Sacramentals More Stuff Of Earth
For Christmas, one of my gifts was a book called The How-To Book of Sacramentals by Ann Ball. I have enjoyed it so much I wanted to blog a bit about sacramentals again. Ann says: "In God's redemptive hands, created realities once more serve as instruments of grace."

By God taking on human flesh, he showed us that material things, the stuff of earth, created by Him, is to be used for His glory and for a blessing to us as well. Bodily and material reality can mediate the divine. This fact that God can use the stuff of earth to convey/transmit His grace is the explanation behind the Sacraments (as I have posted about often). For example, baptism washing away sin through the application of Christ's death through the waters.

Sacramentals are based on the Sacraments but in and of themselves don't convey God's grace and therein lies the distinction. They are not amulets, magic charms, incantations, nor should they ever be used in a superstitious manner. The accusations against Catholics for being superstitious and idolatrous may stem from a misunderstanding of sacramentals. The inappropriate use of them by Catholics may also contribute to the misunderstandings as well. Sadly, the reformation lead to the truncation of the Sacraments and complete loss of Sacramentals. Certainly, the brisk and sinful trade in relics at the time did not help the situation!

So what are Sacramentals? "They are things ("sacramentalia") set apart or blessed by the Catholic Church to manifest the respect due to the Sacraments, and so to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion." They can be rites, prayers or objects. The main difference between Sacraments and Sacramentals are:

* The Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ; most, but not all, of the sacramentals were instituted by the Church. Examples of Sacraments are: The Eucharist, Baptism, Holy Orders, Confession, Matrimony etc.

* The Sacraments give grace of themselves and are always "fruitful" when the faithful place no obstacle in the way; the sacramentals excite pious dispositions, by means of which the faithful may obtain grace. It is not the sacramental itself that gives grace, but the devotion, the love of God or sorrow for sin that it inspires, and the prayers of the Church that render sacramentals efficacious against evil.

So they are things that excite good thoughts and increase devotion to God. The beauty of this is that non-Catholic Christians can take part in and benefit from sacramentals too! As an evangelical we used candles, oil for anointing, washing feet, palms, and genuflection. We definitely didn't use crucifixes, incense or blessed medals or ashes.

Here is a list of some of these Sacramentals:

* Altars
* Ashes
* Bells
* Blessed medals
* Blessed palms
* Blessing of people
* Bowing the head
* Bows
* Candles
* Church buildings
* Churching of women
* Crucifixes
* Exorcism
* Feet washing
* Fire
* Folding hands
* Genuflection
* Holy water
* Icons
* Incense
* Liturgical hours
* Liturgical vessels
* Liturgical year
* Mary gardens
* Minor orders
* Oil
* Prostrations
* Religious habits
* Rosaries
* Salt
* Scapulars
* Sign of the cross
* Statues
* Vestments
* Wedding rings

As a Catholic Christian, I have been blessed and definitely drawn closer to Jesus through some of these sacramentals. Praying the rosary, the sign of the cross, and placing statues of the holy family as well as favorite saints around my house has become a regular part of my devotional life. I now realize how much I sorely missed using the things of earth to draw me closer to God.

As I walk into my house, the statue of St Francis of Assisi on my front yard reminds me of humilty and love for Christ. The beautiful crucifix above our bed (rescued from my parents' home when my Mom died) reminds of what He went through for my salvation and who the center of our life is and what our marriage is based on. My wedding ring serves as a constant reminder of the Sacrament of marriage and the vows taken before God. The smell of incense that I waft as I walk into Mass now creates a sense of reverence for me and reminds me that I am in a holy place where prayers will be offered up to our Lord and Savior. As a matter of fact, when I first returned to the Church almost three years ago now, that initial smell of the incense gave me a sense that I had returned home due to resurrected memories that I didn't realize were still there. God uses our all of our senses through the sacramentals to excite our hearts towards Him and Catholics take advantage of them to grow in grace. But they are designed for anyone to use!