A sacrament is a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites.


General definitions and terms

Hexam's Concise Dictionary of Religion calls a sacrament "a Rite in which GOD (or Gods) is (are) uniquely active".[1] But within Christianity the word is used in a more restricted sense.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacraments as "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."[2] The catechism included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer defines a sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof."

Some Protestant traditions avoid the word "sacrament". Reaction against the 19th-century Oxford Movement led Baptists to prefer instead the word "ordinance",[3] practices ordained by Christ to be permanently observed by the church. "Sacrament" stresses mainly, but not solely, what God does, "ordinance" what the Christians do.[4]

The Catholic Church [5] and Oriental Orthodoxy [6][7] teach that the sacraments are seven. The Eastern Orthodox Church also believes that there are seven major sacraments, but applies the corresponding Greek word, μυστήριον (mysterion) also to rites that in the Western tradition are called sacramentals and to other realities, such as the Church itself.[8][9] Similarly, the Catholic Church understands the word "sacrament" as referring not only to the seven sacraments considered here, but also to Christ and the Church.[10] Anglican teaching is that "there are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord", and that "those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel".[11]

Roman Catholic teaching

The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden, ca. 1448.

The following are the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, here listed in the traditional order:[12]

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, "the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."[13]

The Church teaches that the effect of the sacraments comes ex opere operato, by the very fact of being administered, regardless of the personal holiness of the minister administering it.[14] However, as indicated in this definition of the sacraments given by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a recipient's own lack of proper disposition to receive the grace conveyed can block a sacrament's effectiveness in that person. The sacraments presuppose faith and through their words and ritual elements, nourish, strengthen and give expression to faith.[15]

Though not every individual has to receive every sacrament, the Church affirms that, for believers as a whole, the sacraments are necessary for salvation, as the modes of grace divinely instituted by Christ himself.[16] Through each of them, Christ bestows that sacrament's particular grace, such as incorporation into Christ and the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service.

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox teaching

The seven sacraments are also accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy,[17][18][19][20] but the Eastern Orthodox tradition does not limit the number of sacraments to seven, holding that anything the Church does as Church is in some sense sacramental. However it recognizes these seven as "the major sacraments", which are completed by many other blessings and special services.[21][22] Some lists of the sacraments taken from the Church Fathers include the Consecration of a Church, Monastic Tonsure, and the Burial of the Dead.[23] More specifically, for the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christian the term sacrament is a term which seeks to classify something that may, according to Orthodox thought, be impossible to classify. The Orthodox communion's preferred term is Sacred Mystery. While the Catholic Church has attempted to dogmatically define the sacraments, and discover the precise moment when the act results in the manifestation of the grace of God, the Orthodox communion has refrained from attempting to determine absolutely the exact form, number and effect of the sacraments, accepting simply that these elements are unknowable to all except God. According to Orthodox thinking God touches mankind 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 or Synaxis, 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) directly communicate with God. This differs from the Catholic view of transubstantiation in that the Orthodox don't claim to understand how exactly this happens, but merely state "This appears to in the form of bread and wine, but God has told me it is His Body and Blood. I will take what He says as a 'mystery' and not attempt to rationalize it to my limited mind".[24] The emphasis on mystery is 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."[citation needed]

Anglican teaching

As befits its prevailing self-identity as a via media or "middle path" of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses its sacramental perspective in keeping with its status as a church in the Catholic tradition but also 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. Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians participating in an Anglican/Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission declared that they had "reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist".[25]

Most Anglican churches recognise seven sacraments; however, two of them — Baptism and the Holy Eucharist — are seen as having been ordained by Christ ("sacraments of the Gospel," as Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles describes them). In this sense, Baptism and the Eucharist are the "precepted, primary, and principal sacraments ordained for our salvation.[citation needed]" and the other five sacraments are lesser, deriving their efficacy from the former, if they are sacraments at all. If they are not sacraments, they still are rites to be performed as needed in the Church.

In the Anglican tradition, the sacerdotal function is assigned to clergy in the three orders of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. Many 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."

The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. –Augsburg Confession[26]

Lutheran teaching

Luther's Seal
 Lutheranism portal v · d · e

Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution.[27] Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God[28] along with the divine words of institution,[29] God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component.[30] He earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament[31] forgiveness of sins[32] and eternal salvation.[33] He also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.[34]

Martin Luther defined a sacrament as an act or rite:

  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.[35]

This strict definition narrowed the number of sacraments down to two or three: Holy Baptism, the Eucharist, and for some, Holy Absolution, with the other four rites eliminated for not having a visible element or the ability to forgive sin. Lutherans do not dogmatically define the exact number of sacraments.[36] In line with Luther's initial statement in his Large Catechism some Lutherans speak of only two sacraments,[37] Baptism and the Eucharist, although later in the same work he calls Confession and Absolution[38] "the third sacrament."[39] The definition of sacrament in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession lists Absolution as one of them.[40] It is important to note that although Lutherans do not consider the other four rites as sacraments, they are still retained and used in the Lutheran church. Within Lutheranism, the sacraments are a Means of Grace, and, together with the Word of God, empower the Church for mission.[41]

Teachings of other Christian traditions

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 formally vary according to denomination, although the finer theological distinctions are not always understood and may not even be known to many of the faithful. Many Protestants and other post-Reformation traditions affirm Luther's definition and have only Baptism and Eucharist (or Communion or the Lord's Supper) as sacraments, while others see the ritual as merely symbolic, and still others do not have a sacramental dimension at all[citation needed].

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, Schwarzenau Brethren, German Baptist groups or True Jesus Church[42], and the hearing of the Gospel, as understood by a few Christian groups (such as the Polish National Catholic Church of America[43]), 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[citation needed].

