A sacrament is a Christian rite that is the outward and visible sign of God’s grace; that is, God’s love for all people and all creation. We do not earn God’s grace; it is given freely because God loves us. We believe that sacraments are a way God communicates grace and life to the world.
Baptism is the sacrament by which we as children of God become members of Christ’s body, the Church. The Episcopal understanding is that baptism is not a promise of individual salvation but an incorporation into the community of the Church, which is the community that bears witness that God has saved the world. Baptism is the one sacrament that is mutually recognized among all Trinitarian Christian traditions. The Episcopal Church recognises baptism in all other Trinitarian Christian traditions.
Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the sacrament commanded by Jesus for the continual remembrance of his life, death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, the ordinary elements of bread and wine are taken, blessed, broken and shared. Through the imagery of a shared meal, the Holy Spirit consecrates these ordinary gifts to become the body and blood of Christ in order to nourish us for our spiritual journey through this life. So empowered, we are invited to serve the world in sacrificial love. Eucharist comes from the Greek word, “eucharisteo” which means “To give thanks.”
Many in our parish are new to the Episcopal Church and are not exactly sure how to receive communion according to the Anglican tradition. As in many things in our tradition, there are few absolutes. The most important thing for us to remember, however, is that we are receiving Christ made present to us through the symbolism of his body broken and his blood shed for the life of the world. As Christians of the Catholic and Apostolic tradition of Christianity, Episcopalians believe in the real presence of Christ. This means Christ becomes truly present to us through the actions of the Holy Spirit in the context of the people and priest gathered for worship. As Queen Elizabeth I was reputed to have said, ” I believe that Christ is truly present, though I know not how.”
In the Episcopal Church the baptised, including very young children, may receive Holy Communion. While this remains the theological teaching of the Church, the Episcopal clergy do not ‘police’ who can and who cannot receive Holy Communion. Whether you do or do not is a matter between you and God. If in good conscience you desire to receive Holy Communion, yet are not baptised, the Episcopal Church welcomes you to the table of the Lord.
Confirmation provides a rite of passage in adolescence in which those baptised as infants have an opportunity to confirm on their own behalf, their baptismal covenant with God. In the Episcopal Church confirmation is administered only by a bishop. Confirmation is also a rite of entry for persons, already baptised in another Christian tradition and wishing to become members of the Episcopal Church. If a person wishing to become a member of the Episcopal Church is already confirmed within a Catholic and Apostolic tradition, they are received by a bishop, not reconfirmed.
Ordination is the sacrament whereby the Church recognizes the gifting of certain individuals by God for special service to the world and the Church. The Episcopal Church recognizes three ordained orders within the Church: bishops, priests and deacons. The Episcopal Church ordains both men and women, and both homosexual and heterosexual persons to all of the three orders of ministry. Ordination can only be performed by a bishop who confers authority for the ministry of deacon or priest upon a suitable candidate through the laying on of hands and anointing. In the case of a priest, the bishop is assisted by other priests who also lay hands upon the newly ordained. The laying on of hands, in ordination, is a symbol for the transmission of the apostolic authority of the first Apostles, the original disciples of Christ.
Episcopalians are divided on whether marriage is a sacrament or simply a solemn vow. In other sacraments God is always the actor. In marriage, God is the witness to the covenant the couple make between themselves in the presence of the community. The Episcopal Church honors Christian marriage. However, it also recognizes the possibility of relationship failure. Therefore, remarriage after divorce is permitted, but only after the priest preparing the couple has duly enquired into the circumstances of the failure of a previous marriage and then only with the express permission of the bishop.
The Episcopal Church celebrates same-sex marriage services where the state recognizes these as legal marriages. We welcome all to inquire about getting married at Trinity Cathedral.
Reconciliation of a Penitent
At certain points in life we are led to reflection on the deeper currents that flow beneath the surface of our lives. These currents are fed from deep wellsprings of spiritual and emotional energy that hold the potential to enrich our sense of connection with God, with ourselves and with other people. A paradox of life is that our strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows often flow from the same source. Beneath the surface of our living we also find feelings of shame, guilt, and the pain of relationship — loss and failure. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is designed to aid us when we feel stuck; when we sense that something is blocking the reworking of pain into gain.
Unlike modern counselling which brings a psychological framework to bear, Reconciliation brings a forgiveness framework to bear on our internal reflections. The real problem is not whether God forgives us, the real stumbling block is our own inability to forgive ourselves.
Human beings are at heart relational, and so there is a limit to how far we can get — by simply talking to ourselves or even talking to God within the privacy of our own minds. When we can’t make progress on our own, what is needed is to be able to talk to another person. The Sacrament of Reconciliation provides the confidential space where we open ourselves to the healing grace of God, mediated through the ministry of a priest of the Church. The theology of Reconciliation of the Penitent in the Episcopal Church can best be summed up as: “all may, some should, none must” make their individual confession. Some people find Reconciliation to be a valuable and regular part of their spiritual formation. For others it is a remedial action taken at particular times.
Anointing and Laying on of Hands
Unction, or anointing of the sick is a sacrament that brings healing to body, mind and spirit. It is administered during a special service, or whenever the need is apparent. Blessed oil is used to anoint an individual, and the priest prays for God’s healing grace. This sacrament is also the preparation for the Christian’s transition from this life to the next when death is soon expected. In the Episcopal Church under normal circumstances only a priest has authority to anoint. However, the laying on of hands can be offered by deacons as well as lay people as a symbol of Christian prayer.
Burial or Cremation
The funeral liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This joy, however, does not make human grief un-Christian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.