Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz

The Sacramentals


The Sacramentals are rites which resemble the sacraments externally. The name is applied to both the blessing or consecration given by the Church and to the objects blessed or consecrated. The name sacramental comes from the word sacrament, partly because the sacramentals stand in close intimacy with the sacraments and partly because they resemble the sacraments. Both have the outward signs with which supernatural power is united. They are, however, essentially different, the sacramentals impart only the grace of assistance, while the sacraments impart or increase sanctifying grace. The sacraments have infallible efficacy, whereas the efficacy of the sacramental depends upon the pious disposition of the recipient. The use of the sacraments is strictly commanded, but the use of the sacramentals is only recommended.

2. Although the use of the sacramentals is not strictly commanded, they are nevertheless indispensable. We use them:

a) When we receive the sacraments. We should advance to meet the grace of the sacraments; the Church assists us by various sacramentals, which prepare our hearts, or impress these graces deeper upon them.

b) For the same reason sacramentals are united with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so that by their help we may the more easily participate in the Holy Sacrifice and obtain its graces.

c) In the course of the year sacramentals are ordered to be observed at every great festal season. The faithful thereby receive a fuller comprehension of this holy season, and also a greater participation of the graces.

d) The graces of the Redemption should penetrate every state and condition of life. The sacramentals are the channels through which these graces are imparted to the soul for its purification and sanctification.

e) Even inanimate creatures which nevertheless were laden with the curse of sin, shall through the sacramentals receive the blessings of the Redemption, so that they may not be a hindrance but an assistance in the way of salvation.

f) Everything that belongs specially to the Divine Service—churches, altars, chalices, vestments, etc., must be withdrawn from the dominion of sin; they must be replete with blessings and given up entirely to the service of God. This is accomplished by the sacramentals.

3. Christ Himself instituted the sacramentals—He imparted blessings; He blessed children and the sick, bread and fish, etc. He conferred this power upon: His Apostles, when He commanded them to bless the houses which they entered, and instructed them to cast out devils, to heal the sick, etc. The Apostles did as commanded, and rejoiced at the wonderful results: this power exercised by Christ and transmitted to the Apostles, to bless and to cast out devils, is continued by the Church in the sacramentals.

All the sacramentals revert to the Holy Name of Jesus and the sign of the Cross. Christ taught the faithful to ask in His name, and promised them they would then receive everything. He told them they could cast out devils, and perform miracles in His name. And the Apostles did so; they performed innumerable miracles in His name. The sign of the Cross has been used with all the sacramentals since the time of the Apostles.

4. Christ left it to His Church to prescribe the formulas for the sacramentals. We can see by several of them that they are of Apostolic origin, viz., the blessing of Baptismal Water, the oil of Baptism, churches, sacred vessels, Holy Water, etc. The other sacramentals owe their origin to early Christian times.

5. The efficacy of the sacramentals differs according to the object to which they are applied, and is generally expressed in the prescribed prayers of each sacramental. The effects are chiefly:

a) Man and his temporal possessions are freed from or guarded against the power of Satan.

b) Sickness, bodily evils and injury to our possessions can be averted thereby, as well as worldly prosperity increased.

c) The soul is strengthened against temptations or' entirely freed from them; venial sins can be forgiven and the temporal punishment remitted.

d) They effect a salutary disposition of the soul, and make it more susceptible to future graces; therefore they are used in administering the sacraments, and they may even effect the conversion of a sinner.

e) All the circumstances of life, the entire work of the day can be sanctified by the sacramentals.

f) Animate and inanimate creatures may, through the sacramentals, be consecrated to the service of God.

6. The efficacy of the sacramentals proceeds from the power to bless, which Christ beceathed to His Church. That this blessing may be beneficial to man he must co-operate with this grace, that it may find entrance into his heart. The more his heart is filled with faith and confidence, with humility and contrition, the more will the sacramentals manifest their efficacy. In how far they dispense temporal blessings, depends upon whether the blessing be salutary for his salvation or not.

7. The power to dispense the sacramentals is vested in the Sacred Ministry, still, the Church has restricted the power of priests by reserving certain exorcisms and benedictions to bishops, but several of these cases may be performed by the priest when delegated by the bishop. Such consecrations in which anointing is used, the bishop alone must perform; in extreme cases only the Pope may give a priest the faculties, for example, to missionaries. A few consecrations are reserved to the Pope alone, viz., the blessing of the Pallium, the Agnus Dei, etc.

8. The receiver of the sacramentals must be a person, for objects are blessed only for the bodily or spiritual welfare of man. He must be a faithful Catholic Christian, in order to have the right disposition for the use of the sacramentals.

The right disposition consists in being in the state of grace, or at least contrite of heart, penetrated with faith, and confidence in Christ and His holy Church, and reconciled to the Divine Will.

Ritual of the Sacramentals

1. Some blessings cannot be performed except in the church and at the altar. In this case the priest vested with surplice and stole, and on some very solemn occasions with cope also, always of the color of the day or of a color specially prescribed, stands at the Epistle side; the articles to be blessed should be placed on a table close by, not on the altar, vestments and vessels destined for Divine Service, however, excepted.

2. The priest stands, because he is Christ's representative, commissioned by the Church.

3. Every blessing begins with the words: "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Then the priest makes the sign of the Cross.

The strength and efficacy of all the sacramentals rest upon the supplication of the name of God and the sign of the Cross.

4. Then follows the salutation: "The Lord be with thee, and with thy spirit."

5. The priest prays with joined hands to denote the humble supplication contained in every blessing.

6. The sign of the Cross is made once or oftener during the blessing; the name of God is also called upon, because this is the source of all blessings.

