Sacraments are defined as outward signs of inward blessings. Sacraments can also be thought of as blessings that are received during an important ceremony, and they are sometimes referred to as ‘rites of passage’. Catholic Christians acknowledge seven sacraments: baptism, reconciliation, the Eucharist, confirmation, the anointing of the sick, holy orders and marriage.
In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, all seven sacraments are vital parts of being Christian. Each sacrament is seen as contributing to the life journey of a Christian. The sacraments also create several opportunities to receive blessings from God.
Most Protestant Christians have two sacraments. These are baptism and the Eucharist. This is because the 39 Articles state that baptism and the Eucharist are the only two sacraments authorised by God.
Baptism is about the process of leaving behind sin and entering a new life. Many Christians (including Catholics) perform baptism on babies as a way of welcoming them into the faith and making sure they are beginning their life journey without sin. It is also a public sign that the child is a member of the Christian faith.
Baptists (a type of Protestant) do not baptise babies. This is because they believe people should be old enough to choose to be baptised and should be able to make the baptismal vows themselves. For Baptists, this sacrament involves standing in a pool half filled with water. This is a special moment for Baptists as it indicates they are about to start their new life as a member of the Church.
The Eucharist is very special and significant for Catholics and is part of the service known as Mass. During this service, Catholics confess their sins and also listen to Bible readings and sermons. The Last Supper is then re-enacted, and Catholics believe that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ in a process called transubstantiation.
Protestants also believe that the Eucharist is a commemoration of the Last Supper. Some Protestants, such as Methodists, refer to the Eucharist as Holy Communion and believe it is a time of spiritual reflection and development. Protestants do not believe in transubstantiation. Instead, they see the bread and wine as symbols of Christ’s body and blood – they do not believe the bread and wine actually change.