A sacrament is a special religious rite in some Christian churches.
The Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation (Confession), the Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction, Last Rites), Holy Orders and Marriage (Holy Matrimony). Protestant churches usually recognize only Baptism, and sometimes the Eucharist, as sacraments. The others may be considered religious ceremonies, but not sacraments.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacraments as "perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify". At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Protestant churches held that five of the sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church failed to meet one or more of those four tests established by the Catholic Church herself.
For example, Matrimony was not a new practice at the time of Christ. Then too, Jesus does not appear to have authorized Holy Unction, although the anointing of the sick by church elders is mentioned in the New Testament. The Anglican Church's Articles of Religion contend that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation negates the sacramental character of the Sacrament of the Altar (the Eucharist) because if the bread and wine are rendered non-existent, as is claimed, there is no longer any physical component.
The Orthodox Church accepts the same set of sacraments as the Catholic Church does, but it declines to number the sacraments. The sacraments of the Orthodox Church are more fully described in the essay "Orthodox Mysteries".
The only significant Christian Churches that observe no sacraments at all, in the usual sense of the word, are the Friends (Quakers), Salvation Army, and Unitarians. Most Baptists, instead of referring to sacraments, refer to the two ordinances, namely, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and regard those as symbolic acts of obedience.
Flannery O'Connor: "Well, if the Eucharist is a symbol, to hell with it."
St. John Vianney: "There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious He would have given it to us."
Catholic proverb: "Seven days without the Eucharist makes one weak."
Fr. Mike Schmitz: "So many people see the confessional as a place of defeat, but confession is a place of victory every single time."
Ambrose Bierce: "Rome has seven sacraments, but the Protestant churches, being less prosperous, feel that they can afford only two, and these of inferior sanctity. Some of the smaller sects have no sacraments at all — for which mean economy they will indubitable be damned."
- Sacraments in the Catholic Church
- Catechism of the Catholic Church 1210, The Vatican. Accessed 24 March 2007
- CCC 1084, The Vatican. Accessed 8 May 2016
- Baptists' Two Ordinances
- Baptism and the Lord's Supper, from the Southern Baptist Convention
- "Sacraments", Catholic Quotations, retrieved 8 May 2016
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary