Customs and Rituals

What is a sacrament?

“Sacrament” comes from a Latin root that originally referred to an oath by which soldiers swore their loyalty (Eastern Christians typically call a sacrament a holy “mystery”). Traditional Christian sources from a variety of churches generally define a sacrament as a visible sign of divine grace bequeathed by Christ himself. Since the Middle Ages, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have held that there are seven sacraments of equal spiritual significance: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, the Eucharist, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Final Anointing. Most Protestant communities have accorded a central place to baptism and the Eucharist, usually called the Lord’s Supper, regarding the other five as of lesser importance, but some churches have recently begun to pay greater attention to those five as well. Almost all Christian communities practice baptism frequently, though in very different ways. As for the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, frequency varies a great deal. Catholic and Orthodox churches, for example, give “holy communion” as part of nearly every liturgical worship service. In most Protestant communities, the Lord’s Supper is much more occasional and a ritual set apart from the usual Sunday worship. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army are the only larger groups that have no sacramental rituals at all.


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