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..[44] These churches argue that the word ordinance points to the ordaining authority of Christ which lies behind the practice.[45]

Latter Day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use the word "Sacrament" solely for 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 LDS congregations, the Sacrament is normally provided every Sunday as part of the Sacrament meeting. In LDS teachings however, the word ordinance is used approximately as the word sacrament is used in Christianity in general.[citation needed]. In terms of Ordinances which roughly equate to Christian sacraments in terms of conferring an invisible form of grace the LDS have several which are of a saving nature and are required for "exaltation". These are: baptism, confirmation, Ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods (in the case of men), the temple Endowment, and Celestial Marriage.

There are other ordinances which are performed, but which are not required for salvation; these are "Sacrament" or the Lord's Supper, ministering to the sick, the naming and blessing of a child, dedication of a grave, patriarchal blessings, and various other blessings of comfort and counsel.[46]

Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

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.[47] Their denomination recognizes eight sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, The Blessing of Children, The Lord's Supper, Marriage, Administration to the sick, Ordination, and The Evangelist's blessing.[48]

Non-sacramental churches

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[49]

The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) also 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. Some Quakers use the words "Baptism" and "Communion" to describe the experience of Christ's presence and his ministry in worship.[50]


The Samskāra are a series of sacraments, sacrifices and rituals that serve as rites of passage and mark the various stages of the human life, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. Although, the number of major samskaras fluctuates between 12 and 18 in the Grhya Sutras, later, it became 16 (Hindi: sola) in number,[51]


  1. ^ Hexam's Concise Dictionary of Religion "Sacrament" obtained at
  2. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131
  3. ^ Jeffrey Gros, Thomas F. Best, Lorelei F. Fuchs (editors), Growth in Agreement III: International Dialogue Texts and Agreed Statements, 1998-2005 (Eerdmans 2008 ISBN 9780802862297), p. 352
  4. ^ James V. Brownson, The Promise of Baptism (Eerdmans 2006 ISBN 9780802833075), p. 37
  5. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1113
  6. ^ Sacramental Rites in the Coptic Orthodox Church
  7. ^ The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Faith and Order
  8. ^ Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, The Sacraments
  9. ^ Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Orthodox Worship II: The Sacraments
  10. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 774-780
  11. ^ Thirty-Nine Articles, Article XXV
  12. ^ Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1210
  13. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131
  14. ^ New Catholic Dictionary
  15. ^ Sacrosanctum Concilium, 59, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1123
  16. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1129
  17. ^ The Coptic Church, "Sacraments"
  18. ^ Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Archdiocese of North America, "Church Sacraments"
  19. ^ Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, "Introduction to Church Sacraments"
  20. ^ Armenian Apostolic Church, "Church Sacraments"
  21. ^ Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, "The Sacraments'
  22. ^ Orthodox Research Institute, The Seven Sacraments of the Greek Orthodox Church
  23. ^ Meyendorff, J. (1979). The Sacraments in the Orthodox Church, in Byzantine Theology. Obtained online at
  24. ^ Holy Eucharist obtained online at
  25. ^ See Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement. Accessed 2007-10-15.
  26. ^ See Augsburg Confession, Article 7, Of the Church
  27. ^ Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 161. 
  28. ^ Ephesians 5:27, John 3:5, John 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:16, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  29. ^ Ephesians 5:26, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  30. ^ Matthew 3:16-17, John 3:5, 1 Corinthians 11:19, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  31. ^ Luke 7:30, Luke 22:19-20, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  32. ^ Acts 21:16, Acts 2:38, Luke 3:3, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:26-27, Matthew 26:28, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  33. ^ 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  34. ^ Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  35. ^ Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, St. Louis: Concordia, 1991, 236
  36. ^ The Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 2: "We believe we have the duty not to neglect any of the rites and ceremonies instituted in Scripture, whatever their number. We do not think it makes much difference if, for purposes of teaching, the enumeration varies, provided what is handed down in Scripture is preserved" (cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 211).
  37. ^ Luther's Large Catechism IV, 1: "We have now finished the three chief parts of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these we have yet to speak of our two Sacraments instituted by Christ, of which also every Christian ought to have at least an ordinary, brief instruction, because without them there can be no Christian; although, alas! hitherto no instruction concerning them has been given" (emphasis added; cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 733).
  38. ^ John 20:23, and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 112-3, Part XXVI "The Ministry", paragraph 156.
  39. ^ Luther's Large Catechism IV, 74-75: "And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism" (emphasis added; cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 751).
  40. ^ The Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 3, 4: "If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking. For humanly instituted rites are not sacraments, properly speaking, because human beings do not have the authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without the command of God are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps serve to teach or admonish the common folk. Therefore, the sacraments are actually baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (the sacrament of repentance)" (cf. Tappert, 211). Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 13, Of the Number and Use of the Sacraments
  41. ^ Use and Means of Grace, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1997, 56
  42. ^
  43. ^ Польская национальная католическая церковь (Russian)
  44. ^ "BBC: Religion and Ethics: Pentecostalism". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  45. ^ "BELIEVE Religious Information Source: Baptists". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  46. ^ Gospel Topics: Ordinances. Obtained online at
  47. ^ Stephen M. Veazey. "Community of Christ: Sacraments in the Community of Christ". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  48. ^ Communication Services of Community of Christ, Independence Mo.. "Community of Christ: The Sacraments". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  49. ^ The Salvation Army: Why does The Salvation Army not baptise or hold communion?.
  50. ^ Grace, Eden (December 11, 2003). "Reflection on what Quakers bring to the ecumenical table". 
  51. ^ Pandey, R.B. (1962, reprint 2003). The Hindu Sacraments (Saṁskāra) in S. Radhakrishnan (ed.) The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol.II, Kolkata:The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, ISBN 81-85843-03-1, pp.391-2

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