"Pray without ceasing" (2 Thess. v. 17).
"Every creature is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim.
BY SACRAMENTALS we mean the various prayers, blessings, ceremonies and
pious practices of the Church. Here mention will be made of some of the
most common of the sacramentals that have not already been treated.
Sacramentals, like sacraments, have an outward sign; the latter,
however, were instituted by Christ, the former by the Church, and while
the latter always give grace if we place no obstacle in the way, the
former do not give grace, but excite good thoughts, increase devotion,
and raise the mind to God.
The chief sacramentals that have not been mentioned are the books used
by the priest in the performance of his sacred duties, the sign of the
cross, holy water, blessed candles, blessed palm and ashes, holy oils,
scapulars, medals, Agnus Dei, prayers, litanies, rosary, the Angelus,
stations, the funeral service, and various blessings.
The books used by the priest in the performance of his sacred duties are
the Missal, which contains the Masses for the various feasts of the
ecclesiastical year; the Breviary, in which is the office recited by
the priest every day; and the Ritual, where is to be found the form of
administering the different sacraments, the funeral service, and the
The sacramental of most frequent use in the Church is the sign of the
cross. It is used to remind us of the Passion and Death of Our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross is the emblem of the
Christian, the "sign of the Son of Man." It is an act of faith in the
principal truths of Christianity. When we say the words, "In the name,"
we profess our faith in the unity of God, which means that there is but
one God; "of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," are a
profession of faith in the Trinity--i.e., that there are three divine
persons in one God. The form of the cross which we trace with our right
hand from our forehead to our breast, and then from the left to the
right shoulder, is a profession of faith in the Incarnation of the Son
of God, who became man and died on the cross for our redemption.
Tertullian and other writers of the early ages of the Church tell us
that before every action, before rising or retiring, before meals, at
every step, "we impress on our forehead the sign of the cross." The
Catholic Church of to-day, in accordance with the teachings of Christ,
His apostles, and their successors of all time, teaches her children to
put their trust in the merits of Jesus Christ's sufferings on the cross,
and to do everything "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Ghost."
Holy water is water blessed by a priest. During the blessing beautiful
prayers are recited. These prayers express the spiritual blessings the
Church wishes to follow all who use it. The Church uses holy water in
all the benedictions and some of her sacraments. It is placed at the
doors of her churches, that all who enter may use it and be reminded of
that purity of heart which it symbolizes. Holy water is also kept in the
houses of Catholics, to be used in times of trial and when the priest
comes to administer the sacraments.
The blessed candles used in the service of the Church receive their
special blessing on Candlemas Day. We use these lighted candles at
different times to remind us of Jesus, who is the "Light of the world."
Catholics always keep a blessed candle in the house. The Church puts a
lighted candle in our hand at our baptism, and wishes us to die with one
in our hand, to remind us to hope in Him who is our Light and the light
of the world.
On Ash Wednesday ashes are blessed and put on the forehead of the
faithful in the form of a cross, with the words, "Remember, man, that
thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return," to remind them that they
are only dust and ashes. These are the ashes of burnt palms blessed
the Palm Sunday of the previous year. These palms are blessed in memory
of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when the people spread
palm branches along the way. This palm should remind us to perform
faithfully our duty if we wish to enjoy the palm of victory.
The holy oils are blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday of each year.
They are of three kinds: oil of the sick, used in the sacrament of
Extreme Unction; oil of the Catechumens, used in blessing baptismal
water and in the sacrament of Baptism; and Holy Chrism, used in the
preparation of baptismal water in the ceremonies of Baptism,
Confirmation, and at the consecration of a bishop, of churches, altars,
bells and chalices. The olive oil used should remind us of Our Saviour's
passion in the Garden of Olives.
Agnus Deis (blessed by the Pope), scapulars, and medals are small
articles worn by Catholics to remind them of Our Lord (the Lamb of God),
of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints. They are emblems of the
Christian, as the starry banner is the emblem of the American; and as
the flag of our country shows that we are under the protection of the
Government of the United States, so the Agnus Dei, scapulars, and medals
show that we are under the protection of Jesus Christ, His Blessed
Mother, and His saints.
Prayer is the elevation of our mind and heart to God to ask Him for
all blessings, temporal and spiritual. Prayer is necessary to salvation.
We are taught in St. Luke (xviii.) to pray always and faint not. We
should pray with attention and devotion, with confidence and humility.
We are told in the Lord's Prayer to pray for others as well as for
ourselves, and God's choicest blessings will be granted us through Jesus
Christ Our Lord. The best of all prayers is the one God taught us--the
Lord's Prayer. Other prayers common in the Church are Litanies,
Rosaries, the Angelus, Stations, and the Funeral Service for the dead.
The Litanies most in use in the Church are the Litany of All Saints, of
the Blessed Virgin, of the Holy Name of Jesus. In these Litanies we ask
God to have mercy on us and the saints to pray for us; but we ask
everything through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Few practices of the Church
are more widespread than the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin. It consists
of the best of all prayers--the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, three
Hail Marys, and the Glory be to the Father; then the Our Father and ten
Hail Marys repeated five times. This constitutes the beads, or one-third
part of the Rosary. During the recitation of these prayers the mind
should be occupied meditating on the principal mysteries of the life of
Our Lord. These mysteries are divided into the five joyful mysteries:
the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel, the Visitation of the Blessed
Virgin to St. Elizabeth, the Birth of Our Lord, the Presentation, and
the Finding in the Temple; the five sorrowful mysteries: the Agony in
the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the
Cross, and the Crucifixion; and the five glorious mysteries: the
Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and the Crowning of the Blessed Virgin
in heaven. Any one of these mysteries furnishes sufficient material to
occupy the mind of man for hours. These mysteries contain the whole
history of the Redemption. The prayers and meditations of the Rosary
satisfy the minds of the humblest, while they are sufficient to occupy
the attention of the most exalted and most cultivated. The Angelus is
a beautiful prayer, said morning, noon, and night. In Catholic countries
the bell is rung, when all cease their occupations, kneel, and recite:
"The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy
Ghost"--a Hail Mary. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord--be it done unto
me according to Thy Word"--a Hail Mary. "And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt amongst us"--a Hail Mary. The prayer: "Pour forth, we beseech
Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the
Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an
angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His
resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen." By this beautiful
practice we show in a special manner our faith in the Incarnation of Our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Stations of the Cross are fourteen paintings representing the
various stages of the passion and death of Our Redeemer. The faithful
pass from station to station and meditate upon that feature of the
passion represented by each station. Tradition tells us that from the
beginning pious pilgrims were accustomed to tread the path and bedew
with their tears the way sanctified by our Saviour on that sorrowful
journey from Pilate's tribunal to Calvary's heights. But Jerusalem
falling into the hands of infidels, and many being unable to visit those
holy places, permission was obtained to erect in churches fourteen
crosses and pictures commemorating these sorrowful acts. From these
stations all can meditate upon the sufferings of our Saviour, and learn
from Him submission to God's holy will, patience, charity, and
forgiveness of injuries.
The funeral service of the Catholic Church is beautiful, touching, and
instructive. After blessing, strengthening, and encouraging us through
life with her sacraments; after fortifying our souls for the last great
struggle, she follows us beyond the grave with her blessings, her
prayers, and her sacrifices. "Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord," she
prays; "and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in
There are various other prayers and blessings used by the Church on
special occasions. In fact, the Church blesses everything she uses. This
blessing of the priest is not such an absurd thing as some imagine it to
be; it is rather a most reasonable practice. It is simply a prayer said
by the priest, asking God to send His blessing upon the person or thing
indicated. People of all denominations say grace before meals, asking
God to bless the food they are about to use. This is precisely what the
priest does when blessing anything. He uses different forms of prayer
ordained by the Church to implore God's blessing upon the water,
candles, and other things before using them. This blessing of churches,
water, candles, and other things has its foundation on Scripture. We
read in the Old Testament of the solemn blessing of the Temple of
Solomon. St. Paul tells us that "every creature is sanctified by the
word of God and prayer." Churches, water, candles, bells, books,
persons, and other things blessed by the Church are creatures. Therefore
we are following St. Paul in blessing them, for every creature is
sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
We do not claim that those articles that are blessed have any efficacy
in themselves; but we hope and pray that God in His infinite goodness
and mercy may render those blessed articles beneficial to those using
them, may protect them and lead them to His blessed abode above, where
all is peace and light and love.