Beliefs about the Eucharist vary greatly among Christians. Some churches, most notably the Roman Catholic Church and, with less specificity, the Eastern Orthodox churches, believe that upon blessing the bread and wine in the ritual of the Eucharist, these food items literally become the body and blood of Jesus or embody his presence in a special way. Other denominations interpret the rite symbolically, believing that eating the bread and drinking the wine memorialize the sacrificial action of Christ. In either case, sharing the bread and wine is held to remember Christ's first coming, anticipate his second coming, and create a unity, or communion, of believers.
The frequency of the Eucharistic observance varies a great deal as well. The liturgical churches include the Lord's Supper in all of their weekly services and on holy days throughout the year. Some liturgical churches share the Lord's Supper daily, with the exception of Holy Saturday, the day just before Easter Sunday, when Jesus lay dead in the tomb. Non-liturgical churches prefer to highlight preaching and Bible study at their Sunday services, and usually share the Lord's Supper monthly. Most churches use bread or small wafers; many use wine, but some share grape juice or water in its place.
In addition to these two widely practiced and sacred sacraments, some consider a handful of other rituals sacramental as well. In some churches, believers receive a "strengthening" blessing called confirmation at some time following their baptism. The sacrament of reconciliation, or confession, takes place when a repentant person confesses his or her sins in the presence of a priest, and is absolved. All denominations ordain vocational or professional ministers, and for some, ordination is a sacrament. Marriage is not only a civil contract but a sacrament, performed by the marrying couple before God, while the minister and congregation act as witnesses.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Christian who is close to death may receive the anointing of the sick, or extreme unction, from a priest who prays with the sick person while anointing them with oil. This sacrament is both an absolution of sin and a preparation for departure from this life, giving the sick person a sense of peace and confidence in God's mercy and salvation.
In the Christian view, death is a passage to the eternal life promised by Christ. The funeral rite combines the sorrow of loss with the joy and confidence Christians feel in the promise of the resurrection. At the funeral, Christians recall the brevity of life and the destiny of the soul, renewing their hope in the promise of resurrection and eternal life. While burial was the convention among Christians for many centuries, modern Christians may choose cremation as an alternative. Remembrance rituals include lighting a candle or saying prayers for the departed soul. Unlike some religions, Christians have no prescribed period of mourning for the dead.
The sacraments of the Christian churches are believed to be the visible or physical instruments of the delivery of God's grace, which is divine favor and divine love. Whether a tradition believes in many sacraments, or only a few, the goal of connecting the individual or community with God's grace is central to Christian worship and practice.
1. What is baptism? How did it originate?
2. What is the Eucharist? Why is there conflict about what happens within the blessed bread and wine?
3. Why is confirmation seen as a sacrament? Marriage?
4. Is death treated with a structured ritual? Explain.