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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… Sacramentals Defined

November 26, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 4

To touch the holy water fountain and cross oneself with the water is a common thing for Catholics to do when we enter or leave a church. To wear a scapular, light a candle, or pray a rosary are also common actions. These and several other things are called the “sacramentals” of the Church.
They are not sacraments like Baptism, Communion, and Confession, which were instituted by Jesus Christ. They are sacramentals, instituted by the Church of Jesus Christ.
It is important to know the difference, since oftentimes non-Catholics or mediocre Catholics raise objections against the sacramentals. So, let us begin by defining them:
Sacramentals are sacred signs that symbolize and obtain certain graces by the intercession of the Church. Although they are similar to the sacraments, they are not sacraments as such.
The Church is the Spouse of Christ and His Mystical Body here on Earth. Her Popes and bishops have received from her divine Founder the power and the authority to bind and loose here on Earth. And the establishment of the sacramentals is an example of the application of that power. The Church has appointed sacramentals, such as holy water, medals, and rosary beads, to be instruments of spiritual and temporal blessings.
Here is the main difference between sacraments and sacramentals: The sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ, whereas the sacramentals were instituted by the Church of Jesus Christ. So, if someone asks you if Jesus gave origin to the rosary or the scapular, among other things, you simply reply that no, He did not, He founded His Church with the power to give origin to the rosary and the scapular, among other things.
Another difference: The sacraments give sanctifying grace. The sacramentals convey actual grace.
The sacraments are causes of grace, ex opere operato, as we have seen before, that is, Jesus grants sanctifying grace to the recipient by the power of the sacrament itself, even if the minister were wallowing in lukewarmness. Their efficacy does not depend of the fervor of the minister.
But not so with the sacramentals: Their efficacy depends partly on the dispositions of whoever uses them, and partly on the good pleasure of God, who is moved by them, because they bear with them the petition of His Spouse, the Church.
God has commanded us to receive the sacraments at due time. We are under no such command to receive or use the sacramentals, but they are recommended to us by the Church, as profitable for our spiritual and temporal welfare.
An example: If you are having a good meal at a refined restaurant, and the house offers you, say, a special dessert of Swiss chocolate mousse sprinkled with French brandy and the best Spanish raisins, you are not obliged to accept it, of course; you may prefer to have a mashed banana for dessert after the main meal. . . .
A similar thing happens with the sacraments and the sacramentals: The main meal is the sacrament, the dessert the sacramental. We are commanded by the Church to receive the sacraments, but only advised to accept the sacraments.
Some of the more popular sacramentals are: the Miraculous Medal, the Brown Scapular, blessing before and after childbirth; the blessing of throats on the Feast of St. Blaise; Enthronement of the Sacred Heart; crossing oneself with holy water or sprinkling it in a church and at home; blessing of a home, of children, and of the sick; blessed statues, images of pictures. Every home ought to have a crucifix and other inspiring images of Jesus and Mary.
Some sacramentals have been the means whereby Jesus conveyed great graces and blessings to the Catholic people.
One might ask: Is there an indication of sacramentals in the Bible? Actually, the answer is yes. Even though it not necessary to prove sacramentals by the Bible, because the Bible doesn’t contain everything for salvation, it is interesting to know that yes, there is a biblical foundation for sacramentals. Here are four of them, two in the Old Testament, and two in the New.
The famous staff of Moses was the instrument God used to change the Nile River into blood, just by touching the water. Moses performed many other miracles with that impressive staff, as is known by everyone.
Graces have been given to people, even healing of illnesses, by the means of objects. For instance, in Numbers chapter 21, we learn:
“The people began to be weary of their journey and labor: And speaking against God and Moses, they said: Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness? There is no bread, nor have we any waters: our soul now loathed this very light food.
“Wherefore the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents, which bit them and killed many of them. Upon which they came to Moses, and said: We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you: pray that he may take away these serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
“And the Lord said to him: Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.”
Moses’ staff and his brazen serpent were like sacramentals of the Old Law. People received graces through those objects.
In the New Testament (Acts 19:12), we learned that “God did extraordinary miracles through the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and the diseases and evil spirits left them.” Those handkerchiefs and aprons were very powerful sacramentals indeed! Diseases were cured and devils were exorcised by their mere touch!
We also see in Acts 5:14-15: “The multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord, was more increased: Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.”
As you see, sacramentals, to be effective, depend to a great extent on the faith of the persons involved (ex opere operantis), unlike the sacraments, which convey grace independently of the person’s faith, since Jesus Christ is the one who acts through them.
One last word, about relics of the saints: This practice goes back to Old Testament times. The Jews respected the bodies of the dead, and Moses took the bones of Joseph with him from Egypt for burial in the Promised Land (Exodus 13:19).
God showed His favor with the holy men of old by working miracles through them, even after their death. The mantle of Elias was used to work miracles after his departure from this life (2 Kings 2:13-14). A dead man whose body was cast into the grave of the Prophet Eliseus, upon touching the prophet’s bones, came back to life at once (2 Kings 13:21).
The relics of the saints’ bodies are venerated because “they have been living members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) and will be raised up again in glory on the Last Day.
Next Article: The Sacrament of Baptism.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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