Sacramentals: What Are They and Why do They Matter?
The Sacraments and Sacramentals are vessels of the mystical participation in divine grace. A sacrament is a meeting point between God and humanity – and actual encounter with Christ – the real witness of the sacrament in Jesus. This encounter happens through symbols – rings, laying of hands, water, oil, bread, wine, touch. These things remind us of what is invisible.
The blessing of water, flowers, pussy willows, houses, food and candles, miraculous medals that we wear, and crucifixes that we hang on the wall: What do all these things have in common? They are blessed objects that Catholics often call sacramentals. But actually, it is the ceremony by which these objects are blessed that are the sacramentals.
The first purpose of the sacramentals is to prepare for and extend the grace of the sacraments. In the sacraments, it is Christ himself who is acting and so grace is objectively conferred by virtue of the performing of the rite by a valid minister acting as Christ’s instrument. As acts of the Church, the sacramentals may also be occasions for grace by virtue of the intercession of the Church. They are not efficacious in the same way nor to the same degree as the sacraments, but are more powerful than the private intercession of Christians precisely because they represent and make present the intercession of the entire Church.
The direct relationship between some sacramentals and a particular sacrament are easy to see: the blessing of meals is connected to the Eucharist, the blessing of homes relates to Matrimony, while the sprinkling of Holy Water recalls baptism. The second purpose of sacramentals is the sanctification of every occasion of life.
Source: CCC #1668-1679