ALICE VON HILDEBRAND
September 30, 2004
Someone close to me, noticing that I was wearing a scapular, exclaimed with a mixture of pity and contempt, “I did not know that you were superstitious.” This grieved me deeply: even though she was raised before Vatican II, she has been so influenced by the spirit of the time that, following the current fashion, she has discarded many of the holy customs of the Holy Church.
Today, young converts have little chance of ever hearing the word “sacramental” while taking religious instructions. A friend of mine, a recent convert, expressed surprise when I happened to mention the word. I explained to her that Holy Church, in her loving care for our souls, puts all sorts of means at our disposal to fight daily temptations and achieve victory over the Evil One.
My friend knew about the seven sacraments, but she had no idea that throughout the day our Mother offers us means of overcoming the stumbling blocks which we all encounter daily. Whereas the seven sacraments have been instituted by Christ, sacramentals which—like sacraments—are exterior signs, have been instituted by the Church. Their reverent use draws upon us God’s grace and protects us from dangers. But while the sacraments do produce grace ex opere operato, this is not the case with sacramentals. They only help us to obtain it; their efficacy depends upon the disposition of those who use them and comes from the blessing given by the Church to some objects and from the reverent attitude of those using them.
The Bible tells us that the good man falls seven times a day. What should be said of us?
All Catholic homes should have holy water—it is a powerful help to overcome anger, irritation, impatience, temptations, and evil thoughts.
The Devil hates it, and St. Teresa of Avila used it frequently to put him to flight. Needless to say, it is to be traced back to Judaism: the Jews were told to purify themselves with water before entering the Temple. Not only is it a powerful means against the attacks of the Evil One, but moreover, it purifies us of our venial faults when we are truly contrite and repentant.
Blessed incense is also a sacramental. It is used in solemn services, but not only to honor the faithful but mainly to purify them.
Blessed candles are lit during severe storms, and placed in the hands of the dying. The day of their blessing is February 2.
The palms blessed in Palm Sunday are endowed with the same virtue. They should be kept in every Catholic home.
The ashes placed on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday enjoy the same privilege.
The “Confiteor” is recited at the beginning of Mass (in the Tridentine liturgy it is first recited by the priest and then by the faithful) as a means of purification. It also used to be repeated before receiving Holy Communion. The blessings given by bishops and priests are also a sacramental. Crucifixes, medals, and scapulars also grant us the same help.
It is sad indeed that millions of Catholics today are no longer aware of the privileges that their faith grants them. How many temptations could be overcome, how many evil thoughts could be banished if they only knew that their Mother—the Church—has put all these means at their disposal.
May parish priests once again teach the faithful that divine help is always available to those willing to accept help: all they need do is gratefully use it. The Evil One, like a roaring lion, is always seeking for prey to devour. This truth is, alas, forgotten today.
Art from custom brown wool scapulars.