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A sacrament is a Christian rite that mediates, in the sense of being a visible symbol or manifestation of invisible divine grace. Christian churches and sects are divided regarding the number and operation of the sacraments, but they are generally held to have been instituted by Jesus. Sacraments are usually administered by the clergy to a recipient or recipients, and are generally understood to involve visible and invisible components. The invisible component (manifested inwardly) is understood to be God's grace working in the sacrament's participants, while the visible (or outward) component entails the use of water, wine, or oil that is blessed or consecrated.


The term sacrament is derived from the Latin sacramentum, meaning "a consecrated thing or act," i.e. "something holy"; '"to consecrate", which itself was a Church Latin translation of the Greek mysterion, meaning "mystery".


The seven sacraments traditionally recognized by Roman Catholicism are (see also Catholic sacraments):

In addition to these seven, some Christian groups consider foot washing to be a sacrament.

The seven sacraments accepted by Roman Catholicism are generally accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, but these traditions do not limit the number of sacraments to these seven.

The numeration, naming, and understanding of sacraments and the adoption of the remaining sacraments vary according to denomination.

Most Protestants believe that sacraments are an "outward sign of an inward grace", or symbolic of what is taking place or has taken place invisibly. What Protestants consider to be a sacrament differs from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox positions. Most Protestants consider only baptism and Communion, the usual Protestant term for the Eucharist, to be sacraments; as only these were dirctly instituted by Jesus. They believe that the other five rites are not made sacraments by the New Testament. So while almost all Protestant churches have marriage ceremonies, and many have an ordained clergy and a ceremony conferring their version of Holy Orders, they do not consider these rites to be sacraments. Some Protestants in the Anglican communion are Anglo-Catholics, and may accept all of the Roman Catholic sacraments; these believers often do not identify themselves as Protestants, however.

Many Anabaptists practice foot washing, citing the commandment of Jesus: "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet." (John 13:14 KJV) Foot washing is a sacrament in this faith tradition.

Roman Catholics hold that the sacrament itself is an effective means of grace, and not merely symbolic. They traditionally practice seven sacraments but acknowledge that additional means of grace exist without sacraments. Roman Catholics also have sacramentals, acts of worship that differ from sacraments proper, but which are also means of grace. Items such as the rosary or the various scapulars and holy medals issued by some Roman Catholic groups are counted among these sacramentals.

For the Eastern Orthodox Christian the term “Sacrament” is a Westernism that seeks to classify something that is rather difficult to classify. Preferably the term “Mystery” is used, the reason being that the “How it is possible” is unanswerable to human understanding. God touches us through material means such as water, wine, bread, oil, incense, candles, altars, icons, etc. How he 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. On a specific level, while not systematically enumerating Mysteries, the most profound Mystery is without a doubt, the Eucharist in which direct communion with God occurs. This perceived vagueness is considered by the Orthodox to be piety and respect for something profound and incomprehensible. Orthodox do not like to try and classify things to any great degree as this is seen to be a fruitless and unnecessary waste of time. The Community of Christ practices eight offical sacraments along with seeing other rites as sacramental in nature. The Salvation Army does not practice formal sacraments for a variety of reasons, but does not however forbid its members from receiving sacraments in other denominations [1].

Quakers do not practice formal sacraments, believing that all activities should be considered holy.

See also

Sacrament (Mormonism)

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