The seven sacraments

The Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments or rites through which God can communicate his grace to an individual. Catholic Christians believe that the sacraments are channels for God’s grace - every time they take part in a sacrament, they receive more grace.

Visualisation of the seven sacraments: Baptism; Eucharist; Confirmation; Annointing of the Sick; Marriage; Reconciliation; Holy Orders.The seven sacraments of Catholicism
  • Baptism - For Catholics, baptism is normally performed when someone is an infant and involves the pouring of water on their forehead. It represents the moment someone enters the Church. Christians believe that baptism cleanses people from original sin and welcomes a Christian into God’s family.

Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was the first Jew to use baptism to symbolise the forgiveness of sins. He baptised Jesus, and baptism remains important for Christians. This is because after his resurrection, Jesus told his followers that they too should be baptised:

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No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.John 3:5

Following this instruction, baptism is practised by nearly all Christian denominations.

  • Confirmation - This typically takes place in early teenage years, when a child starts to be seen as an adult member of the Church. This is because they are now considered old enough to renew and confirm for themselves vows that were made on their behalf when they were baptised. However, there is no set age for the confirmation rite, and people are often confirmed as adults. During the confirmation, the bishop lays his hands on each candidate’s head as a sign that they are now full members of the Church. The bishop also puts chrism on the forehead of each candidate in the shape of the cross. This is considered a sign of strength which reminds the candidate of their commitment to follow Christ.
  • Marriage - When a couple marry they are joined together by the vows they take. This union is represented through the exchange of the rings, which reminds the married couple of the endless commitment they have made.
Wedding rings symbolise endless love and remind the couple that God is in their lives
  • Ordination or holy orders - This refers to the moment someone becomes a deacon, priest or a bishop. During ordination, a bishop lays his hand on the person who is being ordained and invokes the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer. There are several bishops involved in the ordination of a bishop, but just one in the ordination of a deacon or a priest.
  • Anointingof the sick - When someone is very ill, or dying they are blessed by a priest. They are anointed with blessed oil on the eyes, ears, nose, lips and hands. This process symbolises strengthening and forgiveness. The priest lays his hands on the person to signify that they are receiving God's strength.
  • The Eucharist - This is the weekly service, where bread and wine are shared. Catholics believe in transubstantiation. This means they believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus, and so the Eucharist provides a moment to experience the fullness of Jesus. Catholics often refer to the Eucharist as Mass.
  • Reconciliation - This is also referred to as penance. It is the sacrament of confessing sins to a priest.

The seven sacraments are seen as part of a Catholic’s personal spiritual journey. This idea is referred to in the Catholic Catechism:

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The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith.Catechism of the Catholic Church 1210

Different Christian beliefs

In Orthodox Churches, all seven sacraments are a vital part of being Christian. This is because they are all 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 (also known as Holy Communion). Protestant Christians believe that these are the only two sacraments that are authorised by God.