25 October 2012

Liturgy 5.1: The nature and theology of sacraments

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:30 to 16:30, Thursdays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 5: 25 October 2012

This week:

The nature and theology of sacraments;

5.2: Traditions of prayer (3): seminar, patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and young people).

5.1: The nature and theology of sacraments


We began this module by looking at sign, icon, ritual and symbol in domestic, civic and secular life.

We give tokens that have special significance to mark certain landmark days, events and anniversaries.

A red rose is an appropriate token to give to someone you love on Saint Valentine’s Day, but not appropriate to give to others. Who should throw a single red rose on a coffin?

Hopefully we all know who to send birthday cards, anniversary cards and sympathy cards, and when. They may only be mere tokens, but they mean more than that and so it would be more than a major social faux pas to do this for the wrong person, at the wrong time, not to know the difference.

And would it be a sad family that failed to:

Welcome a new child into the membership of the family?

Had no celebratory meals to mark the events that make us and hold us together as families, such as weddings and wedding anniversaries, birthdays and funerals?

The Church is a Mystical Body, the Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated by Baptism, which has been described as the foundational sacrament.

It is also made up as a collective of humans, who have the same social needs within the church as we have in other social structures that bind us together.

What is a Sacrament?

Some introductory quotes:

Thomas Cranmer ... ‘these elements ... do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses’

For it is not true, as some say, that sacraments confer grace by themselves, without a good movement of heart on the part of their user; for when persons in their reason use the sacraments, the user’s faith must be present also, to believe the promises, and receive the things promised, which are conveyed through the sacraments.
– Thomas Cranmer, Of the Use of Sacraments (1538).

Our Saviour Christ hath not only set forth these things most plainly in his holy word, that we may hear them with our ears, but he has also ordained one visible sacrament of spiritual regeneration in water, and another visible sacrament of spiritual nourishment in bread and wine, to the intent that, as much as is possible for man, we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him at our nose, taste him with our mouths, grope him with our hands, and perceive him with all our senses. For the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears, so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.
– Thomas Cranmer, Answer to Stephen Gardiner (1551).

Richard Hooker’s statue at Exeter Cathedral ... ‘these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross’

Richard Hooker describes a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” and says:

It pleaseth Almighty God to communicate by sensible means those blessings which are incomprehensible.
– Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.57.3.

The very letter of the word of Christ giveth plain security that these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross, that by them we draw out, as touching efficacy, force, and virtue, even the blood of his gored side, in the wounds of our Redeemer we there dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched; they are things wonderful which he feeleth, great which he seeth and unheard of which he uttereth, whose soul is possessed of this Paschal Lamb and made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life.
– Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.67.12.


The term ‘sacrament’ was first used to denote things that had previously been described in Greek as μυστηριον (mysterion, singular), or ‘the mysteries’, μυστηρια (mysteria, plural), although the two terms, sacrament and mystery, have completely different meanings.

To this day, the Eastern Church still uses the term ‘Mystery’ or ‘Sacred Mystery’ where we might use the term ‘Sacrament.’


We still use the word mystery too. It occurs at least three times in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in reference to the Eucharist in ways that we continue to use it:

“we … have duly received these holy mysteries” – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 190.

“so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries” – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 200.

“he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, pledges of his love.” – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 200.

We think of the word “mystery” in terms of a genre of novel or a problem to be solved.

But the word mystery in Greek is μυστήριον (mysterion, but usually as the plural μυστήρια, mysteria).

It comes from the Greek word μυο (muo), to shut the mouth, or even to cover the eyes. Some say this word is the root of the Greek μωρός (moros, dull), which also gives us the English word “moron.” But in this afternoon’s context, it is a word that relates therefore to a secret teaching, the kind of revelation that is passed on in whispers, or revealed only to the initiated.

In the Old Testament, God is the “revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2: 47).

The Wisdom literature talks about “the secret purposes of God” (see Wisdom 2: 22).