7. Finally, the object to be blessed is sprinkled with Holy Water in the form of a Cross. To this object the same power and efficacy are imparted, which the blessing of the Church imparts to Holy Water.

8. In some solemn blessings Incense is used; and in several solemn consecrations the bishop anoints with Holy Oil, indicating thereby not alone the fullness of the grace of the Holy Ghost but also that this same grace is, in a measure, imparted. The sprinkling with Holy Water, the use of Incense and Holy Oil, show us the fundamental effects of the sacramentals—purification, sanctification and consecration.

Classification of the Sacramentals

1. The Sacramentals may be divided according to their use and efficacy, into the following:

a)   Exorcism, which liberates from the power of Satan and frees from sin,
b)   Benedictions, which impart, furthermore, sanctity, graces and blessings,
c)   Consecrations, which beside the efficacies just mentioned, consecrate a person or thing to the service of God.


1. By the sin of our first parents Satan obtained power over mankind and all nature. Christ, it is true, conquered Satan, but as far as it concerns us, the conflict is not ended and therefore the influence of Satan is not entirely lost or destroyed.

The Evil Spirit can, God permitting, obtain power over the body of man, and through the body obtain power partly over the soul; this dominion of Satan over the body is called "possession."

2. The Church confronts this power of Satan by exorcism, which consists in commanding the devil to depart in the name of Christ, that he may not injure body or soul.

3. The Church makes use of exorcism for a threefold purpose, viz.:

a)   To withdraw the power of Satan from every object used in connection with the Divine Service, and to make it inacessible to his influence, viz., Holy Water.
b)   To lessen or destroy the injurious influence Satan has upon the soul or worldly possessions.
c)   To liberate those possessed, from the thraldom of Satan.

4. Christ Himself cast out devils, and gave His disciples also the power to do so. Ever since, the Church has made use of this power, and has made that of Exorcist one of the Minor Orders. To avoid abuse, the exercise of this power has been in later times restricted to priests; and even they in important cases, require special permission from the bishop.

5. Exorcism is a spiritual combat with the powers of darkness; therefore the priest must employ all his moral strength against Satan, consequently, he should begin the exorcism only after a careful preparation, with faith and confidence in God, patiently continued to the end.

6. The Church commands great caution in the use of exorcism. Every unusual phenomenon should not be attributed to Satan, but should be carefully tested by natural means, and all superstition and suspicion conscientiously, avoided.

Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

1. The public prayers of the Church, other than those in the great Sacrifice of the Mass, are contained in the Breviary. The whole Office for each day consists of Matins and Lauds; Prime, Tierce, Sext and None (the prayers for the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours, the old Roman division of the day); Vespers and Compline. This Office was originally chanted daily by the faithful, and is still chanted by some religious Orders, the preservers of primitive tradition and fervor. It is daily recited by the Clergy; and on Sundays and Holydays the Vespers are publicly chanted as part of the solemn worship of the day, to enable the faithful to join in so holy and venerable a form of prayer.

2. All the parts of the Office consist of Psalm's and Canticles from the Holy Scripture, with lessons also from Scripture, or the Holy Fathers, and appropriate to the day.

The Psalms in the Vespers for Sunday are the loath and the following, including the 113th, although very frequently the 116th is substituted for the last of these. This series of Psalms is most suitable to the ordinary wants of the Church on her weekly festivals. The first is a kind of commemoration of all the great Mysteries of our Redemption; the second alludes to the praise of God in the congregation; the third commemorates the graces and privileges of the Just; the fourth is a Psalm of praise, as is also that substituted occasionally for the fifth; the fifth celebrates the deliverance of the . Israelites from Egyptian bondage. All are prophecies of our Lord and of His Immaculate Mother, as well as of the Church. In them we sing the praises of Christ, our Lord, as Priest forever, offering Sacrifice, like Melchisedech, in the form of bread and wine; as Lord of lords and King of kings; as true to His promises of ever abiding by His Church, investing her with miraculous powers; and ever spreading the mystic Banquet; in them we praise Him as our redeemer and our God whom we adore; in them we praise that immaculate Virgin—the joyful mother of children—and with her raise our hearts and voices to glorify God.

3. It is not, then, an unmeaning Service, but one most appropriate and consoling. Hence, though it is not of obligation to attend Vespers, as it is to hear Mass, all the saints and spiritual writers of the Church urge the faithful to be present at this Office with piety and devotion. For there is always more benefit and comfort to be derived from the public Offices of the church than from private devotions, God having ordained that Communion of prayers should always have the preference.

4. In this country Benediction usually follows Vespers. After the final Antiphon of the Blessed Virgin is said, the Priest, vested in surplice, stole, and cope goes up to the altar, while the choir sings the O Salutaris Hestia; and opening the Tabernacle, he makes a genuflection, and taking out a consecrated Host enclosed in a kind of locket called a luna, places this in the centre of the Monstrance or Ostensorium—a stand of gold or silver, with rays like the sun. He then descends to the foot of the altar, and puts incense into the censer; kneeling again, he receives the censer from the hand of. the acolyte, and incenses the Adorable Host. When the choir sings the second line of the Tantum ergo, all bow humbly down, and then, during the Genitori, the priest again incenses the Blessed Sacrament.

As soon as the choir has ended the hymn the Priest chants the Versicle; and after the Response he chants the prayer of the Blessed Sacrament, and sometimes another prayer. He then kneels again, and a veil is placed around his shoulders, after which he ascends again to the altar, and, making a genuflection, takes the Monstrance, and, turning to the people, gives the Benediction in silence, making the sign of the cross over the kneeling congregation.

Replacing the Host in the Tabernacle, he descends, and, preceded by his assistants, retires, while the choir chants the 116th Psalm, Laudate Dominun omnes gentes, or some other Psalm or Canticle permitted by the usage of the place.