Anglican sacraments: Wikis


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In keeping with its prevailing self-identity as a via media or "middle path" of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses elements in keeping with its status as a church in the Catholic tradition and a church of the Reformation. With respect to sacramental theology the Catholic tradition is perhaps most strongly asserted in the importance Anglicanism places on the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification and salvation as expressed in the church's liturgy.

Anglican sacramental theology runs the gamut from those whose beliefs are in accord with Christians of the early centuries to those who accept Tridentine teachings of the sacraments, and those who reject the need for sacraments, e.g. Sydney Anglicans.

When the Thirty-Nine Articles were accepted as a norm for Anglican teaching (from the 16th to 19th centuries), it was commonly taught that Anglicans recognised two sacraments – Baptism and the Eucharist – as having been ordained by Christ ("sacraments of the Gospel" as Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles describes them). As such they are the only two considered by this document to be necessary for salvation. Five other acts are regarded variously as full sacraments by Anglo-Catholics or as "sacramental rites" by Evangelicals with varied opinion among broad church and liberal Anglicans.

According to the Thirty-Nine Articles, the seven are:

"Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel" "Commonly called Sacraments"
Baptism Confession and absolution
Holy Matrimony
Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or Mass or, less frequently, the Lord's Supper) Confirmation
Holy Orders (also called Ordination)
Anointing of the Sick (also called Healing or Unction.)


Characteristics of sacraments

As defined by the 16th century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." It thus has the effect of conveying sanctification on the individual participating in the sacramental action.

Sacraments have both form and matter. A form is the verbal and physical liturgical action while the matter refers to any material objects used (e.g. water and chrism in baptism; bread and wine in the Eucharist, etc.). Not all the ritual and objects used in sacramental worship can be defined as the form and matter — the necessities are articulated in the rubrics of Anglican prayer books.

A rite that has the intended sacramental effect is a valid sacrament. Anglicans hold that only a priest properly ordained by a bishop or a bishop consecrated by other bishops can perform valid sacramental actions (the exception is baptism, which can be performed by a layperson in cases of emergency). To be validly ordained Anglican clergy must be ordained and/or consecrated by bishops whose own consecration can be traced to the Apostles (see Apostolic succession). Anglicans differ as to whether the sacraments received from clergy who are not ordained in this tradition have been validly performed and received.

Three of the seven sacraments may be received only once in a lifetime because they make an indelible sacramental character on the recipient's soul: baptism, confirmation, and ordination to a particular order (for example, a person who has been ordained a deacon can be ordained a priest, but cannot again receive the diaconal ordination). In case of uncertainty about whether a person has received one of those three sacraments at an earlier time, he or she may receive the sacrament conditionally. In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament, rather than saying "I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," says "If you are not baptized, I baptize you" etc.


Baptism is the sacrament by which one is initiated into the Christian faith. The sacrament thus has the effect of receiving the individual into the household of God, allowing them to receive the grace of the other sacraments. The matter consists of the water and chrism, and the form are the words of baptism (the Trinitarian formula). The intention of baptism is threefold: a renunciation of sin and of all that which is opposed to the will of God (articulated by vows); a statement of belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (articulated by the recitation of the Apostles' Creed or Nicene Creed); and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Saviour (again, signified by vows). The effect of baptism is the reception of the Holy Spirit.


Main article: Anglican Eucharistic theology

The Eucharist (Holy Communion, Mass, or the Lord's Supper), is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name. It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament, his spiritual body and blood. The matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer. In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated. As such, the Eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and to the present as an Incarnation of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.

Confession and absolution

Confession and absolution is the sacrament by which one is restored to God when one's relationship with God has been broken by sin. The form is the words of absolution, which may be accompanied by the sign of the cross. Confession and absolution is normally done corporately (the congregation invited to confess their sins, a moment of silent prayer while the congregation does so, a spoken general confession, and the words of absolution). Individuals, however, can and do also participate in aural confession, privately meeting with a priest to confess his or her sins, during which time the priest can provide both counselling, urge reconciliation with parties that have been sinned against, and suggest certain spiritual disciplines (penance). Anglican clergy do not typically require acts of penance after receiving absolution; but such acts, if done, are intended to be healing and preventative. The priest is bound by the seal of confession. This binds the priest to never speak of what he or she has heard in the confessional to anyone.


