Sacramentals & Tradition

Sacramentals of the Catholic Church

Miraculous Medal

Learn how to pray different Chaplets invoking intercession from different saints!

According to the Baltimore Catechism, a sacramental is anything set apart or blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin. The difference between the Sacraments and the sacramentals is:

  1. The Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and the sacramentals were instituted by the Church;
  2. The Sacraments give grace of themselves when we place no obstacle in the way; the sacramentals excite in us pious dispositions, by means of which we may obtain grace.

The chief sacramental used in the Church is the sign of the Cross. We make the sign of the Cross by putting the right hand to the forehead, then on the breast, and then to the left and right shoulders, saying, In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. We make the sign of the Cross to show that we are Christians and to profess our belief in the chief mysteries of our religion. The sign of the Cross is a profession of faith in the chief mysteries of our religion because it expresses the mysteries of the Unity and Trinity of God and of the Incarnation and death of our Lord. The words, In the name, express the Unity of God; the words that follow, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, express the mystery of the Trinity. The sign of the Cross expresses the mystery of the Incarnation by reminding us that the Son of God, having become man, suffered death on the cross.

Another sacramental in very frequent use is holy water. Holy water is water blessed by the priest with solemn prayer to beg God´s blessing on those who use it, and protection from the powers of darkness. Besides the sign of the Cross and holy water there are many other sacramentals, such as blessed candles, ashes, palms, crucifixes, images of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints, rosaries, and scapulars.

Our Lady Obtains Grace for Those Who Wear Her Scapulars

Some years ago a Missionary Bishop, Dr. Polding, was travelling in an unfrequented part of the interior of Australia. He fell ill on his way, and was nursed with admirable devotedness by a good widow. The venerable prelate, restored to health, promised her that at whatever time of the year, or in whatever place he might be, he would return at her request to administer to her the Last Sacraments.

Many years passed when, one day in autumn, a letter came begging the prelate to fulfill his promise. Without hesitation the Bishop set out on his journey. After having travelled many days he arrived at the house he had gone so far to seek. To his great astonishment he found it quite empty. While he was reflecting what he should do, his attention was arrested by the sound of a woodcutter's hatchet. He went immediately to the place whence the sound proceeded, and there he found an Irishman felling trees. Dr. Polding learned from him that the old lady, fearing some delay, had, though very ill, gone to seek spiritual help; but he could not indicate the direction she had taken. Understanding that it would be quite useless to go in search of her, the worthy Bishop sat down on the trunk of a tree, and, addressing himself to the woodcutter, said: "Well, my good man, after all, I have no intention of going back without doing something; kneel down, and I will hear your confession."

The Irishman began to excuse himself, alleging his want of preparation and his being a long time away from confession; but his scruples were overruled by the Bishop; and the woodcutter kneeling down, made a good and sincere confession, and, contrite and repentant, received the holy absolution for his sins. He promised the Bishop that he would go to the nearest chapel on the following Sunday and receive Holy Communion. The good prelate then set out on his return, but had not gone far when he heard a dull, heavy noise, followed by some feeble groans. He returned in all haste and found his penitent crushed by the fall of a tree. The poor man was unable to speak; but the confession had been made in time, and the holy anointing was immediately proceeded with, and a soul was saved.

Now, what obtained this wonderful mercy of God that a Bishop should be called to a place hundreds of miles from his residence to open the gates of Heaven for this poor man who was about to be surprised by death? It was this: The Irish woodcutter, like most of his countrymen, always wore the scapulars of the Blessed Virgin, and, wherever he was, never forgot her, and this good Mother watched over him, though far away from priest and church, and did not permit that he should die without being reconciled to her Divine Son according to her promise: "Whoever dies whilst devoutly wearing this habit shall be preserved from eternal flames."

Read more about Scapulars

Catholic Traditions

Sign of the Cross Genuflection Praying to Saints


An Indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin. An Indulgence is not a pardon of sin, nor a license to commit sin, and one who is in a state of mortal sin cannot gain an Indulgence. There are two kinds of Indulgences-Plenary and Partial. A Plenary Indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. A Partial Indulgence is the remission of a part of the temporal punishment due to sin. The Church by means of Indulgences remits the temporal punishment due to sin by applying to us the merits of Jesus Christ, and the superabundant satisfactions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints; which merits and satisfactions are its spiritual treasury. To gain an Indulgence we must be in the state of grace and perform the works enjoined.

An indulgence is the remission in whole or in part
of the temporal punishment due to sin.

The temporal punishment is, namely, the debt which we owe to God after He has forgiven our sins, and which we must pay in order that satisfaction be made. It is the value of the item we must return after we have been pardoned for the act of stealing. This punishment must be blotted out by our penance. The Church gives us an easy means of so doing, by granting us indulgences. She helps us by giving us a share in the merits of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints. All this we have explained when speaking in the Creed of the communion of saints.

