Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Sacramentals II

A sacramental is anything (material object, time, space, ritual) set apart and blessed by the Church to "excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin." (Baltimore Catechism). It is a sacred sign, the use of which disposes us to receive the grace of the Sacraments and which helps make various aspects of our lives holy.

They are not talismans, magic rituals, or "good luck charms" which give us power over God and His creation; their power derives from Grace of God, through the Church's prayers and the piety they dispose one to. In other words, unlike the seven Sacraments, which were instituted by Christ Himself and which operate ex opere operato -- or by their very form, matter and ministerial intent -- sacramentals, most of which were instituted by the authority of the Church, operate ex opere operantis, that is, their effectiveness relies on the devotion of the individual. However, as signs of the individual's prayers and piety, and because of the power of God to sanctify material things, and space, and time for our benefit, they are powerful and drive away Evil Spirit when properly used.

The use of sacramentals is one of the most obvious differences between us and Protestants. While most types of Protestantism see a radical divide between body, on one hand, and the soul on the other, Catholicism sees the human person as an integrated unity of body and soul (a hierarchical unity with the soul of prime importance). We know that:

  • what affects the soul affects the body, and
  • what affects the body affects the soul

We are not souls trapped in totally vile flesh; we are enfleshed souls, i.e., our bodies are part of who we are, which is why our sex ("gender," as they say) matters as a fundamental aspect of our personhood and why ritual, chastity, corporal works of mercy, etc., are so important. God did not create us with flesh as some sort of cruel joke. And He does not expect us to behave and think as Gnostics, treating the material as unimportant or believing it to be inherently evil. He saw His creation and called it good -- but we are born lacking grace because of the sin of Adam. We are to overcome that state by co-operating with the saving grace of Jesus Christ, through faith, the Sacraments, and charity. Sacramentals help us do this.

Think this is silly?

Our society mocks Catholic ritual -- but understands the importance of ritual really well all of a sudden when it comes to saluting the flag; having turkey on Thanksgiving -- and expecting the President of the United States to issue a "pardon" to one of these creatures each year; setting up a Christmas tree at the Nativity; going to graduations, funerals and weddings; celebrating birthdays; marching in parades; doing "the wave" at football games; joining a fraternity or sorority; buying your girl some roses and chocolates for St. Valentine's Day; 21-gun salutes , riderless horses, and fly-overs at the funerals of soldiers, cops, and Presidents; loving the pomp and circumstance of the opening of the British Parliament; hearing "Gentlemen, start your engines!" before the Indy 500; gathering in Times Square to watch the ball fall on New Year's Eve, and then eating a bowl of black-eyed peas the next day; checking for "monsters" under your daughter's bed after reading her a goodnight story; having breakfast with the newspaper after the morning shower, never before, etc.

We understand the incredible power of the visual when it comes to TV, movies, and magazines -- but not when it comes to signs of the True, Good, and Holy. Why, it's common knowledge that a picture of a sexy 22-yr. old girl can make most men weak in the knees (how much do supermodels make?) and inspire him to commit acts of lust, but God forbid anyone should entertain the "quaint" notion that a Crucifix could inspire a person to think of his redemption and then on to acts of charity. Millions of dollars are spent for 30-second ad spots during Super Bowl games, but we should mock the idea of encouraging religious art, I guess.

Of course, it's just silly to think of a place being sacred -- unless it comes to taking your wife on your anniversary to the place you first met; finding out someone desecrated your mother's grave; visiting a site like Ellis Island, Auschwitz, or your childhood home; feeling "raped" after a burglar invades your house; or maybe showing some respect for the "sacred spaces" of more "exotic" religions, like those of the Native Americans or the Jews. The Black Hills? Sacred! The Wailing Wall and Holy of Holies? Sacred! The sanctuary of a Catholic church? Don't be ridiculous; that's superstition!

And, man, everyone knows that gestures don't mean a thing -- unless you're a woman doing "the hair toss," a guy flashing gang signs, or you just got shown the middle finger in traffic.

Are we schizophrenic or what?

Defense of Catholicism