By Mike Lambrecht
Most of us use sacramentals in our lives. We use holy water upon entering or exiting the church, we recite the rosary on a set of beads, we hang crucifixes in our homes, we wear scapulars or medals, and we may even bless our children. All of these are examples of sacramentals which we can encounter and make use of in our daily lives. Nevertheless, even though we use them, we do not always understand just what makes a sacramental what it is.
Sacramentals are, “Objects or actions that the Church uses after the manner of sacraments, in order to achieve through the merits of the faithful certain effects, mainly of a spiritual nature. “1 The blessing of sacramentals always includes a prayer and usually involves the laying on of hands, sign of the cross, or sprinkling with holy water.2 “The grace of sacramentals depends on the dispositions of the recipient and the intercession of the Church.”3 In this way, sacramentals differ from the sacraments which were instituted by Christ. For, “Sacramentals 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.”4 It is by the Church’s intercession in exercising the stewardship entrusted to it, that sacramentals are given their efficacy.5 Sacramentals serve to remind us of the “holy” in our daily lives and draw our thoughts back to God even in the midst of mundane tasks. However, it is important to remember that sacramentals are not “magic charms.” For example, simply placing a blessed medal of St. Christopher in your car will have little effect if the individual using the medal views it simply as a lucky charm. An individual must be in a state of grace and have the proper disposition in order to receive the beneficial effects of a sacramental. If these conditions are met, then sacramentals can be a great aid in developing our holiness in everyday life.
Occasionally, an individual comes into my office and asks me how to dispose of a sacramental. For example, they may have a bible, a rosary, or other religious item that has been worn out, or for whatever reason has been broken, and the person feels compelled to dispose of it properly. This is a very good question since sacramentals should be treated with respect due to the fact that they have been made holy through the prayer of the Church. The first question that I always ask in such cases is whether or not the object has been blessed. If it has not been blessed, then you may simply dispose of it by throwing it away. You may want to wrap it in paper in order to avoid giving scandal to anyone who may see it in your trash. However, if the object has been blessed, then the traditional way of disposing of such sacramentals is to either bury them or burn them in a reverent manner. For example, you could dig a small hole in your backyard to place such items into or you could reverently place them in the fire the next time you are camping. On the other hand, if the object is too big or very valuable, such as in the case of a car or wedding ring, then you may remove the blessing by relegating it to secular use simply by your just intent.5 If there is doubt as to whether or not an object has been blessed, I always err on the side of caution and treat the object as if it were blessed.
1 Hardon, John A. S.J. The Modern Catholic Dictionary. Bardstown: Eternal Life, 1999.
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America. Washington D.C.: USCC, Inc.-Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000. (#1668)
3 Stravinskas, Rev. Peter. Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia. Huntington: OSV, 1998.
4 CCC #1670
5 See 1 Corinthians 4:1 (Regarding the stewardship of the Church) 6 See Code of Canon Law #1212 and Catholic Answers