An indulgence is not a pardon of sin, nor a license to commit sin, and
one who is in a state of mortal sin cannot gain an indulgence.

If you are in a state of mortal sin, you lose the merit of any good works you perform. God promises to reward us for good works, and if we are in the state of grace when we do the good works, God will keep His promise and give us the reward; but if we are in mortal sin, we have no right or claim to any reward for good works, because we are enemies of God. For this reason alone, we should never remain even for a short time in mortal sin, since it is important for us to have all the merit we can. Even when we will not repent and return to Him, God rewards us for good works done by giving us some temporal blessings or benefits here upon earth. He never allows any good work to go unrewarded any more than He allows an evil deed to go unpunished. Although God is so good to us we nevertheless lose very much by being in a state of mortal sin; for God´s grace is in some respects like the money in a bank: the more grace we receive and the better we use it, the more He will bestow upon us. When you deposit money in a savings bank, you get interest for it; and when you leave the interest also in the bank, it is added to your capital, and thus you get interest for the interest. So God not only gives us grace to do good, but also grace for doing the good, or, in other words, He gives us grace for using His grace.

A plenary indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.

"Full remission"; so that if you gained a plenary indulgence and died immediately afterwards, you would go at once to Heaven. Persons go to Purgatory to have the temporal punishment blotted out; but if you have no temporal punishment to make satisfaction for, there is no Purgatory for you. Gaining a plenary indulgence requires proper dispositions, as you may understand from its very great advantages. To gain it we must not only hate sin and be heartily sorry even for our venial sins, but we must not have a desire for even venial sin. We should always try to gain a plenary indulgence, for in so doing we always gain at least part of it, or a partial indulgence, greater or less according to our dispositions.

To gain an indulgence we must be in a state of grace
and perform the works enjoined.

"Works": to visit certain churches or altars; to give alms; to say certain prayers, etc. For a plenary indulgence it is required in addition to go to confession and Holy Communion, and to pray for the intention of our Holy Father the Pope; for this last requirement it is sufficient to recite one Our Father and one Hail Mary. Now, what does praying for the intention of the Pope or bishop or anyone else mean? It does not mean that you are to pray for the Pope himself, but for whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for. For instance, on one day the Holy Father may be praying for the success of some missions that he is establishing in pagan lands; on another, he may be praying that the enemies of the Church may not succeed in their plans against it; on another, he may be praying for the conversion of some nation, and so on; whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for is called his intention.

There are three basic ways of gaining a partial indulgence. A partial indulgence can be gained by:

1. raising one´s heart to God amidst the duties and trials of life and making a pious invocation, even only mentally;
2. giving of oneself or one´s goods to those in need;
3. voluntarily depriving oneself of something pleasing, in a spirit of penance.

A partial indulgence is also granted for reciting various well-known prayers, such as the acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition, and for performing certain acts of devotion, such as making a Spiritual Communion.

To gain an indulgence you must also have the intention of gaining it. There are many prayers that we sometimes say to which indulgences are attached, and we do not know it. How can we gain them? By making a general intention every morning while saying our prayers to gain all the indulgences we can during the day, whether we know them or not. For example, there is a partial indulgence granted us every time we devoutly make the Sign of the Cross or devoutly use an article of devotion, such as a crucifix or scapular, properly blessed by any priest. Many may not know of these indulgences; but if they have the general intention mentioned above, they will gain the indulgence every time they perform the work. In the same way, by having this intention all those who are in the habit of going to confession every two weeks are able to gain a plenary indulgence when they fulfill the other prescribed conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence, even when they do not know that they are gaining the indulgence.

Since partial indulgences were formerly designated by specific amounts of time, you sometimes see printed after a little prayer: An indulgence of forty days, or, an indulgence of one hundred days, or of a year, etc. What does that mean? Does it mean that a person who said that prayer would get out of Purgatory forty days sooner than he would have if he had not said it? No. The early Christians were obliged to do public penance for their sins; to stand at the door of the church and beg the prayers of those entering. Sometimes their penance lasted for forty days, sometimes for one hundred days, and sometimes for a longer period. By an indulgence of forty days the Church granted the remission of as much of the temporal punishment as the early Christians would have received for doing forty days´ public penance. Just how much of the temporal punishment God blotted out for forty days´ public penance we do not know; but whatever it was, God blotted out just the same for one who gained an indulgence of forty days by saying a little prayer to which the indulgence was attached. But why, you may wonder, did the early Christians do such penances? Because in those days their faith was stronger than ours, and they understood better than we do the malice of sin and the punishment it deserves. Later the Christians grew more careless about their religion and the service of God. The Church, therefore, wishing to save its children, made it easier for them to do penance. If it had continued to impose the public penances, many would not have performed them, and thus would have lost their souls.

Recommended Reading

Catholic Traditions The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions for Children's Faith Formation By What Authority? Catholic Customs and Traditions The Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions Why Is That in Tradition? Why Do Catholics Do That?