Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smells, Bells, and What They Tell - Part IV

For earlier posts in this series on the sacramentals, please see here, here, and here!

Now, before highlighting some of my favorite sacramentals, I think it might be wise to address some common objections people at times put forth on this topic.


Sacramentals are not magic.  They aren't bargaining chips or special charms.  

The whole key to using sacramentals is one's interior disposition.  Remember that sacramentals work subjectively.  Their efficacy is dependent upon the user's inner attitude and faith.  

If I approach a sacramental with an attitude of, "If I do this, God will do ____ for me"--well, that's kind of missing the whole point.  The purpose of a sacramental is to call to mind the presence of God, to adore Him and love Him, to implore His assistance.  

Pride says, "By using this sacramental, I will make God do this favor for me."  Humility says, "I am weak and need all of God's help, so I will have recourse to this sacramental to call upon His mercy and assistance."

Faith must always be put in God, not in the holy medal, rosary bead, or holy water itself.  These latter objects are mere conduits, not the source, of grace.  

There must always be a proper ordering of importance.  God is foremost and the origin of all goodness. Sacraments are the primary means of receiving God's grace.  Sacramentals are secondary means.  Therefore, when using sacramentals, one should avoid placing more attention or trust in them than one should.


Did the Church invent sacramentals?

Well, they are instituted by the Church, yes.  However, they also have strong Scriptural roots.  Sacramentals appear all throughout sacred Scripture!

Let me provide two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.

"4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived." (Numbers 21:4-9)

"The Brazen Serpent" by Peter Paul Rubens

Clearly, the bronze serpent did not, itself, cure anyone.  To believe so would indeed be both superstitious and pagan.  It was God who cured the people, but He used the occasion of the bronze serpent.

The serpent was a sacramental!

Here is an example from the New Testament:

"And God worked more than the usual miracles by the hand of  Paul; so that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his  body to the sick and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went  out." Acts, 19:12

Paul's handkerchiefs and aprons brought about cures.  They were sacramentals!

"St. Paul Preaching in Athens," by Raphael (1515)

These are just two of many examples from the Bible.


It is true that many sacramentals were first used by pagans, but these objects were, you could say, a manifestation of a common religious unconscious, rather than a formal pagan creed.

Incense, candles, and medals were first used by pagans, but so was another sacramental that most people use: the wedding ring.  And we don't consider that pagan.

Now that we have defined sacramentals and discussed some possible objections, let's examine some specific sacramentals!

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