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Patheos answers the question:
What Are Miraculous Medals?
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The Miraculous Medal is a particular saints’ medal that represents the Virgin Mary in accordance with her appearance to Saint Catherine Laboure in France in the early 19th century. According to Laboure’s testimony, the Virgin Mary appeared to her and instructed her to make a medal with her image on it and promised special graces to those who wore it. The Miraculous Medal falls—along with other saints’ medals, relics, particular practices and prayers, pilgrimages, and special gestures—under the category of sacramentals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Unlike the seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Marriage), which confer grace to the faithful, sacramentals do not impart blessings or grace, but they help the believer to remember the grace offered through the Church and to believe in the teachings of the Church. In this sense, they are acts and objects of piety and devotion to God.

Early Christianity embraced the physicality of signs and symbols of faith. The veneration of the martyrs’ relics, of places where the apostles ministered and died, of images of Christ, and of objects associated with a person of great faith became an extension of the worship that believers offered to God. They do not have any power in themselves, nor do they serve as amulets or charms guaranteeing some form of protection. Rather, they turn the believer’s heart toward God, who created all good things and, in the Incarnation, willingly entered into creation himself, thus sanctifying the material world and making it the vessel of his revelation. Objects and places that celebrate saints’ lives are powerful reminders of this good news.

One way to restrain superstition and ensure the validity and holiness of a relic, medal, site, or practice was to have the Church monitor special claims and endorse special practices. Thus, the Church developed ways to demonstrate official approval and impart the blessing of the Church on the object or practice.

The creation of medals as commemorations of a saint or an event was a later development in popular piety, probably post-Reformation. These small, coin-like objects became instrumental in Catholic devotional life as individuals found inspiration in different miracles, saints, or visions. Certain saints and their medals became associated with particular needs in the life of a believer—protection during travel, help for finding lost items, inspiration for students, etc. Other devotional medals are designed to commemorate special events in a believer’s life, like First Communion or Confirmation.

While medals do not have to be blessed by a priest to be meaningful to the believer, the priest’s prayers grant a spiritual benefit to all those who wear a sacred medal with faith. A priest can bless a medal by praying over it in the name of Jesus, thanking and praising God, and making the sign of the cross. Whenever the believer sees the medal and remembers God, he or she can experience the blessing anew.

Read more about sacramentals in the life of a Roman Catholic here.


3/23/2021 6:32:39 PM
About Kathleen Mulhern, Ph.D.
Kathleen Mulhern is a writer, editor, historian, speaker, and professor. She teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, and is currently an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation. Kathleen graduated with a B.A. from Wheaton College, earned an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Denver, an M.A. degree in Church History from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado.