The Lutheran sacraments are "sacred acts of divine institution".[1] They are also defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”.[2]

Lutherans believe that, whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component.[1] They teach that God earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.[1] They teach that God also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.[1]


At the time of Luther’s birth, the Catholic Church upheld seven sacraments; when the Reformation began and the Lutheran Church came into being, they held on to two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist or Communion),[3][4] while seeing the other five as being important rites, but not fully sacramental. Some Lutheran churches uphold a third sacrament, Holy Absolution (Confession).[5][6][7]

Characteristics of a sacrament

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, sacraments are defined as:

If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking. For humanly instituted rites are not sacraments, properly seen because human beings do not have the authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without the command of God are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps serve to teach or admonish the common folk.[8]


Holy Baptism

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which one is initiated into the Christian faith. In practice, a person being baptized may be wholly or partly immersed in water, water may be poured over their head, or a few drops may be sprinkled on their head.[9] It symbolises a washing away of sins and welcomes the person to the church community. Lutherans teach that at baptism, people receive regeneration and God's promise of salvation. At the same time, they receive the faith they need to be open to God's grace. Lutherans baptize by sprinkling or pouring water on the head of the person (or infant) as the Trinitarian formula is spoken. Lutherans teach baptism to be necessary, but not absolutely necessary, for salvation. That means that although baptism is indeed necessary for salvation, it is, as Luther said, contempt for the sacraments that condemns, not lack of the sacraments. Therefore, one is not denied salvation merely because one may have never had the opportunity to be baptized. This is what is meant by saying that baptism is necessary - but not absolutely necessary - to salvation. Martin Luther discussed baptism in detail in his 1520 work called On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

Holy Eucharist

Main article: Eucharist in the Lutheran Church

The Sacrament of the Eucharist is also called the Sacrament of the Altar, the Mass, the Lord's Supper, the Lord's Table, (Holy) Communion, the Breaking of the Bread, and the Blessed Sacrament. In practice, communicants eat bread and drink wine or grape juice[10] as the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself, "in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated bread and wine. This Eucharistic theology is known as the Sacramental Union. (It has been called "consubstantiation", but most Lutheran theologians reject the use of this term, as it creates confusion with an earlier doctrine of the same name.)[11]

Holy Absolution

Main article: Confession in the Lutheran Church

This rite is not universally considered a sacrament across the Lutheran Church, as Holy Absolution can be rightfully understood as an extension of Holy Baptism.[12][7]

The third sacrament of the Lutheran Churches is Penance (confession), as explicated in the Large Catechism, Book of Concord and Apology of the Augsburg Confession.[13][14] The Sacrament has two forms:[7]

In historic Lutheran practice, Holy Absolution is held every Saturday, which is the evening before the offering of the Holy Mass on the Lord's Day; additionally, Holy Absolution is expected before one's First Communion.[16][17] Shrove Tuesday is a popular day for Holy Absolution as the following day (Ash Wednesday) begins the Christian season of repentance, Lent.[18] But the practice of private confession is voluntary, not obligatory.

The rite for General Confession, as well as Holy Absolution, are contained in the Lutheran hymnals.[7]

The Lutheran Churches affirm the seal of the confessional, which mandates that a priest can not disclose the contents of a confession to any third party as he is acting in persona Christi.[19] Many countries have laws that respect this priest–penitent privilege.[19]

Non-sacramental rites


Main article: Confirmation (Lutheran Church)

Confirmation is a public profession of faith prepared for by long and careful instruction. In English, it is known as the "affirmation of baptism"[20] and is a mature and public profession of the faith that "marks the completion of the congregation's program of confirmation ministry". The German language uses for Lutheran confirmation a different word (Konfirmation) from the word used for the same Sacrament in the Catholic Church (Firmung). Confirmation teaches baptized Christians about Martin Luther's doctrine on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the three Lutheran sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. An average catechism class lasts about one to two years.[21]

