Sunday, March 5, 2017

Catholicism Explained - Devotions And Sacramentals

Hey, everybody! Yeah, I know it's been a while since the last CE, and I apologize for it. Due to being gone longer than I expected, and then getting sick once I got back home, I wasn't posting for a while. But I'm back now, so I can proceed with one of my favorite subjects to talk about in Catholicism: devotions and sacramentals (while there is a difference between them, it is very slight. Sacramentals are technically devotions, but not all devotions are sacramentals if that makes sense).
Basic Theology
So, we pray and receive the sacraments, yes? But we're not always doing them of course. Often, very often, yes, I hope, but not always. So sacramentals are little things reminding us of the sacraments. For instance, wearing a wedding ring may remind us of the sacrament of marriage, and our vows to it. (Yes! Even a wedding ring can be a sacramental! :) Or carrying holy water vials can remind us of our baptism. Or having a cassock (if you're a priest) can remind you of your ordination in Holy Orders. So basically they're little symbols to remind us of the sacraments. In and of themselves, they have no power or grace. Their only graces are an extension of the sacrament itself, from representing it. If they are used in a manner that is contrary to the sacrament they represent, then they have absolutely no value except as an ordinary, material item. Devotions are little things meant to further our devotion to God (hence the name 'devotions'). Like the Rosary. Or the Scapular. Or the veil. Or so many others (I will have an explained list of examples later in this post).
Some Common Objections
But why should we put any trust in mere material items? It's ridiculous to put hope in things.
Well, we're not putting our trust or hope or anything in the items themselves. Like I said, in and of themselves, they have no power or grace. But neither do the sacraments. God gives the sacraments power, the sacraments give sacramental power. Thus, we are putting our trust in God's grace, not the nonexistent grace of a mere material item.
Isn't it idolatry? Even if we're not putting our trust in the items themselves, we're still using them as though they were powerful, aren't we?
The thing is, they are powerful. But again, not on their own. Idolatry isn't necessarily of items: it can also be of people who are not God. And yet, when we have help from powerfully holy people in our struggles, it isn't idolatry, is it? No! Because we don't follow them because of their own examples. Alone, they would be without a single grace, without a single virtue. But in God, they have grace, and power, and holiness, so we flock to them. It is the same with items. Being from God, they have their power and grace likewise from Him. So, when we use them, it's not as though we were using magic or idols or anything, we're only being reminded of and led to God through the items (or people).
It's scientifically ridiculous that a little bit of blessed water, or a piece of leather strung around your neck can help you out. How could something like that be?
Well, again, it's God that helps us, not the items themselves. Miracles usually involve some material and scientific fantasy that actually comes to pass. There have been plenty of miracles in the past involving sacramentals or devotions (stories of which I will provide in the next CE post), both spiritual and material miracles.
Why Do We Believe In Them?
We believe in them for many reasons. A great many saints have gone to sainthood through endearing these devotions to themselves. A great many people have turned away from the ugliness of sin only because they saw the beauty of practicing for God (in other words, showing devotion). So we have much history to show that they can only do good. Besides that, even in the Bible we find many instances that are almost coincidentally similar to sacramentals. Like oil, or chrism, for instance. It's all over the Old Testament especially, whether being used to anoint kings or merely to dedicate sacrifices. And chrism is a sacramental that we still use in the Church today. Here are a few Church father quotes on the matter:

"Moreover, we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized."
- St. Basil The Great, On The Holy Spirit, A.D. 375 -

"Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally [on the body], but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual" - Tertullian, On Baptism 7, A.D. 200 (emphasis mine) -

And the good old Catechism Of The Catholic Church:

"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 a 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)"
- CCC 1668 -

