A Sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 292). In sacraments, God uses visible and tangible created things to communicate invisible and intangible grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favor that renews and transforms us into the image of Christ.
The definition of a sacrament is rooted in the biblical teaching about creation. The glory of God is reflected in the physical world he has made. St. Paul says in Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (1:20). The creation is an outward and visible sign of the glory of the Creator.
The sacraments are objective manifestations of God’s grace. We receive grace from God in the sacraments whether we feel it or not, although the objective grace of the sacraments will frequently produce a positive subjective response in us. This will be more the case as we mature in the faith and develop the spiritual vision to perceive God’s grace in the sacraments. This is particularly true in the Eucharist, where God’s grace is always present in the presence of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We live in an age that puts great stress on subjective feelings. This is why many who are accustomed to forms of worship, which focus on our emotional response, do not understand sacramental worship, which focuses on the objective presence of God and His grace. The presence of grace in the sacraments and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist does not depend upon whether we experience a sense of excitement. It does not depend upon the charisma of the minister. It is an objective fact dependent upon the promises of Jesus Christ, who promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
It is wrong to think of sacraments as things that are entirely different from or other than the rest of creation. Sacraments are the fulfillment of the creation. In the world to come there will not be sacraments because the whole creation will, once again, be a sacrament.
The Seven Sacraments
The Church recognizes seven Sacraments, all of which we celebrate at the Parish of St. Mark.
Baptism – Baptism is the rite by which one enters the Church, truly becoming a Christian by becoming a member of the Body of Christ. The baptismal font is placed by the door of a parish church because one enters a church building through the door, but also enters the Church through baptism. We baptize by pouring water over the new Christian in the Name of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Holy Communion – This is the most commonly occurring Sacrament at the Parish of St. Mark. Also referred to as the Holy Eucharist or the Mass, this is where ordinary (unleavened) bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ using the words Our Savior taught His disciples in the Upper Room. This Heavenly Food nourishes our souls the way earthly food nourishes our bodies.
Confirmation – Confirmation is when a Christian decides for himself to follow the Savior. Sometimes referred to as the “ordination of the laity,” it is when the bishop lays hands on the confirmands and marks him with holy oil. Ordinarily the Sacrament of Confirmation is a prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion.
Ordination – Ordination is when a man is set aside by the bishop to minister to the faithful. Like confirmation, the bishop lays hands on the man who is being ordained, but here the man is changed ontologically forever, marked as a priest (or deacon) in order to care for the flock of Christ. Ordination generally follows after three years of seminary study.
Marriage – Marriage is when a man and a woman make a commitment to love one another exclusively as a reflection of Christ’s love for His Church. Holy Scripture teaches us that this is a lifelong commitment because the two become one.
Holy Unction – The New Testament instructs the faithful to call for the elders of the Church when they are ill to be anointed with oil. In former times this Sacrament was referred to as “Last Rites,” but it is appropriate for anyone who is ill, not just someone nearing death. It consists of prayers for healing or a blessed death, as appropriate for the situation.
Confession – The New Testament also instructs the Apostles to “put away” or forgive the sins of the faithful. Confession is when we make an examination of conscience and then privately tell a priest of the times when we have committed a sin. We do this in order that we may be forgiven and receive counsel, not so that we might be condemned. In Anglicanism it is recommended but not required: all may, some should, none must.