By Rev. John J. Burke.
"Pray without ceasing" (2 Thess. v. 17).
"Every creature is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4, 5).
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 various benedictions.
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 burntpalms 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 peace."
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.
This is taken from Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremonies and Practices.
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