“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread…After supper he took the cup of wine” BCP pg. 363
Several weeks ago, I was asked, “Is the Eucharist a Sacrament like the other Sacraments?” And “What exactly is a Sacrament?”
Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines a Sacrament as, “a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”
The section entitled, An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism, begins on pg. 845 in the BCP. On pg. 857 of the section The Sacraments, the first question and answer is:
Q.What are the sacraments?
A.The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.
As we covered Grace in my last post, I will not spend time on it here. It is important to note that the second Q + A of this section is the follow-up:
Q.What is grace?
A.Grace is God's favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.
The reason the Catechism moves directly from Sacrament to Grace is precisely because they are intimately connected. A Sacrament is the outward and physical action/expression which represents (is the symbol of) and facilitates the inward and spiritual reality of God. These two cannot be separated outwardly without hindering the inward spiritual revelation of God.
In the Episcopal Church, we observe two Sacraments ordained by Christ: Baptism and Holy Eucharist, which are required for full participation in the faith. There are five additional sacraments that evolved through devotion and worship and are affirmed as pathways of God’s grace but are not necessary as faith practices. They are:
The Articles of Religion, often referred to as the “39 Articles,” are
. . . a brief and condensed statement of what Anglican Christians believe and teach. These carefully summarized statements of biblical theology were compiled by the English Reformers (Thomas Cranmer and Joseph Ridley) as a means to guide and guard our identity in Christ. Adopted by the Church of England in 1571, the 39 Articles are designed to assist believers in thinking, discussing, applying, and sharing “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). These theological principals remain relevant for our spiritual health and maturity as we follow Jesus Christ today. (Grace Northridge 39 Articles)
Article 25 states:
The sacraments instituted by Christ are not only badges or tokens of the profession of Christians but are also sure witnesses and effectual signs of God's grace and goodwill towards us. Through them he works invisibly within us, both bringing to life and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him. There are two sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord in the Gospel—Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The five that are commonly called sacraments (confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, and extreme unction) are not to be regarded as Gospel sacraments. This is because they are either a corruption of apostolic practice or states of life as allowed in the Scriptures. They are not of the same nature as the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper since they do not have any visible sign or ceremony instituted by God. The sacraments were not instituted by Christ to be gazed at or carried about but to be used properly. It is only in those who receive them worthily that they have a beneficial effect or operation. As Paul the apostle says, those who receive them in an unworthy manner bring condemnation upon themselves.
The Christian faith has always recognized the participation in the Sacraments as a necessary part of our faith and worship, and the Anglican/Episcopal Church reflects the belief in the primacy of the Holy Eucharist as the “Principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts…” BCP pg. 13
So, the Holy Eucharist is akin to Baptism but different from the following five. The most important components of our faith are growth in spirit and depth of relationship. These lifelong goals are reflected by the intimacy of Christ present in Communion, and growth in understanding and devotion to the Sacraments will both enable and enrich our spiritual life.
Peace in Christ,
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Father Bill Burk†