Sacramentals: Beyond the Seven Sacraments

Sacraments are the backbone of Catholic life. They offer divine grace in a special way and help us encounter Jesus Christ directly. However, the Church’s treasury of grace isn’t limited to the seven Sacraments. The Church also gives us sacramentals, spiritual aids that help us grow in faith and holiness. They don’t work in the same “automatic” way that sacraments do, but they are still powerful instruments of God’s grace.

What Are Sacramentals?

Sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1667). Essentially, they are physical objects, prayers, or actions blessed by the Church to help us in our spiritual life. They are not “magic”; rather, they rely on the faith and devotion of the individual and the prayerful intercession of the Church.

Sacramentals can range from blessed objects like rosaries and medals to actions like making the sign of the cross. They also include liturgical actions apart from the Sacraments, such as blessings of people, places, or things, and exorcisms.

Biblical Foundations

Though the word “sacramental” isn’t found in the Bible, the concept certainly is. For instance, we see the Israelites using various forms of sacramentals. They sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal on their doorposts (Exodus 12:7), used the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:2), and even the hem of Jesus’ garment was touched as an instrument of healing (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Church inherited this tradition and deepened it through the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus used material things like mud, water, and even his own spit to heal people (John 9:6). St. Paul’s handkerchiefs were used to heal the sick (Acts 19:11-12).

How Do Sacramentals Work?

Unlike Sacraments, which work ex opere operato (by the very act of the rite being performed), sacramentals operate ex opere operantis, which means they depend on the disposition and faith of the person using them, as well as the prayers of the Church. The Catechism tells us that sacramentals “prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (CCC, 1670).

Blessings: The Most Basic Sacramentals

The most basic type of sacramental is the blessing, which is a prayer that asks God’s grace upon a person or object. Blessings can be given by priests and, in some cases, by laypeople as well. “Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts” (CCC, 1671).

Objects and Places

Sacramentals also include a variety of objects and places. Holy water, for instance, is a sacramental that reminds us of our Baptism and can be used to bless ourselves and others. The Rosary is another powerful sacramental, a string of beads used to aid in the prayer of the ‘Hail Mary’ and other prayers.

Why Do We Use Sacramentals?

Sacramentals help to sanctify our everyday life. By engaging our senses—sight, touch, smell, and hearing—they remind us of God’s presence and invite us to respond in prayer and action. They help us to cultivate a spirit of devotion and can protect us from evil.

Spiritual Warfare

Some sacramentals, like exorcised salt and water, the St. Benedict medal, and certain prayers, are used specifically for protection against evil. These sacramentals tap into the Church’s authority over the devil, an authority given by Christ Himself: “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).

Are Sacramentals Necessary for Salvation?

It’s important to note that while sacramentals are beneficial, they are not necessary for salvation. The Sacraments are the ordinary means of receiving saving grace; sacramentals are extra helps. They should never replace the Sacraments or become the focus of our spiritual life.

How Do We Properly Use and Respect Sacramentals?

The right use of sacramentals requires faith and devotion, not superstition. They are not magical items that work apart from God’s will or our cooperation. When used properly, they remind us of God and help us to pray and cultivate virtues. When used superstitiously, they can, ironically, become obstacles to genuine faith.

“Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God” (CCC, 2111).


Sacramentals are wonderful aids in our spiritual journey. They offer a tangible way to connect with God’s grace and grow in relationship with Him. Through these sacred signs, the Church enriches our lives with a touch of the divine, helping us to live out our faith in a more tangible way, every day.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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