In the Gospels the word μυστήριον (mysterion) is used to refer to the secret meaning of parables (see Matthew 13: 11; Mark 4: 11; Luke 9: 1-10).

This noun had originally been used in reference to the secrets of ancient mystery cults, but it is generally used in the plural in the New Testament to refer to a number of doctrines not known in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul uses it in a technical, theological sense, setting forth the notion that Christ is the mystery, the secret plan of God that has always been implicit in creation but is now made explicit in Christ. Christ is the predestined mystery of God revealed within the fullness of time. In receiving him, people receive salvation.


In Roman society, a sacramentum was a pledge of money or property, deposited in the temple by parties to a lawsuit or contract.

This sacramentum was forfeited by the party who broke the contract or lost the lawsuit.

It then came to mean an oath or pledge made by new recruits to their commander and to the Roman gods.

Modern usage:

Around the year 210, Tertullian began a tradition of Latin Christians of using the word sacramentum to refer to the acts or rites described in the Greek-speaking Church as μυστήρια.

Tertullian preferred the term sacrament because it was free of any association with the mystery cults.

The sacraments were, as the Latin term implied, sacred pledges of allegiance to God.

Some Biblical foundations:

All religions have been marked by special rites and rituals associated with particular days, events and commemorations.

Old Testament:

From your Old Testament studies, consider the appropriate and continuing rites associated with:

• Passover
• Pentecost
• Sukkoth
• Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)
• The Sabbath Evening

Gospel rituals:

Christ celebrated the major festivals of the Jewish calendar, he was a regular participant in the weekly worship of the synagogue, and he was a frequent visitor to the Temple, and not only on High Holy Days.

There are significant “sacramental” moments in the life of Christ:

1, His baptism in the Jordan

2, His meals with others:

• the Feeding of the Multitude
• meals with Pharisees and Tax Collectors
• the Last Supper
• the meal with the Disciples in Emmaus
• the post-Resurrection breakfast on the shore.

3, His anointing of others (the sick, Mark 6: 13), and his anointing by others, especially women, both at meals and in the grave.

4, What about:

• The Wedding at Cana?
• The Signs in Saint John’s Gospel?
• The Transfiguration?


New Testament developments:

The Apostles and the early members of the Church continued to worship, as all Jews of the time did, in the three places that were the focus of worship:

• the Temple (see Acts 3: 1, 5: 12, &c)
• the Synagogue
• the home

But while the Apostolic Church continued to engage in the Temple, Synagogue and domestic liturgy they had inherited, we also find the beginnings of the sacramental life of the Church, built on their experiences of the worship life they shared with Christ:

• Baptism (Acts 8: 38, &c).
• The shared meal of the Church (see Acts 6: 1, &c).
• The Laying on of Hands (see Acts 6: 6, Acts 8: 14-17, &c)
• The anointing of healing and forgiveness of sins (see James 5: 14-15)

The Apostle Paul talks about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in sacramental language.

Saint Paul uses the term μυστήριον no fewer than 21 times … although he never refers to either Baptism or the Eucharist as a “mystery”.

Anglican Sacramental theology

In our next lecture, in a few weeks’ time, I hope we can look at the early development of the sacramental life of the Church.

But what do we mean by Sacraments in Anglican life and liturgy today?

At Disestablishment, the Church of Ireland stated, as part of our core self-understanding, that we “will continue to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded; and will maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry.” – The Preamble and Declaration (1870), I.2.

So, we are not just a liturgical church, but we express that self-understanding as a sacramental church. And our Liturgy is complete as Liturgy of Word and Liturgy of Sacrament.

Anglican sacramental theology contains elements shared by churches of both the Catholic traditions and of the traditions of the Reformations.

Anglican sacramental theology emphasises the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification, and forgiveness.

You may have already found that Anglican sacramental theology encompasses a full range from those whose beliefs are in accord with Christians of the early centuries to those who accept Tridentine teachings of the sacraments, and those who reject the need (as concerns one’s salvation) for sacraments when it comes to one’s salvation.

When the Thirty-Nine Articles were accepted as the norm for Anglican teaching, it was commonly taught that Anglicans recognised two sacraments – Baptism and the Eucharist – as “Sacraments ordained of Christ,” or “sacraments of the Gospel” as they are described in Article 25. – The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 784.

There are five other liturgical acts that the Thirty-Nine Articles say are “commonly called Sacraments” although they are “not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.” These five are variously as full sacraments by Anglo-Catholics, as “sacramental rites” by Evangelicals, and with a variety of opinions in between among other Anglicans.

Article 25 states that these five “are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.”

According to the Thirty-Nine Articles (Article 25, The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 784), the seven are:

Two “Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel”:

• Baptism;
• The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.

Five “commonly called Sacraments … not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel”:

• Confirmation
• Penance (Confession and Absolution)
• Orders
• Matrimony
• Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Holy Spirit)

What are the characteristics of sacraments?

As defined by the 16th century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

A sacrament, therefore, has the effect of conveying sanctification to the individual taking part in the sacramental action.

Sacraments have both form and matter.

A form is the verbal and physical liturgical action.

The matter includes any material objects used.

These include water and chrism in Baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Not all the ritual and objects used in sacramental worship can be defined as the form and matter – the necessities are articulated in the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer.

A rite that has the intended sacramental effect is a valid sacrament.

Who is the minister of a sacrament?

Initially, it may appear that many Anglicans hold that only a priest properly ordained by a bishop or a bishop consecrated by other bishops can perform valid sacramental actions.

But Baptism may be performed by a layperson in cases of emergency.

Who ministers Holy Communion?

If there are no recipients, can there be Holy Communion?

Who receives?

Who distributes?

Matrimony may be performed by a deacon. But who are the true ministers at matrimony?

Who may administer Confirmation?

What about the sacraments administered by clergy who are not ordained in the tradition of tactile apostolic succession?

What about the conditional administration of sacraments?

What is the status of the “re-ordination” of Anglican priests and bishops who recently joined the Ordinariate?

What about Baptism?

Where there is case of uncertainty about whether someone has been baptised at an earlier time, he or she may receive the sacrament conditionally. In principle, no one can be baptised more than once. In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament, rather than saying “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” says “If you have not already been baptised, I baptise you …” (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 368).

Introduction to the sacramental theology of Baptism:

Baptism is the sacrament by which we are initiated into the Christian faith. The sacrament thus has the effect of receiving the individual into the household of God, allowing him or her to receive the grace of the other sacraments.

The matter consists of the water (and chrism, if used) and the form includes both the words of Baptism, the Trinitarian formula.

The intention of baptism is threefold:

• a renunciation of sin and of all that is opposed to the will of God, articulated in vows;
• a statement of belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, articulated in the words of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed);
• and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, expressed in vows.

The effect of baptism is:

• Adoption as a child of God;
• Incorporation into the Body of Christ;
• the reception of the Holy Spirit.

While infant baptism is the norm throughout the Anglican Communion, services of thanksgiving and dedication of children are sometimes celebrated, especially when Baptism is being deferred.

People baptised in other traditions may be confirmed, but they are not baptised again unless there is doubt about the validity of their original Baptism. Already confirmed Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians are simply received into the Anglican Church.

Introduction to the sacramental theology of The Eucharist:

The Eucharist ... the matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper), is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name.

It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ in the sacrament, his spiritual body and blood.

The matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer.

In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated. As such, the Eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and to the present and the presence of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.

New Testament narratives of the Last Supper:

There are four New Testament accounts or narratives of the Last Supper, and scholars differ over which is the earlier account:

• Matthew 26: 20-29.
• Mark 14: 17-25;
• Luke 22: 14-20;
• I Corinthians 11: 23-26.

[Handout of passages, and discussion:]

You note, of course, that we have no institution narrative in Saint John’s Gospel. By now, you have got used to the idea of the two different traditions, the Synoptic and the Johannine traditions.

Within these four narratives of the Last Supper, we find not one Synoptic tradition, but two traditions.

1, The first tradition is represented by the more Semitic style presented in the texts from Mark and Matthew, and is thought to stem from Jerusalem.

2, Luke and Paul represent the second tradition, which is a more Hellenistic form that might be traced to Antioch.

When it comes to comparisons, we can see:

1, Matthew and Mark share the opening clause “as they were eating,” the parallel sayings over the bread and the cup, and the use of the verbs “bless” over the bread and “give thanks” over the cup.

2, Matthew, however, inserts the command “eat” over the bread and the command “drink of it all of you” over the cup, which replaced Mark’s observation that “they all drank of it.” Matthew also adds the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins.”

3, In contrast, Paul and Luke do not have the opening phrase “as they were eating.”

4, Instead, Paul and Luke separate the actions over the bread and the cup with the phrase “after the supper.”

5, Paul and Luke both use “give thanks” instead of “bless” over the bread as well as (at least by implication) over the cup.

6, Paul’s and Luke’s sayings over the bread and the cup are asymmetrical (“body/new covenant in my blood”).

7, Paul and Luke are alone in quoting the command to “do this in my remembrance.”

In addition we might note the following characteristics:

8, Luke emphasises the eschatological.

9, The Pauline account, despite many arguments for it being the earliest, is more liturgical.

We should not forget that apart from the Last Supper we can approach many other Gospel stories with a Eucharistic interpretation or insight. These include, for example:

• the many meals Jesus had with his disciples
• the meals he had with Pharisees and tax collectors
• his feeding of the multitude
• his meals with the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus.

The Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece

There are other New Testament insights that are important when it comes to understanding how the Early Church received and interpreted the Eucharist. Scott Hahn (The Lamb’s Supper) is prominent among a group of scholars who read the Book of Revelation as a key to understanding the mysteries of the Eucharist.

Our liturgy on earth not only anticipates but joins in the heavenly worship before the throne of the Lamb. You may remember the Lectionary reading at Morning Prayer, red by Ian on Tuesday morning (Revelation 11: 14-19): Then the twenty-four elders who sit on the thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, singing: “We give thanks [to you], Lord God Almighty ...” (verses 16-17).

The translations force a particular sacramental and sacredotal interpretation that remains ambiguous in the original Greek (καὶ οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι [οἱ] ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενοι ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους αὐτῶν ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ λέγοντες, Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ), where we might translate πρεσβύτερος in verse 16 as priest rather than elder and Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι not merely as “We give thanks [to you],” but with its Eucharistic emphasis.

In addition, we have other accounts of the Last Supper in the early writings of the Church. For example, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, writes:

Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body,” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood,” and gave it to them [the apostles] alone. – Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66.3

Compared to the New Testament accounts, this account by Justin Martyr is very brief indeed.

Apart from its length, we could note also the place of the command to do in remembrance, which comes before the words “this is my body” or “this is my blood.”

The ‘five commonly called Sacraments’:

What about those “five commonly called Sacraments” that are “not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel”?

Confirmation: the word Confirmation is derived from the Latin word confirmare – to strengthen. In this sense, Confirmation involves the reaffirmation of faith through the strengthening and renewal of one’s baptismal vows accomplished through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.

Historically, Baptism and Confirmation were, at one time, one unified rite, with the bishop performing both activities. With the spread of Christianity in Europe during the early Middle Ages, the rites became separated.

In recent centuries, Confirmation has been seen as an opportunity for those baptised as infants to make an adult profession of faith, and to reaffirm the vows made on their behalf by witnesses.

Until very recently, it was also a precondition for participation in the Eucharist throughout the Anglican Communion.

The charges in Baptism in the Church of Ireland included these words: “Ye are to take care that this Child be brought to the bishop to be confirmed by him, as soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and be further instructed in the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose.” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 351.)

Now we also say that baptism allows those who are baptised “to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 361).

If Baptism admits us to the life and worship of the Church, can we exclude those who are baptised from participation in the Eucharist?

