Recently on The Inner Life, Josh began his segment by telling his listeners about a dinner recipe that he tried: pasta with Bolognese sauce. He said that after completing the cooking process, looking at it, one would be hard-pressed to identify any one of the ingredients. The steps of combining and simmering homogenize the ingredients into one coherent sauce including celery, carrots, onions, ground beef, whole milk, and wine. However, if one were to remove any one of those ingredients from the sauce, there would be a difference in taste and texture, some having a bigger impact than others. Each component adds an integral layer of complexity to the sauce, and altogether, they make it taste the way it should.
Our lives as Catholics can be looked at through a similar lens: We have our basics, the vital ingredients that make it what it is at its very core. That might include weekly Mass, reception of the sacraments, and consistent prayer. But then we have the additional components that we can add to complete the “sauce”, the wholeness of our spiritual lives. One of those ingredients that we can add to help complete the picture is sacramentals.
Josh welcomed Father Peter Armenio back onto the show to talk about sacramentals, what they are, and their importance to the life of the Church. Some of the most common sacramentals include making the sign of the cross with holy water, praying the rosary, or having a crucifix on the wall.
Father began by saying that sacramentals are tied to the sacraments themselves. “A sacrament is a medium through which the resurrected Christ, in an invisible way (Sacramental partially means invisible, mysterious. It’s a loaded word.), actually touches your life directly.” And there are seven ways in which God directly affects us in this way: baptism, reconciliation, the Eucharist, confirmation, holy matrimony, holy orders, and anointing of the sick.
The sacramentals involved in these mediums are physical equivalents to what happens spiritually to you when you participate in it. In Baptism, when you are blessed with holy water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that is a sacramental showing that you are being cleansed of all sin, original and personal.
In reconciliation, the sacramental is the reception of absolution, affirming that we have been cleansed of all our sins (again). In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we bring bread and wine to the altar as sacramentals to celebrate the same sacrifice that was offered at Calvary. Of course, after consecration, we are no longer offering bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ.
“You receive a certain kind of grace through certain kinds of functions. For example, the Eucharist, you receive the grace to love with the heart of Christ, to be transformed into Christ as long as you have the right dispositions. Confession, as long as you’re sorry, all sin is removed. You can begin again.” Sacramentals are responsible for improving our capability to receive the sacraments that we are receiving. In other words, sacramentals “whet our appetite” for the graces that God will bestow on us.
Josh asked whether the use of sacramentals gives us grace by themselves. Father Peter responded that while technically they do not, they give us a reminder of our what we are doing and why. They give us a boost in our fervor for the reception of graces, the performance of charitable acts, and our spiritual connection with Christ.
The conversation then turned to the Brown Scapular, a wearable sacramental that many Catholics wear as devotees to Mary, specifically Our Lady of Carmel. The claims behind this sacramental say that whoever dies while wearing it and goes to Purgatory will go to Heaven the following Saturday. People who hear this often scoff at it, seeing it as mere superstition or a good luck charm, but Father Peter clarified. “It’s not a free lunch. ‘All I got to do is wear that scapular.’ No. ‘If I really believe…If I’m going to wear this as a sign (not as a good luck charm) of my devotion to Mary, as a sign that I embrace Mary’s words, and that I want to follow her son, yes. That privilege is valid.’”
Listen to the rest of the conversation below:
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