Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 60

Vatican website translation:

60. Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.

Latin text:

60. Sacramentalia praeterea sancta Mater Ecclesia instituit. Quae sacra sunt signa quibus, in aliquam Sacramentorum imitationem, effectus praesertim spirituales significantur et ex Ecclesiae impetratione obtinentur. Per ea homines ad praecipuum Sacramentorum effectum suscipiendum disponuntur et varia vitae adiuncta sanctificantur.

Slavishly literal translation:

60. Moreover holy Mother Church has instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs by which, in a certain imitation of the Sacraments, effects, primarily spiritual ones, are signified and obtained from the Church’s beseeching. By means of them human beings are disposed for receiving the principal effects of the Sacraments and various aspects of life are sanctified.

In contrast to the seven sacraments of classic Roman Catholic sacramental theology, there are an indeterminate number of sacramentals, usually referring to those rites practiced apart from the central “matter and form” of the seven sacraments. The medieval verse “orans, tinctus, edens, confessus, dans, benedicens” offered a taxonomy of the effects of sacramentals: 1) public prayer (orans) whether communal or private (e.g., the rosary); 2) the use of fluids (tinctus) such as holy water and various oils in consecrations; 3) eating (edens) blessed food (e.g., foods blessed on Holy Saturday for consumption on Easter); 4) proclamation of one’s faults (confessus) as made by one of the Penitential Acts at Mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours; 5) alms-giving (dans); and 6) blessings (benedicens) of various types, including papal and episcopal blessings, and blessings of palms, ashes, candles, etc. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [hereafter CCC] distinguishes blessings (of person, meals, objects, and places) [1671-1672] and exorcisms [1673] as the principal forms of sacramentals.

In classic Roman Catholic sacramental theology sacramentals are distinguished from sacraments on the basis of efficacy: sacraments confer grace ex opere operato while sacramentals confer grace in other ways. To quote CCC 1670: “Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” This distinction will be treated in more detail in the next article of SC.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss: 1) how useful the distinction between sacrament and sacramental is in the light of contemporary sacramental theologies; 2) how the faithful have been catechized about sacramentals in the past fifty years; 3) what sacramentals seem to be most employed by the faithful and which may have fallen into desuetude (as well as the reasons why).

2 comments

  1. Father, please keep at this despite the lack of comments. Apart from saying that the answer to your question 2 is “not properly” I can think of little to say.
    Whereas we can compare OF and EF Mass forms easily I think that for the other sacraments the changes are less well known. You might be able to tell us so that we know.

  2. Perhaps we don’t often think of them as sacramentals, but all of those that Fr Joncas includes in his gloss on this article are alive and well in one form or another in today’s church. We have the Liturgy of the Hours as well as devotional prayers such as the rosary and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. We certainly have numerous blessings with or without sprinkling, as well as consecrations with oils of churches, altars, and fonts. Proclamations of fault are included in both the Mass and the Office, as Father notes, and alms-giving (which I’d never thought of as a sacramental) is a regular part of our Eucharitic liturgy and also seen in other fundraising we do for charity.

    About the only thing I didnt think I saw on a regular basis is the eating of blessed food–but then there is grace before meals, isn’t there?

    Do we see these devotions and practices emphasized as they were before the Council? Probably not in most places in the US and probably not in many other places as well. I wonder whether the vernacularization of the Eucharistic liturgy and the emphasis on participation there haven’t made the sacramentals seem less important to most people, not to mention the increasing secularization of Christian society.

    It’s good th be reminded that SC focused on these signs as well as the sacraments.

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