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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Written by: Cynthia Stewart

Ritual and prayer are integral parts of Catholic life, from the sacraments which mark the sacred milestones on life's journey to the smaller rituals of daily devotion. In the case of the Eucharist, these two overlap: the Eucharist is both the sacramental heart of Catholic life and, for many believers, a daily event. The Mass is usually celebrated in a church, but Catholics carry many other ritual actions of devotion and worship into the nooks and crannies of everyday life. These actions are collectively called sacramentals; they do not have the sacraments' ability to confer grace, but as they turn the Catholic's heart and mind toward things divine, they prepare him or her to receive that grace.

Perhaps the most popular sacramental is the rosary, which is both a string of beads used as a prayer aid and the form of prayer involving those beads. The number of beads on a rosary can vary, but the most common have 59, as well as a medal, a crucifix, and some spaces with no beads. Each element stands for a particular prayer to be recited: either the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or the Glory Be. Believers recite these prayers in their proper sequence while meditating on a defined series of five events surrounding the life of Christ. These are known as the mysteries, and traditionally there were three sets of mysteries: the joyful mysteries of Jesus' birth, the sorrowful mysteries of his death, and the glorious mysteries of his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Pope John Paul II added a new set of mysteries, the luminous mysteries, which mark some of the important teachings of Jesus' life. Some Catholics carry rosaries with them everywhere, in pockets, purses, or wallets.

Medals are small discs, usually made of metal, that depict images of Jesus, Mary, or a saint; they are commonly worn as necklaces but show up in other formats as well. Theologically their purpose is to remind the believer to be open to God's grace, but Catholics have traditionally believed them to carry certain power. For instance, a Saint Christopher medal in cars is supposed to protect passengers, while a necklace containing the Miraculous medal of Mary is said to protect its wearer. There are an enormous number of different medals, each thought to provide a particular protection.

According to Church teaching, the most important sacramental is the use of blessings. Blessings are a form of prayer asking God to grant grace to the person, place, or thing being blessed. Catholics often say blessings before consuming meals, thanking God for the gift of the food they are about to eat. Catholic parents have traditionally laid their hands on their children's heads as a form of blessing, asking for their protection and guidance. Some blessings require the services of a priest; for instance, when Catholics move into a new home they might request a blessing on the house to sanctify it as a place in which they will grow in grace. Catholics often ask that rosaries, medals, and other religious images receive the blessing of a priest or bishop, and in the popular imagination such religious artifacts are considered especially sacred when they are blessed by a pope.


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