We may not be capable of seeing the battles being waged for the sake of our salvation; but there exists a relentless spiritual warfare; a classic dichotomy between Good and Evil. The “Good guys” are Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the archangels, and all the saints who want us to join them in heaven. We can always enlist any of these spiritual allies by either praying directly to God or by invoking the intercession of the powerful archangels and saints to pray for us. As a way to protect ourselves from Satan and the effects of bad spirits, the Church arms us with sacramentals. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments” (CCC 1667). Be careful not to confuse the words “sacraments” and “sacramentals.” The seven established sacraments provide the grace to live according to God’s will, whereas sacramentals can help prepare us to receive the graces that God always wishes to bestow upon us. Most sacramentals involve a priestly blessing, some entail a daily prayer commitment, and some have a lasting effect when we keep them close-at-hand. Certain sacramentals are attributed to have prepared individuals to receive graces in such a way that miracles have occurred while a person was wearing the sacramental.
Here are explanations of a few sacramental devotions, which we can wear as a way to prepare ourselves to receive the sanctifying effects of God’s graces.
1. Miraculous Medal
The Miraculous Medal, formerly known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, was designed by Our Lady herself. In 1830, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young religious novice in France, named Catherine Labouré, who received the direct instructions to create this medal. Our Lady promised that “those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.” What we see on the medal depicts what Catherine saw with her own eyes while she was meditating alone in the chapel: Our Lady, standing on a globe, with rays of light streaming from her outstretched hands, a serpent under her foot, and words framing her body, stating: “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Our Lady explained that the rays of light represent God’s graces, which she can obtain for us if we ask her to. The snake at her feet represents Satan, whom she was predestined to defeat in Genesis 3:15 when God told the serpent he would “put enmity between you and the woman.” The words inscribed around the edge of the medal are a prayer that invokes her intercession and reminds us that Mary is sinless and “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). The back of the Miraculous Medal depicts an M connected to a cross, to show that Mary is always united to her Son, and the two hearts below represent their love. The twelve stars have a dual symbolism of the twelve apostles, as well as the crown of twelve stars referenced in the Book of Revelation (12:1). Catherine Labouré obeyed Our Lady’s wishes, and in turn, Our Lady has kept her promise by interceding in many miraculous ways for those who wear the medal.
2. Brown Scapular
Another great Marian sacramental; the brown scapular. In 1251, Our Lady appeared to a Carmelite monk in England named Simon Stock. Upon handing him the brown woolen cloth, Our Lady stated to Simon that “this shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.” Thanks to Pope John XXII, the Church has granted the same privilege offered by Our Lady to all laypeople who wear the scapular and enroll in the Brown Scapular Confraternity. The Brown Scapular that lay people wear under their clothes is a smaller version of what those of the Carmelite religious order wear over their habit. Essentially, two rectangular pieces of brown wool are held together by two thick cords of brown wool. The word scapular comes from the Roman word “scapulae,” which are the shoulder blades. Thus, one piece of the scapular is to fall upon the back of the wearer, between the shoulder blades, while the other piece falls upon the chest. There are a few conditions that must be met to comply with the Confraternity. The scapular must be made from 100% wool, and it should be worn over the head continuously. The wearer must abide by the virtue of chastity according to their state of life (married or single). Lastly, the wearer must perform a daily good work, spiritual in nature, such as reciting five decades of the Rosary, or observing the fasts of the Church by abstaining from meat on appointed days. Members of the Brown Scapular Confraternity should be ceremoniously enrolled with a priestly blessing, which is referred to as an investiture. The priest performing the blessing will sprinkle holy water on the scapular while following a script (if he does not already have it memorized) to formally invest the individual. Many wearers kiss their scapular and make a “morning offering” to unite themselves with the Blessed Mother and offer all of their thoughts and actions throughout the day to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
3. Green Scapular
Another Marian devotion and sacramental came about in 1840, when the Blessed Virgin Mary revealed herself to Justine Bisqueyburu (a religious sister in France), and gave her the Green Scapular. Our Lady commits herself to the wearers of the Green Scapular by ensuring that they will have a happy death and also by helping them to achieve spiritual conversion, especially if they do not believe in God or the Church. The Green Scapular differs slightly in form from the Brown Scapular, because it is made by only one rectangular piece of green felt, displaying an image of Our Lady on one side and her Immaculate Heart on the other side. A braid or cord extending from the cloth allows it to be worn around the neck. The scapular may even be carried, instead of worn, or placed in the home of someone who might benefit from Mary’s promises. There is not a confraternity of members, nor is there an investiture ceremony involved for the Green Scapular. However, try to have it blessed before wearing it.
4. The Medal of Saint Benedict
During his life as an Italian monk in the fifth century, Saint Benedict of Nursia had a reputation of sanctity that both mankind and demons were well aware of. Saint Benedict performed numerous miracles during his life, and had to overcome many spiritual attacks. Today, we can invoke the intercession of this great saint with the Medal-Cross of Saint Benedict, which can be worn, hung, or kept nearby for protection in our spiritual battles. One face of the medal bears an image of the saint holding a cross in his right hand and a tablet in his left hand. The cup and raven on either side of Saint Benedict are reminiscent of incidents when enemies attempted to poison him. The following words are behind him: Crux s. Patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict); and the following words around the edge: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!) The other side of the medal has a series of letters, each of which stands for a word. The letters at the top are PAX, which is the Latin word for “peace.” The rest of the letters are initials representing an exorcism prayer in Latin that can be translated to:
“The Cross of our holy father Benedict. May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide! Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!”
These sacramentals can be worn in various ways, but they are not good luck, nor a fashion statement, nor a magic wand. It’s critical to know the difference between lucky charms (such as rabbits’ feet, talismans, or horseshoes), and actual Catholic sacramentals. Anything that involves luck, superstition, astrology –even coincidences– are not what God calls us to believe. Saint Paul, the Apostle, reminds us in his letter to the Romans: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). Remember that God is a loving Father, but he is not a vending machine either. God will answer our prayers in his own time and always in the way that is best for us. God offers his graces to every one of his children, but we must strive to cooperate with his grace. Also, keep in mind that the end-goal of our Christian life is union with Christ in heaven. So, keep your eyes fixed on the cross, and always seek ways to continue on the narrow path of holiness that leads to Jesus. You might receive the blessing of a miracle when you least expect it!