Beyond the seven Sacraments we’ve examined (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Holy Orders), there are other sacred signs and actions in which a blessing is conferred. Some of these are objects, particular prayers, or even ceremonies which have a sacred character but are not themselves sacraments.
The most popular of these are ‘Sacramentals,’ which help make various moments in life holy and point towards the Sacraments.
“Examples of sacramentals are holy water, the consecration of a bell or an organ, the blessing of a house or an automobile, the blessing of throats on the feast of St. Blaise, receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, palm brances on Palm Sunday…” -YouCat 272
Holy Water, for example, is placed at the entrance of every Church, and many Catholics have the habit of dipping their fingers in the Holy Water and making the sign of the Cross as they enter the Church building. We do this because it serves as a reminder of our Baptism- the moment in which we first came into the Church, the Body of Christ. We also use this same water in the blessings of various holy objects: crosses, houses, cars, the ashes and palms mentioned above.
There’s a whole volume called The Book of Blessings which contains the actual ritual by which we celebrate many of these blessings. An object that has been blessed like a Bible, Rosary, Cross, or Scapular is now an object that has been set apart as a reminder for us of God’s grace acting in our lives. And so we treat them with care and respect; and dispose of them in a similar fashion. A traditional pious practice was to either burn these blessed objects (if they are flammable) or bury them (if they are not.) Just to be clear here, though, this isn’t a question of superstition… it’s not a sin to throw away a broken cross or to move out of a house you’ve had blessed. God’s blessing is primarily for the person who receives and uses a blessed object: the object acts as a reminder of God’s grace at work in their lives.
You also would include in this section liturgical celebrations (which are not Sacraments) like the Stations of the Cross or pious processions. These acts of “popular piety” help us to inculturate the faith, and they are “good so long as it is in and of the Church, leads to Christ, and does not try to ‘earn’ Heaven by works, apart from God’s grace.” (YouCat 274) These types of celebrations are not integral parts of our life of faith (as the Sacraments are), but are a source of strength and inspiration that can strengthen and deepen our Christian faith:
“Popular piety is one of our strengths because it consists of prayers deeply rooted in people’s hearts. These prayers even move the hearts of people who are somewhat cut off from the life of the Church and who have no special understanding of faith.” -Pope Benedict XVI
The point with all of these other liturgical celebrations, holy objects, as well as things like pilgrimages, is that they offer an opportunity to draw us closer to God. I wear a cross as a reminder of my commitment to live my faith; but wearing a cross in no way makes me a better or holier man than someone who does not wear a cross. He may very well have a rich prayer life and lead a life of exemplary charity. What is important in either case is that we are open to allowing Christ to accomplish an interior transformation in our lives, and be led to Christ, because it is He who has invited us to continue with Him on the journey:
“God’s ways are the ways that He himself walked and that we must now walk with Him.”-Dietrich Bonhoeffer