The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church
History records that the early church practiced three sacraments: baptism, the Agape feast, and the Eucharist. When baptism became something administered to an infant, this rite of initiation split into distinct sacraments: baptism shortly after birth and then Confirmation.
Most theologians trace the Agape feast to weekly communal meals that originated during the time of the apostles. St. Paul addressed the problems with these communal meals, which included the Lord’s Supper, in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:17–34). St. Jude, one of the twelve apostles, also called Thaddeus, as well as the apostle Peter mentioned these feasts but always in the negative, not because of their intention but because of their attendees. Because of the issues related to these meals (think church potlucks with lots of wine), there is no further reference to Agape feasts by the fourth century. Theologians and church historians can show that within the first few centuries, the general teaching of the church became rather severe, portraying God as being rather vengeful and those in the church as sinners deserving of hellfire. As a result most participants refused to take Communion, fearing they would do so in an unworthy manner. By the fourth century, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, was taken by the celebrant (priest) only.
We’ll talk more about Communion and the Eucharist in later chapters. However, I can mention that for centuries it was rare for the common people to partake of Communion. It was so uncommon that church canon law written in Latin in the twelfth century required the people to partake of the Eucharist annually. This, combined with a Lent requirement to fast and pray, introduced what we know as the Easter duty. The people would prepare themselves during Lent and believed they became worthy enough to receive Communion typically around Easter.
The seven sacraments are:
• Baptism (as infants or adults)
• Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper, or Communion)
• Reconciliation (Penance or Confession)
• Holy Orders
• Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction or Last Rites)
Penance (Confession) was introduced in the church over a number of centuries. We have writings from the early fourth century that show the bishop encouraged the penitent to wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and shave his or her head. The Council of Toledo (AD 589) prescribed the sacrament of Penance to be unrepeatable. As a result penance was considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and typically not received until very late in life.
However, in the thirteenth century, the Fourth Lateran Council required that everyone receive the sacrament of Penance annually (referenced above, in connection with receiving the Eucharist; this was the beginning of what we now know as the Easter duty). Marriage, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction (initially identified as Communion for those on their deathbeds) were listed as part of the seven sacraments at the Council of Verona in 1184.
The text above is from pages 93-95 in The Sacraments - Chapter 17 of "Roaming Catholics"
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This thoroughly researched book presents the development of the Catholic Church in an engaging way to help Christians understand their common history shared by all. The apostle Paul referred to the church as the "Body of Christ," not the "Body of Christians." Rather than Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female he proclaimed we are to be one in Christ.
Pastor and theologian Kenneth Behr shares his own religious evolution from a Catholic altar boy to an evangelical pastor and engages readers with a parallel story of the evolution of Catholicism.