What’s in a Sacramental?

It’s easy to spot the home of a Catholic with minimal inspection. There are usually crucifixes on the walls, a holy water font by the entrance or in the bedrooms, and there are drawers full of rosaries, medals, scapulars, and prayer cards throughout the house. One can never have too many sacramentals. To that point, what exactly is a sacramental? We can usually recognize them when we see them, but there are more than you probably realize.

We generally think of sacramentals as only religious objects that have been blessed by a priest, but the definition of a sacramental goes beyond that.

“Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” (CCC, 1667)

By that definition, other things also fall under the category of sacramental, including fasting, genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, shrines, holy sites, and special blessings. Anything used by the Church to open our hearts to grace and intentionally lift our minds to God can be a sacramental.

While sacraments produce grace directly in the soul and do not rely on the disposition of the people involved in their celebration, sacramentals are quite different. They do not produce or give grace but, with the right disposition and intentions, can prepare one’s soul for the reception of grace. The sacraments give us sanctifying grace, while sacramentals open us to actual grace.

This is an important distinction between sacramentals and objects of a supernatural nature. Superstition places a certain amount of power in material objects that have no such capabilities. Sacramentals, like crucifixes or holy water, don’t have any magical powers, but they have the capability to elicit a spiritual disposition in people to act as a channel for God’s grace and will.

While the sacraments are necessary for salvation because of their saving grace, sacramentals are not. In a very literal sense, they are not a necessity but they are a great help and a means to reaching heaven. Imagine you were stranded at sea on a small raft. While there is a chance you could make it to land without supplies, they’d be a great help to your chances of survival.

The Church Militant are those living souls stranded in the proverbial ocean of life. Surrounding us are the swirling waters trying to drown us, the relentless sun dehydrating and burning us, and the ferocious sea creatures trying to devour us. Sacramentals are the instruments and supplies by which we will maximize our survival potential. Take advantage of the sacraments and sacramentals as much as you can. Exhibit an open disposition to God’s grace in your life so that when the time comes for us to leave those dangerous waters, it will not be us succumbing to our surroundings but us stepping onto the shores of Paradise.

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.