Christianity: Sacraments


Figure 1.--Most Christian denominations accept Baptism as a sacrament. Some churches call it Christening. The Baptists are even named after the sacrament. Basptism is mentioned in the New Testament when interestingly John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Biblical scholars debate the relationship between John and Jesus. The word Baptism come from the Greek báptisma, meaning immersion. Only in the Middle Age the Latin Church adopted the baptism by pouring as a general rite. The Eastern Churches kept the immersion, as well the ritual nakedness. The Baptism of babies became a general rule and so the ritual nudity was not a problem. After the end of communist regimes, however, many adults asked for Baptism. In this case, some Churches don't require a full nakedness, while other Churches maintain the ancient tradition. The photo shows the baptism of a boy in a Russian Orthodox Church.

Most religions have formal rites, commonly practiced or overseen by a priesthood. Over time the Christian Church has developed formal rites which are called sacraments. These are seen as rites in which God's grace is believed to be present. These sacraments are based on the New Testament, although some interpretation is needed to actually reach the formalized sacraments developed by the Church. There is considerable disagreement about these sacraments among the various Christian denominations. Most denominations accept sacraments. The Quakers are one denomination which do not practice the sacraments, believing that they lead a "sacramental life". While most other denominations do teach the importance of the sacraments, there is a wide variation amomg the different denominations as to the number of sacraments and how they are celebrated. The two most important and widely celebrated are batism and holy communion. One Protestant dnomination even aquired their name from baptism--the Basptists. Catholics and several other denominations celebrate seven sacraments, but the precise number and ritualistic approach varies widely. Differences appeared from an early point in the development of the church. The early church attempted to suppress many of the differences, but they became permanent with the break between the Eastern and Western Church. Many more differences stem from the Protestant Reformation. The sacrements in which children are most involved are: baptism, communion (especially first communion, and confirmtion.

Historical Development

The subject of the sacraments was a major issue for the early Church. Not only was there disagreement about the number of dacraments, bu even more intense disagreement about the nature of the central sacraments. The Catholic Church did not finally set the number of sacraments at seven until the Council of Trent (1545-63). They are: (1) Baptism, (2) Eucharist (called sacraments of Christian initiation); (3) Confirmation; (4) Penitence or Reconciliation [called also Confession]; (5) Matrimony (sacraments of service); (6) Anointing of the Sick [former called Extreme Unction] (sacraments of healing); and (7) Holy Orders. The Orthodox Churches never determined the number of sacraments. They have the seven regognized by the Catholic Church, but, they also see the blessing and other rites as sacraments. The sacraments were one of the issues raised by the Reformastion. Luther and Calvin believed thast there were only two sacraments: the Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They did not see marriage, the ministry, confirmation, or the confession (that some Lutheran Churches practice) as sacraments. .

Individual Sacraments

The Catholic Churh finsally safter more than a milenium determined that there wre seven sacraments. The Orthodoc Church recognizes these same sacraments, but thee were theological differences. The Protesant Churchs mostly recognize only two of these sacraments (baptism and communion), although they prasctice some of the others. The historical development and teological differents among the various denominations varies for each individusal sacrament.

Baptism

Most Christian denominations accept Baptism as a sacrament. Some churches call it Christening. The Baptists are even named after this sacrament. Basptism is mentioned in the New Testament when interestingly John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Biblical scholars debate the relationship between John and Jesus. The word Baptism come from the Greek báptisma, meaning immersion. Despite the obvious references in the New Testament, the Latin Church only in the Middle Ages adopted the baptism by pouring as a general rite. The Eastern Churches kept the immersion, as well the ritual nakedness. Baptismmnis also an Anglican rite. Baptism in most churches occurs sometime after birth when a baby is symbolically washed with holy water. This symolizes the washing away of all sins and being reborn a Christian. The sins involved with banies are the original sins of mankind. Babies of course are not old enough to make any promise for themselves so God parents are chosen to represent the child. Some churches perform baptism with total emersion. This also represents being born again, burying the old self under water. These ceremonies are normally conducted when the person is older, a youth or adult. The holy water used in a Baptism ceremony is normally held in a font. These vary widely. Some are small and essentially functional. Others are large and elaborately decorated.

