Browsing Amen Corner

Amen Corner - September 13, 2020

My mother often expressed her Catholic faith in ways that were subtle but sure. For example, whenever a piece of food that had been blessed fell on the floor, she would pick it up and reverence it with a kiss. Whenever we would drive by a Catholic church, she would make the sign of the cross. Whenever Palm Sunday arrived, she would loop a palm around the crucifix that hung in her bedroom and then would burn that palm in the garden the following year. These small acts of devotion told us that church wasn’t the only place where God was found. God was revealed in the smallest piece of blessed food, in the sign of the cross, and in a palm branch that had been sprinkled with holy water. These actions and objects are part of what the Church calls “sacramentals”.

Sacraments vs. Sacramentals

Sacraments were instituted by Christ and have their roots in Scripture and in the apostolic traditions. Sacramentals, on the other hand, were not instituted by Christ, and do not share the same pride of place. Like sacraments, sacramentals are sacred signs. They too point to a spiritual reality beyond what meets the eye. Sacramentals prepare the faithful to celebrate the sacraments, and many sacramentals are instrumental to those very celebrations. For example, holy water is used at Baptism. Blessed oil is used at Confirmation, at Ordination and in the Anointing of the Sick.


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Among sacramentals, blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first.” Catholics love blessings! Blessings are assurances of God’s presence and protection. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s favor bestowed in the form of a blessing. The Bible begins with God creating the earth and blessing all living creatures. In the gospels, Jesus is often seen blessing others, especially children.

One of the first things we do when we walk into church is to bless ourselves with holy water from the baptismal font. This is only one of several blessings we experience at Mass.  The deacon is blessed before he proclaims the Gospel. At the end of Mass, the entire community is sent forth with a blessing. Oils are blessed at the Chrism Mass, and a newly married couple is blessed after they’ve bestowed the sacrament on each other.

We even have an official ritual book known as the Book of Blessings. This book contains a compilation of blessings pertaining to people, objects, and various occasions, as well as blessings and services connected with official parish events. There are blessings for students and teachers, blessings for travelers, blessings for homes and offices, even blessings for boats and fishing gear. This tells us that everything, even fishing equipment comes from God and is sacred. Blessings are a way for us to acknowledge this reality.

Who can bless? Certain blessings are reserved for ordained ministers, but many blessings, such as the blessing of children by their parents or the blessing of a meal, may be performed by laypersons because of the priesthood bestowed on them in baptism. As the Catechism reminds us, “Every baptized person is to be a blessing and to bless.” A blessing is not simply meant to rest upon the person receiving the blessing but is expected to be shared with others.

That same idea applies to objects that are blessed. Incense that is blessed is then used to venerate the faithful, the Book of the Gospels, the Altar and the gifts, and the deceased at a funeral. The fire at the Easter Vigil is blessed and from that fire the Paschal Candle is lit and from the Paschal Candle, the candles are lit and carried in procession by the faithful.

All objects that have been blessed are treated with reverence, so It is customary to dispose of items such as palms, rosaries, and liturgical books by either burying them or burning them. Blessed candles can be melted and the wax can be used to make new candles.

Different Types of Blessings

Some blessings are more formal, such as the consecration of a person who is dedicating their life to God through a particular religious order. Objects reserved for special use, such as a church altar, are also consecrated.

An Exorcism too is considered a blessing.  It is bestowed upon a person struggling with the powers of evil. A simple exorcism is performed at baptism. Catechumens may also experience a minor exorcism as they journey to the sacraments of initiation.

Sacramental Actions

Sacred actions such as making the sign of the cross, genuflecting, kneeling, bowing the head and sprinkling with holy water are also designated as sacramentals.

Sacramentals, like sacraments, help deepen our relationship to God. They teach the faithful, as my mother taught her children, that no person or thing is outside the grace of God, that everything has the potential to encounter the divine, that every morsel of life is holy.


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