What are Sacraments and Sacramental Rites?

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. —The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857 Sacraments play a central role in our worship. In his book, Holy Baptism: A Guide for Parents and Godparents, Episcopal priest, John Westerhoff, says this about sacraments:
  • "The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not self-evident so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are symbolic, ritual acts of revelation. Sacraments, importantly, make something that is already true and available, real for us so that we might fully benefit from it … When an invisible reality is realized, or made real, that is a sacrament.
  • Or to put it another way, a sacrament is a point of connection between the invisible and visible—an outward and visible material sign of an inward and invisible nonmaterial reality."
    • The two great sacraments of the Gospels are Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist. The church has other sacramental rites which evolved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These include confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent (formerly known as confession) and unction. Our understanding of these sacramental rites is outlined in the Book of Common Prayer (pages 860-861) You can also find a description of the church's sacraments on The Episcopal Church (TEC) web site describing the baptismal covenant and the church's sacraments.