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Sacramentals

Publish Date: October 7, 2015

What is the purpose of Sacramentals?

Holy Mother Church has instituted sacramentals as sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy..

 

What is the difference between the Sacraments and the Sacramentals?

Sacraments

Sacramentals

  • Instituted by Christ Himself
  • Instituted by the Church
  • Limited to the seven instituted by Christ, namely, Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Holy Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony
     
  • Numerous and varied, according to the directions of Mother Church
     
  • Produce grace directly in the soul, if there is no obstacle on the part of the recipient
     
  • Do not produce grace directly and of themselves - they produce grace indirectly by disposing and preparing the soul for this divine gift
     
  • The words used in the sacraments declare that God is producing certain effects in the soul
     
  • Prayers used in the sacramentals merely ask God to produce certain effects and to grant certain graces
     
  • The sacraments give or increase sanctifying grace
     
  • Sacramentals are the means to actual graces
     

 

What are the various forms of sacramentals?

While the number of the sacramentals may not be limited; the Catholic Encyclopedia describes the types or purposes of the sacramentals with these Latin-based categories: "Orans, tinctus, edens, confessus, dans, benedicens".

  • Orans indicates public prayer, whether liturgical or private;
  • tinctus, the use of holy water and the unctions in use at various consecrations;
  • edens, the eating of blessed foods;
  • confessus, the general admission of faults which is made in the Confiteor recited at Mass, at Communion, and in the Liturgy of the Hours;
  • dans, alms;
  • benedicens, papal and episcopal blessings etc., blessings of candles, ashes, palms, rosaries etc.


Sacramentals can also be divided into whether they are actions, such as prayers, sacred signs, and religious ceremonies, or pious objects, such as medals or sacred images. Some sacramentals are a combination--they fall into two or more classes. The Rosary, for example, is a pious object and a prayer. The sign of the cross is a prayer and a sign. The crucifix, pictures and statues are pious objects, but are often combined with devotional prayers. The ceremonies performed in the various sacraments are also sacramentals, like the extending of the hands in Confirmation.

 

What are the characteristics of sacramentals?

Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church - certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism).

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood - Every baptized person is called to be a "blessing," and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).

Sacramentals prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it -  "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."

 

Are Catholics required to use sacramentals?

Do we have to use sacramentals? Does a Catholic have to wear a scapular, or use holy water, or pray the Rosary? Strictly speaking, no. The sacraments are necessary for salvation; the sacramentals are not necessary. Nevertheless, the prayers, pious objects, sacred signs and ceremonies of Mother Church are means to salvation.

How can mere material things help us on the way to heaven? How can water, metal, or a piece of cloth help save our souls? You must ever remember that these objects in themselves have no power to save or help us. It would be superstitious to say they had any such power. But things like a crucifix, a holy picture, a statue, a candle, do excite spiritual thoughts and feelings in those who use them correctly. They excite the fear and love of God; they arouse trust and hope in His mercy; they awaken sorrow and joy in the Lord.

Their value lies in the fact that they have been set aside by the Church for sacred purposes, by the power of the Church's official prayer, and by the merits of Christ, preserved and distributed by His Church. That Church not only sets things aside for a sacred use, she also attaches definite benefits and blessings to certain objects and good works. Many sacramentals have indulgences attached. An indulgence is the taking away, outside of confession, in whole or in part, of the temporal punishment due to sin which is already forgiven.
 

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