In the Episcopal Church, we take part in certain regular acts of prayer and worship. These are called Sacraments and are a participation in Christ’s ministries on earth. The two primary Sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion, which Christ specifically gave to the disciples.
We believe that God is actively present in the world and in us. In the Sacraments we realize his Presence and his favor towards us. Through the Sacraments, which are freely given to us by God, our sins are forgiven, our minds are enlightened, our hearts stirred, and our wills strengthened.
These Sacraments are contained in the worship services found in the Book of Common Prayer, a book used for worship and as a guide for Christian life. A complete outline of the Episcopal faith can be found on pages 845–862 of the Book of Common Prayer. Your questions are encouraged and always welcome.
Q: What is Holy Baptism?
Baptism is the means by which we become members of the community of believers, defined in the New Testament as the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus was baptized with water by John the Baptist, we include people in the community of faith by baptizing them with water. Following a series of questions, responses, and prayers, the priest pours water on the candidate. The sign of the cross may be made on the candidate’s forehead with blessed oil. In the Episcopal Church, a person is baptized only once.
Because of the nature of the promises made during Baptism, it is important that baptismal candidates (and/or their families) have a relationship with the Saint Philip’s community and intend to continue to participate in the fullness of Christian life. (If we are asked to baptize a child who has a relationship with a community other than Saint Philip’s, we require preparation to be undertaken by that community and will ask for written notification and consent from that community.)
Q: Why baptize infants?
The simplest answer is that God’s promise in Christ is for all people, at all times, in all places, and of all ages. As early as the second and third centuries, we have record of infants being baptized. For example, one of the most important bishops of the early Church, Hippolytus, wrote in his work The Apostolic Tradition that we should “Baptize first the children; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.” This is the very way we do it century after century and generation after generation later.
Q: What is Holy Communion?
It is the ongoing participation in the Risen Life of Christ who, at the Last Supper, not only shared with his disciples a meal but promised to be Present with them in a real and true way in Bread and Wine, which he told them would be his Body and Blood. Any baptized person is welcome to share in this meal of bread and wine and to find themselves forgiven, restored, and renewed by the grace Christ offers in this fellowship.
Q: What are the other Sacraments?
Besides Baptism and the Eucharist (Holy Communion), the church recognizes other means of grace and healing in our journey of faith. These include:
- Confirmation (the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows), pp. 413-419, Book of Common Prayer
- Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), pp. 447-452, Book of Common Prayer
- Matrimony (Christian marriage), pp. 422-438, Book of Common Prayer
- Orders (ordination to deacon, priest, or bishop), pp. 510-555, Book of Common Prayer
- Unction (anointing with oil those who are sick or dying) pp. 453-467, Book of Common Prayer
These help us to be a sacramental people, seeing God always at work around us.
Q: What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is when a baptized person, who has been instructed in the Christian faith, makes a mature commitment to God within a worship setting and receives a special blessing and prayer from the bishop.
Q: What is Reconciliation of a Penitent?
While private confession of sins is not a requirement, anyone may request the reconciliation of a penitent from a priest and receive assurance of God’s forgiveness. The confession is always made in private and kept in strict confidence.
Q: What is Holy Matrimony?
Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which two people enter into a lifelong union and make their promises before God in a worship service.
Q: What is Ordination?
Ordination is the sacrament whereby God empowers trained persons for special ministry as deacons, priests, or bishops. The service always includes the laying on of hands by bishops.
Q: What is Unction?
Unction is a special blessing for those who are sick or desire special prayers. A sign of the cross is made on their forehead with blessed oil.