I know I am straying on to dangerous ground here as there are many that know much more about this subject than I do, but I have been asked what they are and could find no good cross-denominational reference.

A sacrament (literal meaning “a sacred thing or mystery”) is the symbolic act or ritual that the church uses to outwardly express and practice the faith. There are seven that are commonly practised by Catholic and Orthodox traditions and most Protestant churches (except perhaps the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends) accept the first two even if they don’t use the word. I am not entirely sure why, in the case of the Church of England, some are accepted and others not even though we adopt most of the practices, but I suspect that it is more than mere terminology.

Baptism (or Christening)

This is the rite of initiation into the church as originally practised by John the Baptist using water (John 3:22–24). In the Anglican (Church of England), Catholic, Orthodox and some other churches this can be as an infant where the vows are made on their behalf or they can be made in person if the candidate is old enough. In some protestant denominations this is called the “Believer’s Baptism” and is only available to those who can declare for themselves.

Eucharist (Holy Communion, Mass or The Lord’s Supper)

This is the regular ceremony where Christians re-enact the “Last Supper” as commanded in the Gospels (e.g. Luke 22:14–20). At the Eucharist the consecrated bread and wine are sometimes referred to as the “Blessed Sacraments”, particularly if some is kept for later use (known as the “Reserved Sacrament”).


An infant who has been baptised later confirms their faith for themselves in this public act before their Bishop. In different traditions this can take place either before or after they receive their first communion. Although practised by the Church of England, it is not regarded as a Sacrament.

Matrimony (Marriage)

Although Protestant churches practice marriage in Church, it is not seen as a Sacrament yet it doesn’t lessen their view of marriage as having been given and blessed by God.


A person who wishes (with a “Vocation” or “Calling”) to formalise their ministry in the church, both pastorally and in preaching, may go to their Bishop who, after suitable training, may ordain them, first as “Deacon” (servant to the church) and (perhaps) later as “Priest.” In many denominations, only the latter can preside at a celebration of the Communion. Particularly worthy priests may later be “Consecrated” as Bishops, though this is not a sacrament.

Penance (Confession or Reconciliation)

Unlike the other sacraments, this is very much a personal affair between the penitent and God, often with the assistance of a confessor or priest. Practice varies from a routine attendance at a confessional some time before Mass to an occasional and prayerful confession and renewal or baptismal vows in time of need.

Extreme Unction (Anointing the Sick or Last Rites)

Adopted from the passage James 5:14-15 “Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church…” the Sacrament offers the grace of the Holy Spirit to overcome anxiety at times of weakness. Sometimes a similar anointing is available to all-comers at festivals, particularly (with ashes) at the start of Lent and (with oil) on Easter Eve.

A Catholic view of the sacraments can be found here and here

This schools page demonstrates all that is wrong with religious education.

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