Confirmation is derived from the Latin word confirmare - to strengthen. In this sense, confirmation involves the reaffirmation of faith through the strengthening and renewal of one's baptismal vows accomplished through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop. Traditionally, baptism and confirmation were a unified rite, with the bishop performing both activities. With the proliferation of the faith in Europe during the early Middle Ages, the rite became separated. In recent centuries, it has been seen as an opportunity for those baptised as infants to make an adult profession of faith, and to affirm the vows made on their behalf. Until very recently, it was also a precondition to participation in the Eucharist throughout the Communion. Several provinces now view baptism as sufficient for accessing the grace of all the sacraments, since it is the means of initiation into the faith. Many baptised as adults still participate in confirmation as a way of completing the ancient rite of initiation, or because they have been received into the Communion from other denominations.


Holy Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, acknowledging the presence and grace of God in the life of the couple. The form is manifested as the vows (contrary to popular belief, the blessing and exchanging of rings is customary, and not necessary for the rite of matrimony to be valid). In marriage, the husband and wife seek God's blessing, and through the mediation of the priest, the prayer is answered. Although the couple are thus generally regarded as the ministers of the sacrament through their voluntary exchange of vows, the sacrament must be celebrated under the presidency of a priest, who witnesses and mediates the prayers. Matrimony was the last sacrament added, having arisen as a result of civil necessity in the Middle Ages in order to regularise intimate relationships and legitimize children. In many parts of the Anglican Communion, there is provision to bless civil marriages (on the understanding that a couple cannot be married twice); and in some dioceses there is also conflict for the blessing of same-sex unions.

Holy Orders

Ordination, or Holy Orders, is the setting aside of individuals to specific ministries in the Church, namely that of deacon, priest, and bishop. The matter and form are the laying on of hands by a bishop and prayers. From the beginning of the Church there were two orders recognised - that of bishop and deacon. Priests are essentially delegates of the bishop to minister to congregations in which the bishop cannot be physically present. Deacons have always had the role of being "the church in the world," administering to the pastoral needs of the community and assisting the priest in worship (usually by proclaiming the Gospel and preparing the altar and credence table). The bishop is the chief pastor of a diocese, and consecration as an archbishop does not involve transition into a new order, but rather signifies the taking on of additional episcopal responsibilities as a metropolitan or primate.

The Anglican Communion, like Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and unlike the Roman Catholic Church, do not require that priests observe clerical celibacy. Unlike priests in the Eastern Churches, Anglican priests may also marry after ordination, and married Anglican priests may be ordained as bishops. Additionally, in many provinces of the Communion, women are allowed to be ordained as priests, and in about a third of the provinces also consecrated as bishops, though because this is a recent development, there are few dioceses governed by female bishops. Some dioceses do not recognise the orders of female priests, or limit the recognition to priests only and disallow female bishops.

Anointing of the Sick

The Anointing of the Sick is an act of healing through prayer and sacrament, conveyed on both the sick and the dying, where it is classically called Extreme Unction. The matter consists of laying on of hands and/or anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers. In this sacrament, the priest acts as a mediator of Christ's grace, and will frequently administer the consecrated bread (and sometimes wine) as a part of the sacramental action.

The Anglican Guild of St Raphael founded in 1915, is an organisation within the Anglican church specifically dedicated to promoting, supporting and practicing Christ's ministry of healing as an integral part of the Church.

The sacerdotal function

In the Anglican tradition, the sacerdotal function is assigned to clergy in the three orders of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. While there has been some discussion, notably in the Diocese of Sydney, Australia, about the possibility of lay presidency at the Eucharist, for most Anglicans this is inconsistent with the common understanding of sacramental theology.


Ex opere operato

Many Anglicans hold to the principle of ex opere operato with respect to the efficacy of the sacraments vis-a-vis the presider and his or her administration thereof. Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles (entitled Of the unworthiness of ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament) states that the "ministration of the Word and Sacraments" is not done in the name of the one performing the sacerdotal function, "neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness," since the sacraments have their effect "because of Christ's intention and promise, although they be ministered by evil men." This speaks to the effectiveness of the sacrament as being independent of the one who presides over it. However, unlike many Roman Catholics, Anglicans generally do not accept that the sacraments are effective without faith being operative in those who receive them.


  • Anglican Church of Canada, Book of Common Prayer. Toronto, 1962.
  • Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. London, 1945.
  • Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. London, 1956.
  • Ian Stuchbery, This is Our Faith: A Guide to Life and Belief for Anglicans. Toronto, 1990
  • Stephen Sykes and John Booty (eds.), The Study of Anglicanism. London, 1988.

External links

See also


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