-by Shaun McAfee, was raised Protestant, Southern Baptist/Non-denominational, but at 24, he experienced a profound conversion to the Catholic Church with the writings of James Cardinal Gibbons and modern apologists. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology. As a profession, Shaun is a veteran and warranted Contracting Officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has served in Afghanistan and other overseas locations.
“All sacramentals share a dignity that commands our conscience to treat them with great reverence and respect. Certainly not limited to any of the rules or precautions included in this article, Catholics must be vigilant and responsible with them. The Code of Canon Law states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons” (1171).
The physical sacramentals are not playthings, fashion accoutrements, or ordinary decoration for our homes. A child handling rosary beads may be harmless and for sure could become a thing of joy and faith, but caution must be taken to ensure that the beads and crucifix are not carelessly broken, thrown, chewed and swallowed, or tossed in the trash. Although it might be popular and perceived as a means of acknowledging the Faith, adults should maintain their reverence by not dangling a rosary from the neck, tossing holy water in the kitchen junk drawer, or allowing blessed medals to be scattered around like loose change. All sacramentals must be handled with care and a sense of purpose.
One might object, stating that wearing a rosary is a method of sharing the Faith. This may be a good intention, but it is more effective to demonstrate devotion than to display a static signal of one’s own beliefs. Catholics must be careful not to trivialize or exaggerate devotion with practices that may become a stumbling block to the use of sacramentals for other Catholics and non-Catholics, too.
We must also be conscious of our behavior and intentions with the non-physical sacramentals of blessing and exorcism. The sign of the cross must clearly be made as a true sign of faith and piety—made intentionally, prayerfully, and uniformly when with others, rather than quickly, sloppily, or chaotically. Blessings at mealtime—hopefully not the only time families pray together—should be sincere. Genuflections and bows, also raised to the dignity of being sacramentals, should be made with the same inner sense of reverence.
These are the basics to handling and using sacramentals in a dignified way, but the Church has established other rules of which every Catholic should be aware. Also, in making or administering sacramentals, the Church’s law dictates that the rites and formulas approved by the authority of the Church be observed carefully (CIC 1167, §2).
The preference of the Church is to bless sacramentals, ordinarily through a cleric. This should be promoted and welcomed. Since the sacramental’s power is though the Church’s intercession, the proper blessing naturally adds to the sanctification of the object. Truly, the primary reason for blessing any sacramental is to set it aside for holy purposes, but an accompanying motive is to ensure that it is freed from any demonic possession and otherwise remove the effects of profane use.
No matter what, no blessed sacramental should ever be sold or purchased. Simply put, after a blessing, the Church does not condone the trafficking of spiritual things. Nor does it allow the sale of blessings themselves, or exorcisms: although we might offer a priest a stipend for an exorcism or the blessing of a house, this is not done for profit. Sacramentals that are useful but no longer desirable should be given away to a parish, person, or place where they may be returned to use.
Eventually, sacramentals wear down. Crucifixes break, as do rosaries. Candles burn out, and scapulars tear. If a sacramental reaches a state where it is beyond repair or its effective use, the object should be disposed of properly. Even in a tattered state, the object has been blessed by the Church and should be treated correctly, even in private possession.
The proper way to dispose of a sacramental is to burn it or bury it. Not only do these methods of disposal show the correct reverence, but they prevent the sacramental from falling into the wrong hands and from desecration—the loss of a particular quality of sacredness. Sacramentals are desecrated by abusive behavior, crude use, or destruction to the point of being unusable. Even desecrated sacramentals, to maintain the reverence due to them, should be disposed of in the ways laid out above.”