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sacrament

sacrament [Lat., = something holy], an outward sign of something sacred. In Christianity, a sacrament is commonly defined as having been instituted by Jesus and consisting of a visible sign of invisible grace. Christianity is divided as to the number and operation of sacraments. The traditional view held by Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and certain Anglicans counts the sacraments as seven—Eucharist, baptism, confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, matrimony (see marriage), and holy orders (see orders, holy). These are held to produce grace in the soul of the recipient by the very performance of the sacramental act ( ex opere operato ); the recipient need only have the right intention. Most Protestant denominations recognize two sacraments—baptism and communion, or the Lord's Supper. Protestants hold generally that it is the faith of the participant, itself a gift of God, rather than the power of the sacramental act that produces grace. A conventional division of the seven sacraments sets apart the "sacraments of the dead," i.e., baptism and penance, because they are for souls in a state of sin; the rest, "sacraments of the living," are conferred on souls in a state of grace.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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