Like the specific beliefs of Christianity, Christian customs and practices are also subject to drastic change depending on a given denomination. The most common Christian traditions generally include baptism (generally performed at infancy), devotion to God through prayer and worship, and the observation of holy days like Easter.
The Seven Sacraments of the church are a tenant of Christianity that is exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, but exist in some forms amongst many Christian denominations. The Seven Sacraments are: "
--Efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."-The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The seven sacraments are, specifically: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance (or Reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony, and they can be broken down into three groups called the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Healing and Sacraments at the Service of Communion.
Sacraments of Initiation
The Sacraments of Initiation include Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist and are intended to begin building the foundation of a faithful, Christian life. These sacraments generally begin at infancy and carry into early childhood, though converts to the faith may have these Sacraments performed at any age. The first sacrament, Baptism is perhaps the most important sacrament of all. Those receiving the sacrament are generally partially or entirely submerged in Holy Water while a priest prays: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". (Matthew 18:19) Submersion in the water mimics the Baptism of Jesus as well as the idea of cleaning or washing a soul of original sin.
Confirmation, sometimes called Chrismation, focuses primarily on the confirmation and strengthening of an individual's bond with God and the Christian faith. Recipients of the sacrament are anointed with oil, consecrated by a bishop, called Chrism. Confirmation can be received only one time, like Baptism, and can only be granted when an individual is in a "state of grace" that can be achieved only through confession and the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the third and last of the Sacraments of Initiation. Catholics take part in this Sacrament by consuming the "body and blood of Christ", in the form of unleavened bread and wine that has been blessed by a priest or bishop. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is performed regularly, generally during a Roman Catholic mass, and is considered the pinnacle of sanctifying God.
Sacraments of Healing
The Sacraments of Healing are made up of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick. The Sacrament of Penance is known by several other names as well: forgiveness, confession and Reconciliation. Like the Sacrament of Baptism, Penance is intended to help Christians wash away sins that have been accumulated over a lifetime. Unlike Baptism, however, Penance can be repeated many times. The Sacrament of Penance is composed of four, formal parts. The first is Contrition; when an individual has sinned, before they can be forgiven, they must experience remorse and a strong desire to repent from said sin. The second part is Confession. Roman Catholics and other Orthodox Christians must then visit a priest and confess their sins, in full. Third is Absolution, this action, performed by a priest, removes the scar of sin from a soul. Fourth is Satisfaction. The priest who performed the Absolution will instruct the confessor to pay penance, usually in the form of prayer, in order to have their sins fully expunged from their soul.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is performed for Christians who have become seriously ill or whose health has drastically declined; this Sacrament is generally reserved for those who are in imminent danger of death. To perform this Sacrament, a priest anoints the forehead of the recipient with special oil that has been blessed explicitly for the purpose of the Sacrament. The Anointing of the Sick is also associated with Last Rites or the Final Anointing which, in extreme circumstances, can absolve a Christian of their sins before dying.
Sacraments of Service of Communion
These Sacraments are Holy Orders and Matrimony. The Sacrament of the Holy Order refers to the joining of a single individual to the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, the Sacrament of Holy Order is granted to those men who would become deacons, priests or bishops and spread the word of God. Each place and level of ordination has its own place within the church and its own meanings and representations of Christ. Those ordained as deacons represent "Christ the Servant of All". Ordination into the priesthood represents "Christ the Head of the Church", and gives priests the holy right to perform other Sacraments. Those ordained as bishops are made to represent the successors of the Apostles and are given the mission to govern, sanctify and care for the priests, deacons and practitioners of the faith?thereby taking their place as a representation of the Apostles.
Matrimony, or marriage, is the most widely known of all seven Sacraments and exists in many forms throughout many religions. The Roman Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, like Holy Orders, sanctifies a joining but between two people and God, rather than between a single man and God. This Sacrament consecrates the union of two people, and is necessary to attain holiness in their union. The Sacrament of Matrimony must be conducted and blessed by a priest for it to be considered valid in the eyes of the church.
After the death of Jesus of Nazareth, even before the establishment of the early church, prayer has been an important facet of the Christian faith. The term 'prayer' is exceptionally broad, and can cover everything: personal prayers, spontaneous prayers and written prayers like the "Hail Mary" or the "Lord's Prayer".
Prayer can also be described as private or public (corporate). Public prayer can be performed almost anywhere, provided it is in public. Most Christians will have had experience with corporate prayer as a part of worship during church or mass. Early Christians frequently met in secret but prayed publicly amongst one another in order to re-affirm their faith and their unity within the faith. Private prayer, as it sounds, refers to prayers said within the privacy of one's own home or silently to oneself.
Christian prayer can be broken down into three separate types, each used uniquely within the church and the personal lives of Christians. The three types of prayer are Charismatic, Non-Liturgical and Liturgical. Liturgical prayer is generally a part of Orthodox Church or Roman Catholic Church services, and generally includes a reading or readings from the bible, prayers from scripture and a sermon from a member of the church, typically a priest or deacon.
Non-liturgical prayers, found in Evangelical churches, are not generally written or read from scripture, and are structured to be deliberately informal. Charismatic prayer is much more physically involved, compared to Liturgical and Non-Liturgical prayer. Worshippers, typically in gospel churches, use a mixture of song and dance as a form of prayer during a mass.
Early Christians and the Christians of the Middle Ages prayed to God, to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, to (deceased) Saints and even the Virgin Mary. During the Protestant Reformation, however, certain theologians like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli claimed the practice of praying to anyone but God and Christ was heretical and idolatrous. Prayer for the dead is not uncommon either; the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church have spoken prayers for the dead, particularly those suffering in Purgatory, since the days of the early church.
Worship, as defined by the Christian faith, is performed in order to pay homage and give reverence to God. Traditionally, Christians have worshipped God a number of ways. The most common forms of worship are achieved through prayer, attending church on the Sabbath (Sunday), homilies, sermons, recitation of hymns and song. Christian worship can be performed in extremely varied ways, however, and is decidedly not limited to these more common practices.
The performance of Sacraments is one of the oldest ways for Christians to worship God. Each Sacrament constitutes a rite that is used to worship and reflect on God, paired with significant life events like Baptism and Matrimony. Common Liturgical prayers, psalms and creeds like the Nicene Creed, Lord's Prayer or Hail Mary can be recited at length, or an individual can choose to confer with God via an impromptu prayer. In recent years, Christians have also expanded worship into contemporary music, with Christian rock and Gospel songs.
In the Christian church, sainthood is a title reserved for individuals who have shown a remarkable amount of virtue, holiness and sanctity. The term, derived from the Latin word sanctus, was first developed by Christians, but has many meanings within the context of Christianity.
The term was originally used to refer to any individual who practiced Christianity; believers in "in Christ" were saints, though that has since changed. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches also believe that all Christians who have died and entered heaven are saints who are deserving of honor, veneration and emulation.
In many forms of Protestant Christianity the title of Saint is generally given to a person who, through their actions and public opinion, has shown that they are pious, faithful and holy. These Saints are often seen as role-models for their fellow Christians that encourage practitioners of the faith to achieve a closer relationship with God and stronger dedication to their faith.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that saints are not made or created, rather that they are recognized for their holiness. Once an individual is recognized by the Church, they are formally canonized and can be officially recognized as Saints. Sainthood can be granted during an individual's life as well as posthumously. This also means that there are countless souls in Heaven that have not yet been officially named Saints.
In the Roman Catholic Church, sainthood is achieved through a lengthy, formal process called canonization. Canonization first involves an in-depth investigation into the life of a prospective Saint. Once the initial investigation is conducted, a report on the individual is then delivered to the area's overseeing bishop. The bishop will then review the investigation's findings and then likely conduct further investigations. The bishop then sends the report on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: a congregation that evaluates and oversees the process of canonization. The congregation is also charged with tasks like assessing and either confirming or debunking genuine miracles.
Should the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approve the application then the prospective Saint will then be given the title of "Venerable". More investigations may yet be conducted, which could lead to the title of "Blessed". In order for any one person to be formally declared a Saint, by both the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and the Roman Catholic Church, they must have performed at least two important miracles, however. The process of canonization is finally completed when the Pope officially canonizes the Saint themself. All of these investigations and formalities can last for decades and sometimes even centuries.
A saint that has been canonized and designated as the patron of a profession or cause can be invoked or prayed to as protection against or to assuage certain illnesses and problems. The Roman Catholic Church states that this is the practice of veneration, to give honor or respect, rather than to worship.
Original Sin refers to the Christian belief that humanity is in a state of perpetual sin as punishment for the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The concept of Original Sin is separate from the story of the Garden of Eden itself, however, and considered to be more of a result of the sins committed there.
The doctrine regarding Original Sin was first developed by the Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, and formally stated that Adam's sins were grave and the consequences for this sinfulness were mortality and the "enslavement of sin", in-born in every child. According to Irenaeus, it is only through the re-birth of a baptism that humankind is able to start down the path to a righteous life, through Christianity and its practices. Irenaeus believed that humanity would only truly be free from sin, passions and pure affectations when the end times had come, and the dead were resurrected. Irenaeus also asserted that un-baptized infants were sent to Hell as a consequence of this Original Sin, though church doctrine was changed around 1300, to say that, because of the mercy of God and Jesus' love for children, un-baptized infants were sent to Limbo, rather than directly to Hell.