Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Smells, Bells, and What They Tell - Part III

(This is part of a series on sacramentals.  See here and here for the previous posts!)

Now, what, exactly, constitutes a "sacramental?"  What falls under that category and how does it get there?

Well, there are actually four different kinds of sacramentals:

1.  Pious Objects.  This is the kind of sacramental people usually think of when they hear the word "sacramental."  Rosaries, scapulars, holy cards, holy water, candles, ashes, palms, holy medals, salt, wedding rings--these are all sacramentals.

2.  Prayers.  Yes, prayers are sacramentals!  I always thought a sacramental needed to be a physical object--not so!  The Angelus, Confiteor, litanies...these are all considered sacramentals.

3.  Sacred Signs.  Sometimes sacramentals are physical motions.  Think of making the Sign of the Cross or genuflecting before the Tabernacle.

4.  Religious Ceremonies.  Often, a specific part of a sacrament is considered a sacramental.  For example, during Confirmation, the bishop will extend his hands over the Confirmandi.  This extending of the hands is a religious ceremony and a sacramental, in and of itself.

Sometimes, a sacramental will fall under more than one type.  Consider the rosary, which is both a pious object and a prayer.  
Let's examine the most well-known kind of sacramental: pious objects.  How does an object, say a rosary, become a sacramental?

The key is all in the blessing of the priest.  

Isaac Blessing Jacob, by Govert Flinck

Lay people (everyone besides an ordained priest) can certainly bless objects, and we should!  You've probably blessed your food before your meal.  However, when we bless an object, our blessing is a sort of plea to God.  

A priest's blessing is another matter altogether!  When a priest blesses an object, that blessing brings a guarantee that the prayer will be heard.  This is because the priest is a man consecrated to act in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church.  Through his blessing, the prayers of the universal Church (all around the world, in Purgatory, and in heaven!) are then attached to the sacramental.

So, after a priest blesses my rosary, whenever I pray using that rosary, my prayer is certain to be heard by God and it is linked with the prayers of the Church.  The rosary, after his blessing, becomes a sacramental.

There are numerous reasons why we should have recourse to the sacramentals.  Here are the most compelling effects:

* While always remembering that sacramentals do not save souls on their own accord, they are a means for securing heavenly help.  Sacramentals move God to give graces that He would not have otherwise given.

* They are very powerful in driving away evil spirits.

* They deliver the soul from sin (though, to be clear, only the sacrament of Confession will remove mortal sin).  St. Thomas Aquinas states that, "The episcopal blessing, the aspersion of holy water, every sacramental unction, prayer in a dedicated church, and the like, effect the remission of venial sins, implicitly or explicitly."  In other words, if I piously bless myself with holy water, that sacramental will bring about the removal of any venial sins from my soul--even if I am not consciously asking God to do so!  

* They may be used to obtain temporal favors.  For example, a farmer may ask a priest to bless his field to pray for an abundant crop.  Cars may be blessed before a long journey. 

* Many have indulgences attached to them.

If we should need more reasons, consider that Our Lady, when she appeared at Fatima in 1917, was holding two sacramentals: a scapular and a rosary!  

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima

The variety and use of sacramentals is extensive: a father sprinkling his child's bed after he had a nightmare, a mother using blessed salt to bake some bread, kissing a Miraculous Medal for peace, the numerous blessings the Church offers for water, salt, oil, candles, bread, cars, houses, children, pets, engaged couples, wedding rings, pregnant mothers, wheelchairs, fishing tackle, cheese, and even beer.

Why, you might ask.  Why bless these seemingly ordinary things of everyday life?

Well, the truth is that we must sanctify all parts of our day through divine grace.  God wants us to be wholly holy.  Prayer shouldn't take place only in the Church or when we are on our knees.  We must call to mind the presence of God when we're in the office, washing dishes, paying the bills, and stuck in traffic.  

Through the sacramentals, we can pray at all times, in all places.

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