By: Allison Ramirez
A sacramental is a material object blessed by a priest or bishop to signal its association with a sacrament or to aid in one’s reverence or acts of worship. Another way of looking at sacramentals is that they are sacred signs bearing a resemblance to the sacraments. As you may recall from earlier articles, “Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace by which divine life is given to us by Christ.” Rosary beads, scapulars, and miraculous medals are all examples of Catholic sacramentals and a nod to the tangible traditions of our faith. The key to a sacramental is that it be blessed by a priest or bishop and used to draw us deeper into the life of Christ and his church. Sacramentals include prayer cards, holy water, candles, wedding rings, psalm branches, ashes, holy statues, holy images, holy oils, relics of saints, nativities, advent wreaths, crucifixes, incense, and the like.
According to article #1677 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church “sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church to prepare us to receive the fruit of the sacraments and to sanctify different circumstances of our lives.” According to EWTN, being Catholic “is a way of life in which the body – its senses and spirit – are intermingled.” Many Catholics find setting up a prayer space in their home with a Bible, prayer cards, crucifix, etc. helpful in calling to mind the mysteries of our faith or of having a holy water fount in one’s home or having a statute in one’s backyard of one of the saints. The Catholic Church has long since recognized the human need for both physical and spiritual ways of encountering our faith and we honor God through the work of our hands, crafting religious pieces that when looked upon, touched, or shared, remind us of the faith we belief in and of the God we worship.
For example, wedding rings are a physical memory and reminder of the sacramental grace and covenant that a couple has entered into with one another. Psalm branches remind us of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and call us personally into that event of worship. Holy water is a physical reminder of our Baptism and birth into the life of Christ. Holy statues and images can draw our imagination into the example and life of beloved saints whose virtues we desire to emulate or religious icons such as those depicting scenes from Christ’s life can help us better bring them to life and imagine ourselves there. We our blessed as Catholic to belong to an embodied tradition of faith, meaning one that sees encounters with Jesus and his church as prevalent first and foremost in his Holy Word, our sacred traditions, and in fellow human beings, but also in the beauty of art, literature, music, nature, and the like. We are people made to meet God through the physical world around us, and sacramentals can be a valuable aid in that journey to a true presence and encounter with the Lord who loves us.