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Catholic Piety Hacks: Sacramentals

In a recent conversation with some of my children, we talked about how often Christianity is portrayed as Catholicism (as opposed to Protestantism) in movies and on TV. There are likely several reasons for this, but I think one is Catholicism’s visual appeal. In a visual medium, much can be said by the mere image of worn rosary beads dangling from aged hands, a crucifix hanging prominently on a living room wall, or religious medals splayed across a working man’s t-shirt.

Sacramentals, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are “sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (1677). Among them are various forms of piety, including “the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc” (1674).

Sacramentals, like sacraments, appeal to us on a sensory level. God knows that we humans, being both body and soul, need practices and objects that work to increase our faith and serve as reminders.

One of my most treasured sacramentals is the Miraculous Medal that I wear each day. The blessed medal hangs on a silver chain, and both when I put it on and take it off, I repeat (several times), the prayer, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

I also treasure my rosaries. Most of the rosaries in our home were given to us, and they, ahem, aren’t of the highest quality. There is one, however, that I selected and asked my husband to get me. It gives me such pleasure to pray on those pretty beads!

In my hometown of Pittsburgh, in the neighborhood where my mother was born and raised, is a small, hidden site that is a treasure trove of relics: Saint Anthony’s Chapel in Troy Hill. Outside of the Vatican, it holds the largest collection of Christian relics in the world, as well as life-size Stations of the Cross. If you are ever in the area, I encourage you to visit!

Do you have special devotions or objects that help you to pray without ceasing, as Saint Paul instructs us?

"...pray constantly..." -1 Thessalonians 5:17

Are there any sacramentals you’d like to adopt as part of your faith life?

Have you come across any sacramentals in Catholic Teen Books novels?


Sacramentals come to play in many Catholic Teen Books titles. Here are a few examples:

  • In my novel Rightfully Ours, Rachel gives Paul a Saint Paul medal for his birthday. Paul also keeps his father’s well-worn rosary beads on hand (even if he doesn’t use them as much as he should).

  • 16-year-old Katelyn in Stephanie Engelman's A Single Bead discovers a single bead from her deceased grandmother's rosary in this story of faith, hope, and the power of prayer.

  • Sacramentals are in several books in Corinna Turner's I Am Margaret series. In The Three Most Wanted Father Mark gives a character the Anointing of the Sick using Holy Water and Holy Oil. Holy Water is also used on a sick character in Liberation. Anointing of the Sick also happens in A Saint in the Family.

  • Also in the I Am Margaret series, real rosaries are dangerous and characters often use stealth rosaries, which are discreet pieces of cord or wool with one big knot and ten small ones. A stealth rosary gets one character into serious trouble in A Saint in the Family.

  • In Marie Keiser's science fiction Heaven's Hunter, a character is recognized as a Catholic because she's wearing a miraculous medal. Later, the main character is given a miraculous medal.

  • Eva, in T. M. Gaouette's heartwarming story Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, prays the Rosary.

  • In Corinna Turner's fantasy fiction Mandy Lamb and the Full Moon, Vincent gives James a very old rosary--on condition that he uses it.

  • In the unSPARKed series, also by Corinna Turner, dino-hunting brothers Isaiah and Zechariah have a precious rosary that used to belong to their mother. Isaiah passes this on to his son Joshua. They mostly use it for praying chaplets, although later in the series Josh learns to pray the rosary too.

  • Friends Roland and Peter come to understand the purpose and power of relics, along with a lesson on simony, in a story thread that addresses the issue of loneliness in Theresa Linden’s Roland West, Loner.

  • In Standing Strong, another book in Theresa Linden's West Brothers series, Keefe suggests his twin start wearing the Brown Scapular to help him resist old temptations, but Jarret won’t do it until he understands exactly what that devotion is about.

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