Holy Matrimony

Holy Matrimony is a union between a man and a woman, acknowledging the grace of God in their life.[22] Some Lutheran churches will perform same-sex weddings.[23]

Holy Orders

Although the Lutheran Confessions do not deny that Holy Orders may be considered Sacramental (See "Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII," paragraphs 11-12: "But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God's command and glorious promises, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Likewise, Is. 55:11: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please. 12] If ordination be understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the imposition of hands a sacrament."), Lutherans, on the whole, reject the Roman Catholic teaching of Holy Orders because they do not think sacerdotalism is supported by the Bible.[24] Martin Luther taught that each individual was expected to fulfill his God-appointed task in everyday life. The modern usage of the term vocation as a life-task was first employed by Martin Luther.[25] In Luther's Small Catechism, the holy orders include, but are not limited to the following: bishops, pastors, preachers, governmental offices, citizens, husbands, wives, children, employees, employers, young people, and widows.[26]

However, in some Lutheran churches, Holy Orders refers to the three orders of bishop, priest and deacon, and the sacrament or rite by which candidates are ordained to those orders, is retained.[27]

Anointing of the Sick

The Lutheran Church, like others, use James 5:14–15 as biblical reference for Anointing of the Sick.[28][29] The process of this rite consists of laying on of hands and/or anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers.[28][30]


  1. ^ a b c d Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 161. Archived from the original on 2012-01-21.
  2. ^ Britannica website, Sacrament
  3. ^ Marquette University website, Sacraments in the Lutheran Reformation by Mickey L. Mattox, page 269
  4. ^ Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website, What is a sacrament for Lutherans?, document dated January 2013
  5. ^ Holy Trinity Lutheran Church website, Holy Absolution, article dated February 15, 2006
  6. ^ Canadian Lutheran website, Lutherans and the Sacraments, article dated November 1, 2018
  7. ^ a b c d e f Christ the King Lutheran Church website, Learn More; Our Beliefs
  8. ^ Article XIII: The Number and Use of the Sacraments, vv 3–4, Apology of Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2000, 219 – 220.
  9. ^ Britannica website, Baptism
  10. ^ Britannica website, Eucharist
  11. ^ F.L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 340 sub loco.
  12. ^ "What About Confession & Absolution". Zion Lutheran Church. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  13. ^ "Holy Baptism". The Book of Concord. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  14. ^ Tappert,TG ed. "The Book of Concord". Fortess Press, 1959, pp. 221 & 445.
  15. ^ LCMS Worship Library website, Entering God’s Presence: Teaching & Practice
  16. ^ Sheldrake, Philip (31 May 2005). The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 531. ISBN 978-0-664-23003-6.
  17. ^ Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article 24, paragraph 1. Retrieved 2010-04-18.
  18. ^ Cowell, Thomas (15 February 2021). "What Is Shrove Tuesday". Trinity Lutheran Church. We confess our sins on Shrove Tuesday as a way of getting ready for Lent. Once the distractions of sin are cleared from our lives we are prepared to focus solely on the merits of Christ's passion for the forty days of Lent.
  19. ^ a b "Private Absolution and the Confessional Seal" (PDF). Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 1 October 2019. p. 4. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  20. ^ Living Lutheran website, What is confirmation?
  21. ^ Danish Lutheran Church website, Confirmation
  22. ^ "But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Mark 10:6-9 New International Version
  23. ^ Danish Lutheran Church website, Marriage
  24. ^ Luther, Martin. Concerning the Ministry (1523), tr. Conrad Bergendoff, in Bergendoff, Conrad (ed.) Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958, 40:18 ff.
  25. ^ Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons, Ch.3, p. 79 & note 1.
  26. ^ See Luther's Small Catechism
  27. ^ "FAQ". Anglo Lutheran Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 22 September 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  28. ^ a b ELCA Anointing, Retrieved 9 November 2009
  29. ^ LCMS Anointing Archived 2009-11-02 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 9 November 2009
  30. ^ Lutheran Orthodox Church website, On the Sacraments