our minds are enlightened, our hearts stirred and our wills strengthened.
These sacraments are contained in the worship services found in the Book of Common Prayer, a book used for worship and as a guide for Christian life. A complete outline of the Episcopal faith can be found on pages 845-862 of the Book of Common Prayer. Your questions are encouraged and always welcome.
Q: What is Holy Baptism?
Baptism is the means by which we become members of the community of believers, defined in the New Testament as the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus was baptized with water by John the Baptist, we include people in the community of faith by baptizing them with water. Following a series of questions, responses and prayers, the priest pours water on the candidate. The sign of the cross may be made on the candidate’s forehead with blessed oil. In the Episcopal Church a person is baptized only once.
Q: What is Holy Communion?
It is a reenactment of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Any baptized person is welcome to share in this meal of bread and wine.
Q: What are the other sacraments?
Besides Baptism and the Eucharist (Holy Communion), the church recognizes other spiritual markers in our journey of faith. These include:
- Confirmation (the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows), pp. 413-419, Book of Common Prayer
- Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), pp. 447-452, Book of Common Prayer
- Matrimony (Christian marriage), pp. 422-438, Book of Common Prayer
- Orders (ordination to deacon, priest, or bishop), pp. 510-555, Book of Common Prayer
- Unction (anointing with oil those who are sick or dying) pp. 453-467, Book of Common Prayer
These help us to be a sacramental people, seeing God always at work around us.
Q: What is confirmation?
Confirmation is when a baptized person, who has been instructed in the Christian faith, makes a mature commitment to God within a worship setting and receives a special blessing and prayer from the bishop.
Q: What is holy matrimony?
Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which two people enter into a lifelong union and make their promises before God in a worship service.
Q: What is reconciliation of a penitent?
While private confession of sins is not a requirement, anyone may request the reconciliation of a penitent from a priest and receive assurance of God’s forgiveness. The confession is always made in private and kept in strict confidence.
Q: What is unction?
Unction is a special blessing for those who are sick or desire special prayers. A sign of the cross is made on their forehead with blessed oil.
Q: What is ordination?
Ordination is the sacrament whereby God empowers trained persons for special ministry as deacons, priests or bishops. The service always includes the laying on of hands by bishops.