Our 5th grade is studying the sacraments and sacramentals and they raised some interesting questions with me this week.
There is an online version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has relatively little to say about sacramentals. It names "blessings" as the most important sacramental and as you may know, there is an entire Book of Blessings with readings and prayers for various kinds of blessings.Strangely enough, exorcisms are treated in the same section as sacramental blessings.
The catechism then states:
" The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals,180 etc."
While enthusiasm for some sacramentals waned and was even discouraged after Vatican II, a proper use of sacramentals in our daily life seems to be developing. It's interesting in this day and age of collecting autographs and memorabilia of all kinds, tracing anecestry and innumberable other ways of making connections with our world, that the proper use of sacramentals isn't endorsed and ecouraged more frequently.
One practice I remember as a child was that of keeping (and using) holy water in the home. My grandmother always had some in a special glass-stoppered bottle. Many families kept small holy water stoups in the children's bedrooms to use when blessing themselves for night prayer, or leaving for the day of school. The holy water was dutifully replenished from the font in the church each week.
At Holy Cross we give a small bottle of baptismal water to each family from the baptismal font on the day of their infant's baptism.
An inappropriate use of sacramentals draws attention away from the priority of the sacraments themselves and can flirt with superstitious practice. The sacramentals themselves have no power and our use of them should be quite distinct from practitioners of the occult who believe that the use of certain items along with precise incantations and rituals guarantee certain results, e.g. love potions, magic spells, curses, etc.
Proper use of sacramentals focuses attention to the grace flowing from the sacraments themselves and to Jesus Christ and His Church. They help us weave a sacred theme into our daily lives and elevate our minds and hearts to God.