Their significance is simple enough, I suppose. It is to draw us closer in devotion, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual devotion to God and Our Lady. They remind us of things we promised (like baptismal or marriage vows), of things we are promised (like the Rosary reminding us of Mary's Fatima promise), and they remind us most importantly of that Person Whom we are always striving to grow closer in devotion to.
Some Examples
There are plenty of brilliant examples, the most well-known of which is the Rosary. But Miss Lucy has already covered the Rosary (see link above), so I'll list some other ones.
The Scapular
The Scapular is a blessed small, brown square of cloth strung around the lay* person's neck, to explain it very technically. (*there are other forms of the Scapular, but the most common one, the one that lay - not religiously avowed - people wear, is the one I'm talking about here.) It was given to a saint by Our Lady in an apparition, and there is a beautiful promise that goes with it. The exact words (and these words are found inscribed on most Scapulars) are "Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire". There is a promise from Mary that, fulfilling these three conditions, the wearer of the Scapular will be given the graces necessary to reach Heaven and avoid Hell. The three conditions are
1. that the Christian actually wears the Scapular (you can't just own a Scapular and expect the promise to be fulfilled - you have to wear it)
2. that the Christian is chaste according to their station in life (spouse, single, religious, etc.)
3. that the Christian recites the Scapular's office (prayer) daily, or (only with special permission from a priest!) say the Rosary daily in place of it.
The first Scapular you own (you are permitted to own a Scapular once you receive your first Holy Communion) must be blessed by a priest, though. Not every Scapular you own after this has to be blessed in this way, but I think it's a lovely rite, and should be used. I was just invested with my first Scapular last month by my parish priest, and I thought the Scapular blessing was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. And I got the really cool privilege of getting invested in Latin. Usually the rite is performed in English, but we brought a version of it in Latin, and the priest was very willing to use Latin, so my siblings and I got invested in a very unusual (but super awesome!) way. The Scapular is to remind us of the mutual promise between us and Our Lady when we have it.
The Chaplet Of Divine Mercy
This beautiful prayer devotion was also instituted in an apparition. This particular apparition was to St. Faustina, a nun. The prayer is said on a rosary, just as the Rosary prayer is, but it's slightly different, and a lot shorter. It's a prayer for Christ's mercy to cover the earth, and for all of us to be forgiven in that mercy. Instead of 'Hail Mary's on the beads, as in the Rosary, we say
"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion - Have mercy on us!",
and then on the 'Our Father' beads, we simply say
"Oh, God, we offer You the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ - In atonement for our sins and those of the whole world".
Other than that, it has minor differences from the Rosary in the prayers it ends in and the prayers it begins in.
The Veil
A whole lot of women (including many Catholics even) are getting confused when they see Catholic women veiling themselves in Mass, perhaps because almost nobody does it. The veil (or, as the European version is called, the mantilla) is a beautiful 'small t' tradition much like how men always take their hats off in church (I wear the Italian mantilla, which is very similar to the picture above). The veil is a rather unusual devotion, though, in that it was not instituted by an apparition of either Christ or Our Lady, or an apparition at all; in that it has been going on since the beginning of the Church; in that it has extremely distinct Biblical roots; and in that it is symbolic and reminding of a very many things rather than just one. The veil, first and foremost, symbolizes purity and chastity (btw, there's a fun fact concerning that symbolism that I will perhaps impart in the next CE post). It also particularly symbolizes the purity of Mary, which is very special, because her purity and her chastity is the most pure and the most chaste of any woman that ever existed. The veil also presents us to Christ humbly, covering our own mere human glory in the sight of His greatness. It also presents us to Him, Our Holy Bridegroom as brides, before Communion, which is a sacramental union of Christ and Christian just as a wedding is of a man and a woman. The veil is also incredibly practical, and I highly suggest reading a booklet called The Veil, which can be found at
I think those are all the examples I'll give for now (because this post is becoming incredibly long, and I plan to do a follow-up anyways). If I can manage to find some good links for more information on these, then I will put them in the next CE post. For this one, my other sources were
Why Is That In Tradition?, by Patrick Madrid.
Book VI on the Catholic faith, Catholic Apologetics, by Fr. Laux.
Daily Defense, by Jimmy Akin.
I really hope this post doesn't seem al jumbled together like most of them are... I really did try this time! But, I didn't even scratch the surface on the subject, because there's so much to cover. So, like I said before, I will be doing a follow-up post to have more thoughts and explanation on the matter.
What did you think of this Catholicism Explained? Do you agree with the points I made? Or was the post altogether too confusing? Have any notes? Additions? Questions or concerns? Perhaps suggestions for the bettering of Catholicism Explained? Talk to me! :) I love to hear any and all questions and debates for it, just so long as they remain considerate and civil. 

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