In recent years, it seems as if sacramentals have gone out of vogue—whatever thatmeans, anyway. Someone once told me, “Those were big in the old days. No one uses them now, except little old ladies.” That comment made me really sad, because I don’t consider myself a little old lady (although some might! I finally got myself off of the AARP mailing list, thank goodness. What the heck was that all about?). I see great value in sacramentals. Rosaries, chaplets, relics, medals, holy water, blessed salt: these blessed objects are all spiritual armor that we need in our day and age now more than ever! How can we fight the battle without armor? And if you don’t believe there’s a battle, well, I guess I’ll save that for another post.
Some people think we simply don’t need sacramentals, that they are only props. I couldn’t disagree more. There’s something about holding my St. Therese chaplet in my hands when I am anxious about something, moving my hands along the beads, that gives me comfort when I say my prayers. Do I need it to say my chaplet? Of course not. But there is something so incredible about having something tangible to hold in your hand as you pray. You can even say the rosary without the beads, if you’re good at counting and keeping track in your head, which I am not.
And some say that the holy water, blessed salt, etc. is all hokum, which is also misguided. It’s as misguided as some thinking Catholics worship Mary. Again, a topic for another post. We don’t think holy water is a magic potion. We do, however, believe that since it has been blessed, it disposes us to receiving God’s grace. We are not to treat these things like superstitious objects, but the objects are now indeed different. They are not changed in the way that bread is changed into the Eucharist, but they are now different in that they are set apart from ordinary objects. In a sense, the priest’s blessing is “attached” to the objects.
Several years ago, when my youngest son made his First Holy Communion, I made a special trip to the Italian imports store in the area to pick out his rosary. This was a big, big deal! I chose a rosary of the most gorgeous deep blue, Paul’s favorite color and of course, the color we usually associate with Our Lady. We were so excited to give it to him the morning of the big day.
When we got to the church, a priest (not our pastor) was seated in the vestibule before Mass. It wasn’t that crowded at the time and he wasn’t talking to anyone, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to have him bless Paul’s rosary. My son stood there in his little navy suit and white boutonniere, holding his new rosary.
“Hello, Father, ” I said. “Would you please bless Paul’s rosary?” I beamed. This was a special moment.
Little Paul held out his new rosary.
What happened next is something I will never forget.
“Sure,” the priest said. Then he held his hand out over the rosary and flippantly said one word:
He pulled his hand away, signaling the end of the conversation.
I could not believe it. I was heartbroken and angry but I had to keep my temper in check. Jaw clenched, I looked down at my son, who looked a bit confused. I had to do something in that awkward silence, so I guided Paul away to distract him. I found my husband and told him what had happened, and he, too, was horrified. Shocked, too, since Father was usually so nice.
What a moment that could have been for my son! He could have witnessed the priest giving a beautiful blessing over his special First Communion rosary. It would have taken him less than 30 seconds to say some special words. I wondered what we were supposed to say about it. We certainly didn’t want him to think that this is how priests bless rosaries or other religious objects. It broke my heart, until my husband said, “Don’t worry, it will get blessed properly. We’ll go see Father _____.”
I instantly felt better. But Father lived far away. I didn’t know when we’d see him next.
Not too long after the incident, my husband called up Father, telling him we wanted to come for Mass and a visit. ”There’s one other thing,” he said. And he told him the story.
Father sighed. Apparently this type of behavior was not new to him. ”You bring everything; I’ll bless all of it, don’t you worry!”
When we visited Father in his office, we quickly recapped the story. He shook his head sadly, but then smiled. “Come on, bring it all in,” he motioned with a wave. I sheepishly pulled out the little bag of sacramentals, including Paul’s special rosary, and we laid them out on his desk, one by one. I will never forget our family sitting there in Father’s little office as he said the most exquisite blessing. It was a long one, and so tremendously beautiful. Not rushed to get it over with, not something canned.
It was, in a word, perfect.
I was thrilled. And what an experience and an education for our boys, to see a loving, holy priest say those words. My boys will always remember that moment.
So yes, I dearly love sacramentals, “in vogue” or not, and I’ll continue to use them and talk to people about their importance and beauty.
Copyright 2012 Nancy Carabio Belanger