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The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
F. L. CrossF. L. Cross, E. A. LivingstoneE. A. Livingstone


Acc. to RC theology, sacred signs with spiritual effects, resembling the sacraments. When the theology of the sacraments was defined and their number limited to seven in the W. Church in the 12th cent., analogous religious practices, not held to have been instituted by Christ, came to be known as ‘sacramentals’. In contrast to the sacraments, which are held to convey grace primarily through the power of the rite itself (ex opere operato), sacramentals do so ex opere operantis ecclesiae, that is through the intercession of the Church. Some are closely associated with sacraments (e.g. the blessing of baptismal water, holy oils, or the ring in marriage), and by them men and women are prepared to receive the chief fruit of the sacrament; by others (such as grace at meals or religious profession), various human activities are rendered holy. In the nature of the case there is no definitive list of sacramentals.


For current formulas, see the section of the

Rituale Romanum, De Benedictionibus (1984). The subject is treated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), nos. 1667–79.Find this resource:

    Popular account in

    M. Donovan, Sacramentals (1925).Find this resource:

      F. Probst, Sakramente und Sakramentalien in den drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderten (1872), 16–96.Find this resource:

        J. R. Quinn and others in NCE (2nd edn.), 12 (2003), 479–81, s.v. See also s.v. blessing.Find this resource: