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Some Thoughts On the 'Lesser Sacraments'

Taylor Marshall has posted a bit on the sacraments other than Baptism and Communion, if they are to be so called. I agree with his position- and I believe also orthodox Anglicanism- that they should be, though, of course, not in the same sense as Baptism and Communion (an important distinction).

Firstly, I would clarify the term Sacrament. Bishop Hooker says this:

As oft as we mention a Sacaments properly understood, (for in the writings of the ancient Fathers all articles which are peculiar to the Christian faith, all duties of religion containing that which sense or natural reason cannot of itself discern, are most commonly named Sacraments) our restraint of the word to some few principle divine ceremonies importeth in every such ceremony two things, the substance of the ceremony itself which is and visible, and besides that somewhat else more secret in reference whereunto we conceive that ceremony to be a Sacrament. (Ecclesiastical Polity, L. ii)

A Sacrament is an operation of the Holy Spirit within the Church through a specific rite or ceremony, in a certain way, and for a certain end. Sacraments work within the life of the Church: bulding up and sustaining the Body. The Sacraments bestow and manifest the grace of the Spirit to the world. This is done through the Church, the mystical (but visible in its flesh-and-blood members!) Body of Christ. The Sacraments manifest this life, especially and most importantly in the 'universal' rites of Baptism and Communion. However, the other rites manifest the Spirit's grace, though in other manners. The working of God is expressed and bestowed upon matrimony, the ordination of ministers, and the illnesses of men: the Church embraces these things, and sheds her gifts from God upon them, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who is the source and worker of all such things.

The Sacraments also pointedly express the reality of God's graciousness. It is the Church as a whole that possesses the stewardship of these gifts, not any one man: and they are most certainly gifts, not things of our making. The power through which we live and act comes from the Holy Spirit, and not ourselves. Bishop Hooker demonstrates this in speaking of the grace recieved in Holy Orders:

Whether we preach, pray, baptize, communicate, condemn, give absolution, or whatsoever, as disposers of God's mysteries, our words, judgments, acts and deeds, are not ours but the Holy Ghost's. (LXXVII. viii)

The Sacraments help form up the fibre of Christ's Church, of His operations within an organically united, cohesive, Divinely-energized Body. This is most importantly and most powerfully expressed in Baptism and Communion: they are the points at which Christ presents Himself and His grace to us unto salvation. The other Sacraments flow from these. They are specialized expressions, one might say, of the sacramental life of the Church, and can only operate with and in subordination to Baptism and Communion.


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