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Friday, March 16, 2012

The Seven Sacraments

Sacraments are rituals that are highly symbolic. That's another reason why it's not easy to specify exactly what each or all of the sacraments mean. Unlike traffic signs or signs in a store, symbols can mean more than one thing at the same time: They can mean different things to different people (think of a cross, a six-pointed star or a crescent), and they can have different levels of meaning. For example, think of the many levels of meaning—personal, family, civil, religious—connected with a wedding. Ceremonies that are rich in symbolism can mean many things at once. 

The Latin word sacramentum means "a sign of the sacred." The Catholic sacraments are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, significant and important for Christians. Members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal traditions call seven of their religious ceremonies sacraments. Most Protestants count only two rituals—Baptism and Communion—as sacraments. Nevertheless, Protestants have ceremonies that are similar to Catholic sacraments, for example, weddings and ordinations.
Sacraments are celebrations of Christian tradition, of Christian life and of Christian hope. They share the dimensions of past, present and future that give ordinary celebrations meaning. 

Sacraments, though, are no ordinary celebrations. They are special occasions for experiencing God's saving presence. It is important for people to be in touch with what the sacraments celebrate if the rituals are to be as meaningful as possible for them. Sometimes people who participate in a sacramental celebration do not fully appreciate one or another of the dimensions of a sacrament's meaning. In this case, the sacrament speaks its meanings, as it were, to those attending the ceremony and invites them to find out more about them. The sacrament also calls people to get in touch with the sacred realities it celebrates. The more people respond to this call (for example, Reconciliation's call to forgive and accept forgiveness), the more they will find meaning in the sacrament. 

The Seven Sacraments

Sacraments of Christian Initiation 
Baptism
Confirmation
Eucharist

Sacraments of Healing 
Penance (Reconciliation)
Anointing of the Sick

Sacraments at the Service of Communion 
Holy Orders
Matrimony 

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