As the above quote from the Catechism states, sacramentals are are sacred signs given to the Church for the benefit of its members. As humans, we naturally long for tangible signs. Thus sacramentals are similar to the Sacraments - although to a lesser degree - both are physical reminders of God's grace sanctifying our daily lives. Sacramentals can be objects such as holy water, sacred art, crucifixes, and medals, or actions such as the sign of the cross, blessings, and exorcisms.
Sacramentals are not superstitions, and should never be treated as such. Wearing a miraculous medal or sprinkling holy water will not make God and the saints act in a certain way. Rather, sacramentals encourage devotion to God and the saints, and remind us of God's faithfulness and love. The Catechism clarifies: "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it." (CCC 1670)
Over the next newsletter, we will take a look at three Marian sacramentals:
Miraculous medal - In Paris, France, 1830, Sister Catherine Labouré of the Daughters of Charity was awakened in the middle of the night by a small child. The child told Catherine to go the chapel; once there she saw an apparition of Our Lady, who spoke saying:
"God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world. Come to the foot of the altar. Graces will be shed on all, great and little, especially upon those who seek them."
Over the course of the year, St. Catherine received two more visions of Mary, who asked to have a medal created in her likeness. Our Lady promised that great graces would be given to those who wore the medal. St. Catherine took this request to her spiritual director, and after two years of investigation, the first medals were struck. Catherine described the image of the lady who appeared to her.
"Her height was medium and her countenance, indescribably beautiful. She was dressed in a robe the color of the dawn, high-necked, with plain sleeves. Her head was covered with a white veil, which floated over Her shoulders down to her feet. Her feet rested upon a globe, or rather one half of a globe, for that was all that could be seen. Her hands which were on a level with her waist, held in an easy manner another globe, a figure of the world. Her eyes were raised to Heaven, and her countenance beamed with light as She offered the globe to Our Lord."
On the medal, rays of light are emitted from Mary's fingers, a sign of graces being given to those who ask for them. Along the boarder of the medal is the text: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." On the back of the medal is a large "M" entwined with a cross, as well as the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Twelve stars represent the twelves tribes of Judah, the twelve apostles, and perhaps most importantly, identify Mary as the women in Revelation.
"And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." (Revelation 12:1)
Originally called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, the Miraculous Medal has become one of the most commonly worn sacramentals in the Church. As its name suggests, many conversions, healings, and other miraculous occurrences have been attributed to the medal. One well-know conversion is that of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a militantly anti-Catholic Jew who agreed to wear the Miraculous Medal and recited the Memorare once a day as a dare. He received a vision of Mary, and converted to Catholicism, becoming a Jesuit Priest.
St. Catherine Labouré's body remains incorrupt in the Paris chapel at Rue du Bac, which is visited by devout pilgrims.
What has been your experience with sacramentals?
If you think you may be called to become a Mercedarian Sister of the Blessed Sacrament, take our simple Test Your Call survey at http://mercedariansisters.org/
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Sr. Jeanette Marie, HMSS