Communion

Most Christian denominations accept Communion as a sacrament, including Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. It is probably the single most important sacrament. Communion is an ecclesiastical term signifying the relationship to each other, involving mutual claims and duties, in which those persons stand who are united by unifomity of belief into one religious body or belief. The most important symbol of the realization of communion is the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper, a rite itself known as Communion. It is of course based on the New Testament account of Jesus' Last Supper. When Jesus had the last supper he took some bread, broke it and shared it with the disciples. He passed a cup of wine around for the entire group to drink. He told them that he must die to save mankind and they must afterwards share bread and wine to remembe him. This is the basis for the central rite of the Christian Church. The terms vary: Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper. Often the Catholics used the word Communion instead of Eucharist. However the Communion is only the last part of the Mass. There are theological differences between different denominations. There are also denominal differences between First Communion celebrations. The Catholic Church tends to give special importance to First Communion. In many churches, altar boys assist the priest in celebrating the mass.

Confirmation

Confirmation is another widely practiced sacrament. It varies widely in observation. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians believe Confirmation to be a sacrament. It is, howeever, less important than in some Protestant denominations, especially the Luhern Church (generally called the Reformed Church in Germany). Cofirmation takes place when the child is considered old enough to make a real commitment to their faith. In Germany Confirmation is generally done at age 13 years. The youth confirms the promise made by God parents at the Christening. Commonly they dress in special clothes purchases for the ceremony. Girls may white dresses and veils. Boys wear smart, usually dark suits. Confirmation in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is different from Confirmation in Evangelical Churches.

Confession

Confession is also referred to as Reconciliation. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians believe this is a sacrament. The theological basis is that sin undermine the individuls closeness with God. When one sins, it not only damages the sinner and those around him. It also damsages the individual's relationship with God. Through confession that damage is repaired. In denominations that practice Confession, individuals are expected to go to Condession periodically before taking Communion.

Marriage

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians accept marriage as a sacrament. Union in marriage creates a new family. The commitment is to love each other and be life companions. Some denominations see it as a permanent union and do not permit divorce. This issue has made history. Henry VIII was a defender of the Catholic Church, but the pope's refusal to allow him to divorse Catherine of Aragon led to the Proterstant Reformation in England. Other demominations are more lenient on divorce, coming to the realization that not all marriages can be saved. Weddings are the most formal event in which most people participate. For many it is a once in a lifetime event. Wedding services vary from demonimation to denomination with varying rituals, but all include promises that the couple make to each other. Wealthy families can spend huge amounts on society weddings. Even middle class families can spend large amounts. It is normally the the dride's family that pays the bill. Unlike many formal events, children are incouraged to participate in weddings. The most formally dressed children are the ring bearers and pages, but all the children are normally dressed up for a wedding. While the wedding party is understandably the focus of the wedding and wedding photographs. Other photographs taken of the wedding, such as of the guests, also provide valuable information.

Extreme Unction

Extreme Unction is anointing the sick and dying. Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe this is a sacrament. Priests use fragrant oil, which Catholic Church call chrism and Orthodox Churches myron. The family holds a funeral service. This is of course a sad occassion, but it is also a time to celebrate the person's life. Theologically it is a happy time because the deceased person joining Jesus. Many Christians, especially Catholics, desire receive extreme unction before they die, preparing them to meet God in death. This is also an Anglican sacrament, but is a little differentvfrom Catholic and Ortodox Extreme Unction. What the Roman Catholics call "extreme unction" (anointing with oil during the last rites, i.e., just before death) the Anglicans understand more broadly as anointing at any time for the purposes of healing and blessing. Therefore Anglicans refer merely to "Unction" (not "Extreme Unction" usually) although of course they also use anointing during a final illness or just before death.

Holy Orders (Ordination)

Roman Catholics, Anglican, and Orthodox Christians believe the taking Holy Orders to be a sacrament. Entering the priesthood requires a very strict personal lifestyle that makes it very demanding commitment. The role of the clergy was one of the major issues of the Reformation. Protestants tend to believe that should be a direct relationship between the faithful and God and that a Priestly intermiduary is unecessary and often actually harmful. While Roman Catholics, Anglican, and Orthodox Christians accept Holy Orders as a sacrament, there are differences. Thev most important is the issue of priestly marriage. The Roman Catholic prohibition on priestly marriage came a millenium after the foundation of the Church (11th century). The issue was not doctrinal, but rather the loss of land to the children of married clergy. In the Roman Catholic Church celibacy is usually mandatory for priests (although there are a few exceptions such as married Anglican priests who have become Roman Catholic priests by conversion and are permitted to remain married). In the Anglican Communion celibacy is voluntary, not required, for priests and bishops. Some Anglicans take vows of celibacy, especially those who enter convents or monasteries, but secular priests and bishops are permitted to marry. In the Orthodox churches, priests are allowed to be married if they wish, but, if married, may not become bishops.







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Created: 6:11 PM 2/2/2010
Last updated: 3:57 AM 10/23/2017