“Catholics live in an enchanted world: a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are merely hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. The world of the Catholic is haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of Grace”1.
I’m a cradle Catholic, 56 years of age. I have stayed Catholic by myself even while my family of origin and many of my close relatives left the church some 40 years ago. I’ve stayed because I am in love with Jesus, my Beloved King and his holy and glorious Church that has always sustained, nourished and comforted me. I’ve been asked more than once about the “smells and bells” of Catholicism and those ‘things” we call sacramentals. Just what are they and why do we need them?
Sacramentals are found in two categories: tangible items such as the ones listed in the above quote by Andrew Greeley (plus many more!) and sacred actions as well — The Stations of the Cross, pilgrimages, processions, May Crownings of the Virgin Mary to name a few — although they are also classified as popular piety and/or devotionals. What they all have in common is that they can bring us closer to God in prayer and help us to focus. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter noted as CCC), “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 (#1667). However, “Sacraments 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” (#1670). Therefore they have no power of their own.
Sacramentals should always be blessed — either by a priest, deacon or bishop — with the Sign of the Cross, the sprinkling of holy water or by the laying on of hands. Blessings take less than a minute. In purchasing a sacramental for yourself or someone else, they can only be blessed after the purchase for blessed items cannot be sold. Blessed items that have been torn or otherwise marred should be wrapped carefully and simply placed in the trash. If you simply have too many rosaries and the like, leave them on a back table in the church or bring them to a hospital chaplain or a nursing home or give to a soldier. I keep some in my car along with small pamphlets on how to pray the Rosary. This mini-series is to help in explaining some of the many of the sacramentals that we use.
One of the most popular (and least understood) of the sacramentals, is a gift of the Virgin Mary herself to us by way of the 12th century saint, Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the religious community known as the Dominicans. Dominic had great devotion to the Sweet Virgin Mary. After he was ordained a priest he had gone out to preach the faith to the Albigenses — a very heretical group — and he was unable to win many converts. Discouraged, he went to the Virgin Mary in prayer who instructed him thus:
‘Wonder not that you have obtained so little fruit by your labors, you have spent them on barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Therefore preach my Psalter composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers, and you will obtain an abundant harvest’2.
The Angelic Salutation Mary speaks of is from Luke 1:28 — “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”. The Rosary is comprised of 20 mysteries of the life of Jesus — from the announcement of his birth (the Annunciation) to the mystery of Jesus’ True and Substantial Presence — Body, blood, soul and divinity — in the Holy Eucharist. These 20 mysteries are divided into 4 categories: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful, the glorious and the Luminous Mysteries. Each category is five mysteries. If you do the math, you will see that there should now be 200 Angelic Salutations said.
Saint Pope John Paul II added the five Luminous Mysteries on the occasion of the 24th year of his pontificate on October 16th, 2002. From there, each set of mysteries is further divided into decades –each with 10 Hail Mary’s — Angelic Salutations. An Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer) starts each decade and the highly Trinitarian prayer of the Glory Be finishes each decade.
What makes this sacramental misunderstood is that so many of our Protestant brothers and sisters view this devotion as a means of worshipping Mary and of vain, repetitive prayer: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words”3. In announcing the new set of the Luminous Mysteries, St. Pope John Paul II wrote this is his Apostolic Letter: “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium…With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love”4. The Rosary, then, is a meditation on the life of Jesus.
This great devotional is the prayer of great saints, high intellectuals and of the uneducated pious. It is prayed while kneeling, sitting, while walking, driving; it is prayed alone or in groups. the best way to pray it is devoutly and meditatively. It should not be said at the same “speed” as a litany for it is not a litany. While one recites the Hail Mary’s (also called Ave’s by some who refer to the Hail Mary in Latin), the mind should be on the particular mystery at hand. “One Hail Mary well said gives us more graces than a thousand thoughtlessly said”5, according to Our Lady’s Warriors.
Many great miracles and graces have been wrought by way of this most sublime prayer. If it has been given to us by Mary herself as a way to her generous heart, should we not grow desirous in wishing to bestow this crown on our sweet Mother?
3. Mt. 6:7
About Cynthia Trainque
Cynthia Trainque is an author who is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Ministry (MAM) for the Laity at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA. She has served the church for several years as a worker, writer, and volunteer and is presently an active member of Our Lady of the Lake in Leominster, MA. She has a great love of sacred art and objects and enjoys photographing them. She may be contacted at Catherineofsienamedia@yahoo.com.