SACRAMENTS AND SACRAMENTALS
Last week we concluded our studies by saying that sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace. The grace transmitted is not dependent on the holiness of the priest, but it does require proper dispositions from the receiver.
Today we move on to what the Church calls “sacramentals.” Here is how the Church defines sacramentals:
1667 “Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”
The characteristics of sacramentals
1668 Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. In accordance with bishops’ pastoral decisions, they can also respond to the needs, culture, and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism).
1670 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. “For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”
One way to describe sacramentals is that they are extensions of the sacraments. They are not sacraments in themselves, but are related to each of the seven sacraments and flow from them. Sacramentals were instituted by the Church to show how Christ came into the world to redeem every facet of life. Sacramentals are oriented to the sacraments and are meant to lead us to them.
There is no fixed number of sacramentals, as they are instituted by the Church. They can fluctuate over the years and can be added onto. All through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, sacramentals do not confer grace in the same way as the sacraments. They work through the work and prayers of the Church (ex opere operantis Ecclesiae) and ex opere operantis, “by the work of the doer.” This means that the grace put forth by God is more dependent on the disposition of the person performing the act than is needed for the sacraments.
To be continued…
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