Why are you praying to a false god or making the rosary an idol? I believe in going to the top guy (God) right away…why mess around?
Whether you are a cradle Catholic or a recent convert you’ve likely heard similar accusations against the usage of material objects in prayer. It is true that Jesus is the one true mediator to God the Father. If you choose to only pray to Jesus your petitions, thanks, praises, and laments will be listened to by God.
Yet, a close reading of the Bible, especially the miracle stories in the Gospel and an examination of Sacred Tradition will reveal how sacred objects act as a bridge (and not a wedge) to God.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1668,
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. In accordance with bishops’ pastoral decisions, they can also respond to the needs, culture, and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time. 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).
Difference between a Sacrament and a Sacramental
Sacraments are visible signs of God’s invisible grace. Put another way, “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131).
Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church and help the faithful prepare for the sacraments.
To put it a bit more simply: Christ instituted the sacraments and the Catholic Church instituted the sacramentals. Jesus gave bestowed authority to the Apostles (foremost in Peter and the office of the papacy but also in the communion of bishops) to bind and loose. Although the official seven sacraments are the foundation of Catholic life, sacramentals aren’t unimportant as they help to draw a person closer in to the sacramental life.
Evidence in the Bible for Sacramentals
Now that we established the distinction between the sacraments and sacraments let’s examine some biblical evidence for the latter.
Genesis tells us of how God created the world. One important thing to note about the first creation account is how God viewed the material world as good. Even before the Incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ, there is an inherent goodness to the created world.
God didn’t intend for humanity to be saved in an ethereal or ghostly manner. There’s a concreteness, a tangibility, to the central event of Christianity: The Resurrection. Jesus really did rise bodily from the dead. On of the more commonly overlooked tenets of the Nicene Creed is the belief in the bodily resurrection at the end of time. Because of this teaching it makes perfect sense for the sacramental life to be tangible too.
God’s plan of salvation become revealed over the course of several centuries. Hints (or foreshadowings) of the sacraments and sacramentals are mentioned in the Bible.
Here’s a few examples of “sacramentals” in the Bible:
- 2 Kings5:10— Elisha commanded the Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times to cure him of leprosy
- 2 Kings 13:20-21—man who was buried came back to life upon touching the bones of Elisha
- Luke 8:44— woman suffering from hemorrhages healed when she touched Jesus’ cloak
- John9:6-12— Jesus cured the blind man using mud
More direct references to sacramentals include:
- Numbers 5:17— “In an earthen vessel [the priest] shall take holy water, as well as some dust from the floor of the tabernacle and put it in the water.”
- 2 Kings 2:19-22— Elisha restores the impure water of a well with holy salt
- Luke 9:23 and Gal 6:14— refer to the importance of the sign of the cross
Evidence in Sacred Tradition for Sacramentals
Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most well known and beloved of all Catholic saints. He had a love of God and creation. Francis taught about the importance of the Incarnation in his word and deeds. In the Canticle of Creation, Francis praised God by reflecting on the beauty of created things. He refers to the Sun as Brother and the Moon as Sister. His prayer continued the long Catholic tradition of seeing the goodness of creation. Matter is not something inherently evil by rather good.
Sacramentals point to the Incarnation: items or words (blessings) endowed with spiritual significance. Matter and spirit are united not divided. Just like how in the Mystery of the Incarnation God become fully man while remaining fully God.
Over the centuries Catholic saints have spoken about the significance of sacramentals. Saint Remigius of Auxerre spoke of the importance of holy salt, “It should be known, that in the Old Testament no sacrifice was offered to God unless it were first sprinkled with salt, for none can present an acceptable sacrifice to God without the flavour of heavenly wisdom.” Doctor of the Church Saint Louis de Montfort wrote this about the Rosary, “For never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil. This is a statement which I would sign with my blood.” Bold statement. But true!
Sacramentals Help Increase Devotion
Sacramentals aren’t talisman or objects that magically get a person to Heaven. According to the Baltimore Catechsim Q. 1052, “A sacramental is anything set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.” Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition contain reference and usage of sacred objects for excite devotion. Holy salt, holy water, blessings, and the sign of the Cross are just a few examples. In the upcoming weeks, we will be examining the history and importance of specific sacramentals.
P.S. Welcome to the post-article credits (Hey Marvel movies have done it for years why can’t a blogger do the same?? 😀)
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