Sacrament

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A sacrament is a ceremony of particular importance in the rituals of the Christian churches: one which symbolizes the special relationship of God with His worshippers. (Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) defined a sacrament as "visible form of invisible grace".) The adjective sacramental means 'to do with sacrament[s]'; used as a noun, sacramental is essentially a term of art in Theology, meaning 'a lesser symbol [such as Holy Water, or specific vestments etc]', or 'a minor version of one of the Seven Sacraments.' Up to seven sacraments are recognized in modern use, although until shortly before the Reformation the word was a looser term for almost any act or symbol of religious importance, as it still is in some figurative phrases, as in "[t]he sacramental rites of fellowship" (George Eliot (1874) 'College Breakfast Party' in Macmillan's Magazine, cited OED). In specifically Christian teaching, the definitions, enumeration and practice varies between the different sects.

  • The central sacrament is the Eucharist: the ritual taking of consecrated bread and wine in commemoration of the Last Supper. In the Roman Catholic church, this forms the centre of the Mass, the service performed daily - with the single exception of Good Friday - in most Catholic churches. Protestant churches celebrate 'The Lord's Supper', or 'Holy Communion', less frequently, varying from the normal Anglican custom of having such a service every Sunday to a traditional three or four times a year in the Church of Scotland.
Historical note: It is one of the great paradoxes of English, and later British, everyday life that the coinage still bears the title F. D., or Fid: Def: (short for the Latin Fidei Defensor) originally awarded to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521 in recognition of the value of his book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments), which defended the Roman Catholic church against Martin Luther: Later, when Henry had broken with Rome and set up an independent Church of England, influenced by Lutheranism, the Pope revoked it. The English Parliament voted the title anew to Henry in 1544, since when it has been one of the titles of every monarch of England.