How have the seven sacraments changed over time?

Q: How have the seven sacraments changed over time? Did they all start at the same time or were they added at different times of our history?

In ancient times the Latin word “sacramentum” referred to the Roman soldier’s sacred oath to the empire; after taking the oath he was branded with the insignia of his regiment and belonged to the empire until his death. Early Christians began to use this word to refer to the rituals that made them belong to Christ and to the community of the Church. References to these rituals in the New Testament include the gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the allusion to anointing in the letter of James, among many others. Human beings have a deep need for tangible signs of God’s presence in our lives. In moments of joy, sorrow, transition, hope, suffering, commitment and so on, we need rituals that open us to the infusion of God’s grace. Early Christian communities devised rituals in response to this need, in accordance with their particular circumstances. Baptism and Eucharist were probably the earliest and most universal, but the other sacraments all have deep roots in the first centuries of Christian life. Long before modern communication made a unified practice possible, rites varied widely from place to place and time to time. It was not until the eleventh century, as a systematic approach to theology began to take hold, that some of these rituals were recognized as the sacraments that we know today. The Council of Trent in 1547 officially designated seven: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders and marriage.

Neela Kale

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.