We have two biggies, Baptism, and Holy Communion (also known as the Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving in Greek).
Baptism signifies God’s transforming welcome, once and for all, to anyone who turns to him. Baptism is the joyous communal celebration of new life in Christ, because we believe it to show the way in which God wants to take us ever deeper into his loving community and farther away from violent, selfish, destructive ways to which we are all, quite naturally, inclined. Those interested in receiving the sacrament of baptism, either for themselves or for a child, are invited to contact the rector.
Are the sacraments magic?
No, they aren’t, even though we tend to believe that God is present in wondrously surprising ways always and everywhere. The prayer book defines them as the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” In short, they don’t make God’s love happen; they are just reliable ways to open ourselves to God’s love, which is everywhere.
But wait, aren’t there other sacraments too?
Yes, but they are not a part of the essence of what it means to live life as a Christian. They are Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick.
Ordination is the way the church formally commissions some of its members to perform certain ministerial roles (such as priest, or deacon, or bishop), but it is important to remember that the church believes that all of its members are ministers of God’s grace. This is what we call the ministry of the baptized.
Prayers for the sick
Anointing of the sick, also known as Unction, is a way to invoke God’s powers of healing, not only spiritual and mental healing, but bodily healing as well. You might notice during communion that periodically a small cluster of people will form around someone kneeling at the rail. This cluster is a group of people praying directly for someone who has requested anointing. The priest makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead with consecrated oil, says a brief prayer, and then this brief sacrament is over.
Confirmation is “the rite by which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength through the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands.” Because, given the chance, Episcopalians tend to baptize babies shortly after they are born, we encourage people old enough to embrace the church willingly and mindfully, to do so in a special service, usually conducted by a bishop.
The Burial of the Dead is not a sacrament as such, but is an important rite in the Church as well. We believe, after all, that God wants us to be with him forever, and that he will raise us from death “in the fullness of our being, in the communion of the saints.” There are of course many different understandings of what this means, but when we bury our dead, we celebrate not only their lives, but also the joyous future in which Jesus, who himself rose from the dead, will lift us into his eternal presence.