Catholic Activity: Sacramentals and Blessings
Father Francis X. Weiser explains sacramentals and the importance of blessings within the home.
The "little sacraments" or sacramentals do not confer grace as the sacraments do, but they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. Blessings and sacramentals should be incorporated in the family prayer life.
By giving the Church seven sacraments, our Lord provided us with the great means of grace through which the "living waters" of His redemption and sanctification are to flow into the hearts and lives of all Christians. To this treasure of the "big" sacraments the Church has added a large number of what we might call "little sacraments," which are named sacramentals. She instituted them in the power granted her by Christ when He said: "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).
What is a Sacramental?
The sacramental consists either of a thing which has been "made holy" by a rite of the liturgy (like holy water), or of an action which is liturgically performed (like the imposition of the priest's hand before baptism). In the past, sacramentals could be made, or officially administered only by ordained ministers of the Church. Lay people could not "make" sacramentals, they could only use or apply them in their homes. Now, however, lay people, too, will be able to make and perform sacramentals in a true liturgical action. The Second Vatican Council has decided to give such powers to the laity. Here are the words of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy issued by the Council: "Let provisions be made that some sacramentals, at least in special circumstances and at the direction of the ordinary (bishop) may be administered by qualified lay persons" (III, 79).
The Purpose of Sacramentals
Why did the Church establish sacramentals, and how do they work? They are means of receiving actual graces (strength, consolation, sanctification, blessing) when they are devoutly received or used. They also have a spiritual power, given by the Church, of protecting the faithful against various evils of body and soul. Finally, they effect the remission of venial sins by virtue of the prayers of the Church and of those who use them.
The sacramentals exercise their helping and sanctifying power only when they are received or used with sincere faith and devotion. They are not working by a kind of blind "magic." The wearing of a medal around your neck, or the little statue in your car, can do you no good just by being there unless you have a spirit of devotion and confidence in the loving intercession of the saints whom they represent and, above all, in the merciful providence of our heavenly Father to whom you look up in humble appeal for His protection and guidance.
Sacramentals in the Home
The pious practices which we call "religious customs in the home" comprise the use of many sacramentals of the Church, and you will find them described and explained on the following pages of this book. A special place among these sacramentals and customs is occupied by various blessings. With prayer, with the sign of the Cross, and sometimes also with other actions, the Church sanctifies things and persons and endows them with great spiritual gifts. She allows and encourages the faithful to use such blessings and blessed things, not only in the house of God but also in the Christian home.
In ancient times lay people made a great and joyful usage of these blessings and sacramentals in their daily lives. In our day, many Christian families have lost this treasure of grace and help — a fact that is eloquently described and deplored by Monsignor Martin Hellriegel in one of his writings (Foreword to the booklet, With the Blessing of the Church, by Bishop J.H. Schlarman, 1946, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, p. 3):
Would to God we moderns possessed more of the living faith of the early Christians. But we have become so worldly, so secularized. A terrible divorce has taken place between the altar and the home, between man''s worship of God at the altar and man''s service of God in everyday life. A ''doubletrack'' living has developed, one with Christ once a week, and another without Christ throughout the week. . . . In olden days pagan houses were turned into Christian homes, but during the past hundred and fifty years Christian homes have again become pagan houses. Because we have failed to preserve the divine contact between altar and home, many a home has become just a house for people to eat and sleep in.
Activity Source: Year of the Lord in the Christian Home, The (reprinted as Religious Customs in the Family) by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., The Liturgical Press; reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, 1964