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God’s Love Made Visible: The Sacraments

What is a sacrament?  The word itself comes from the Latin word sacrare, meaning “to consecrate or make holy.”  Thus, a sacrament is generally the setting aside, through certain words and actions, of ordinary, everyday things for an extraordinary, worshipful use.  Acts, words, and objects are all essential to the celebration of a sacrament.  The theologian John Calvin, known as the father of the Reformed tradition, borrowed St. Augustine’s words when he said, “Add the word to the elements, and there results a sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word.”  Another way that Christians throughout the centuries have thought about the sacraments is as “visible signs of an invisible grace…” that is, God’s love for us made evident in very intentional, concrete ways.

In the Reformed tradition, of which the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a part, we celebrate two sacraments: baptism and communion.  Although different Christian traditions celebrate different numbers of sacraments, Christians in the Reformed tradition observe these two sacraments specifically because there is significant Gospel evidence that Jesus Christ himself instituted them.