Formed by Liturgy and Sacrament – What is a Sacrament? Reflection for 14 JUL 2019
As we continue to look at the way that our community is formed by liturgy and sacrament, let us take a look at what it means to call something a sacrament. The Thirty-Nine Articles define the visible Church as the congregation of the faithful in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly administered (Art. XIX). From this we can see that the Sacraments not only form us individually but also, along with the proclamation of the Word, form the Church. The Articles go on to describe the nature of the Sacraments as not simply badges or tokens of our own profession but instead a sure witness of God’s goodwill toward us and effectual signs of grace which work invisibly within us to bring life and strength (Art. XXV). Our participation in the Sacraments are not only affective, that is something we feel, but also effective, that is the Sacrament actually accomplishes that which is promised by God and proclaimed in the Liturgy.
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordained by Christ and essential to the Church. Other actions sometimes termed sacraments such as confirmation, penance, holy orders, marriage, and anointing of the sick are part of the life of the church and community but do not have the same status as the two ordained by Christ. They are beneficial and the liturgies associated with these rites are included within the Prayer Book, but they are not essential.
The Catechism teaches us that a Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. By the Power of the Holy Spirit, the common items of water, bread, and wine accomplish the uncommon. This is what we both ask and affirm as we pray that God sanctify, or make holy, these items. In Baptism, we ask that the water be sanctified so that all who are baptized may be cleansed from sin, born again, and live in Christ. In the Lord’s Supper we pray that the bread and wine be sanctified as the Body and Blood of Jesus so that we may dwell in Him and He in us. We celebrate in faith that what we pray in these prayers is truly accomplished within us by the power of God. In Baptism, we give thanks that by water and the Holy Spirit, those baptized truly received the forgiveness of sin, were adopted as children of God, received into the Church, and raised to new life in Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive the Body and Blood as effective in preserving our physical and spiritual life and strengthening us in faith and thanksgiving. Then we give thanks for our assurance of God’s favor and goodness, our life in the body of Christ, and our willingness and desire to live our daily lives in fellowship with God and His people.
To be formed by Sacrament means to be formed individually and as a community by the working of God’s grace into a sacramental people by which God uses our common, everyday life to accomplish the sacred in the world.