Monday, March 3, 2008

I Just Don't Understand

This website sells "sacramentals," which are apparently things like "blessed salt," "holy relic water," and rosaries "touched to" relics. Reading over the descriptions, all I can think is that the term "voodoo" comes to mind. I had the same feeling when I was in a Catholic bookstore and they were selling brown scapulars with written assurance than anyone wearing one at death would be saved from hell.

Yes, I'm aware of Paul's handkerchief from Acts 19:12. While I don't claim to understand it, I can accept that a person touching a relic could be healed/blessed as a result. Once you go beyond that, though, then what? The relic touches a stand which touches a floor which touches the ground which is part of a country which is part of the world, and my part of the world has ground which my apartment touches which are in turn touched by (at the moment) my bare feet. Am I thus blessed in any way by this relic (other than perhaps abstractly by its existence)?

I can understand how things like rosaries and icons serve as aids to worship, and that the things advertised are meant to be accompanied by prayer. When we get into the realm of "lucky beans," though, I can't help but think that things have gone too far.

(via Mark Shea)


Anonymous said...

I am a convert and a graduate of an evangelical college. Sacramentals once to me seemed worse than Marian devotion.

Sacramentals include anointing oil, baptismal water, ashes on Ash Wednesday, palm leaves on Palm Sunday, and a million other things. They are simply physical objects consecrated for holy purposes.

Yes, Catholic culture is sometimes strange, and there are plenty of people claiming a particular practice will cure the common cold. Yet, if the Holy See moved aggressively to halt all these practices, you can hear the press talking about the new "inquisition." Moreover, little acts of piety, even if based upon some quasi-superstitious claim, are not evil.

Have you read any of Thomas Howard's books? I recommend "Evangelical Is Not Enough" and "Lead, Kindly Light."

I didn't become Catholic because I wanted to imitate all practices of Catholics. I became a Catholic when I came to the conclusion that there could be no real Church with a capital C without the sacraments, the Eucharist in particular, and there could be no sacraments without sacramental authority. If the Church has sacramental authority, it has authority over faith and morals as well.

Catholic Mom said...

Read the Catechism (paragraphs 1667-1676) with regards to sacramentals and popular piety. (The Brown Scapulars fall into the category of popular piety.) Like everything else, it is a matter of catechesis. All of our sacramentals and devotions should lead us to Christ, the Liturgy, and the Sacraments. Any representation that sacramentals have any "power" on their own is in error. Kits to sell your house using a statue of St. Joseph, chain letters demanding you publish a given prayer for good fortune, and the use of a scapular as a good luck charm are all in opposition to Church teaching on sacramentals. On the other hand,blessing objects you use during prayer joins your prayers with the prayers of the Universal Church. I had a box full of devotional candles blessed on Candlemas. As I burn them throughout the year I know that I am praying in concert with the whole Church. I did a parent/child CCD class on Sacramentals. You can read the summary here.

HokiePundit said...

I had a good reply, but it vanished into the aether. I think my main fear is that this will cause more harm than good, with people being upset that their "holy salt" didn't cure their dying husband, rather than taking the time to discern the proper role of prayer in the matter.

It just strikes me as being like the "anointed prayer cloths" you sometimes see televangelists selling.

While it may seem to contradict what I just said, it also makes Catholics seem "foreign" to Protestant and Evangelical Americans, who see this as basically Voodoo or Santeria.