Some Anglican provinces now view Baptism as sufficient for accessing the grace of all the sacraments, since it is the means of initiation into Christianity and the Church.

Many who have been baptised as adults still present themselves for Confirmation as a way of completing the ancient rite of initiation, or because they have been received into the Anglican Communion from other denominations.

Penance (Confession and absolution sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the rite or sacrament by which one is restored to God when one’s relationship with God has been broken by sin. The form is the words of absolution, which may be accompanied by the sign of the cross.

Confession and absolution is normally done corporately (the congregation invited to confess their sins, a moment of silent prayer while the congregation does so, a spoken general confession, and the words of absolution). Individuals, however, can and do take part in aural confession, privately meeting a priest to confess sins, during which time the priest can provide both counselling, urge reconciliation with parties that have been sinned against, and suggest certain spiritual disciplines or penance.

One of the specific provisions for individual confession is expressed beautifully in Exhortation One at Holy Communion One (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 197-198), especially in these words:

“And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the Holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 197-198).

There is no approved ceremony for a private confession of sins, the event being provided for in the Anglican tradition only in uncommon instances where an individual cannot quiet his conscience or find consolation in the General Confession that is part of the liturgy.

Anglican clergy do not typically require acts of penance after receiving absolution; but such acts, if done, are intended to be healing and preventative.

The phrase “all may, some should, none must” is often taken as the Anglican attitude towards the sacrament, though there are provinces and parishes where participation in the sacrament is expected for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin.

The priest is bound by the seal of confession. This binds the priest to never speak of what he or she has heard in the confessional to anyone.

What do you think of the present legislative proposals in the Republic of Ireland?


Orders: Ordination is the setting aside of individuals to the specific ministries in the Church of deacon, priest and bishop. The matter and form are the laying on of hands by a bishop and prayers.

From the beginning of the Church, two orders were recognised – those of bishop and of deacon. The bishop is the chief pastor of a diocese. Priests are essentially delegates of the bishop to minister to congregations in which the bishop cannot be physically present.

Deacons have always had the role of being “the church in the world,” ministering to the pastoral needs of the community and assisting the priest in worship – for example, in proclaiming the Gospel and preparing the altar.

Who may the recipient of the sacramental rite of ordination?


Matrimony: Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, acknowledging the presence and grace of God in the life of the couple. The form is manifested as the vows, and not, as popular belief sometimes has it, in the blessing and exchanging of rings, which is customary but not necessary for the rite of matrimony to be valid.

In marriage, the husband and wife seek God’s blessing, and through the mediation of the priest, the prayer is answered. Although the couple are thus generally regarded as the ministers of the sacrament through their voluntary exchange of vows, the sacrament must be celebrated under the presidency of a bishop, priest or deacon who witnesses and mediates the prayers.

Matrimony was the last sacrament added to the sacramental tradition of the Church. This arose because of civil necessity in the Middle Ages in order to regularise intimate relationships and legitimise children.

In the Church of Ireland and many other parts of the Anglican Communion, provision is made for the blessing of civil marriages, on the understanding that a couple cannot be married twice.

Although some Anglican provinces allow divorced people to marry, some do not or require the permission of the bishop of the diocese.

Who can be married?

If matrimony is not a sacrament, what are we disagreeing about?


Extreme Unction (the Anointing of the Sick) is an act of healing through prayer and sacrament, conveyed on both the sick and the dying. The matter consists of the laying on of hands and/or anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers. In this sacrament, the priest acts as a mediator of Christ’s grace, and will frequently administer the consecrated bread (and sometimes wine) as a part of the sacramental action.

But this is form of blessing is used not only for Preparation for Death (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 454 ff) and in the Ministry to those who are Sick (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 441 ff), but also at services of penitence and reconciliation (p. 446).

What are the appropriate times and places for anointing with oil (see pp 448-449)?



Traditions of prayer (3): seminar, patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and young people).


Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers.

6.2: The Ministry of the Word: workshop on integrating homiletics and liturgy, reflections and experience.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 25 October 2012 is part of the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

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