Like the sacraments, sacramentals are outward signs that have spiritual effects. Whereas the sacraments produce grace in themselves, sacramentals do so indirectly, by arousing in us the desire to perform those acts that bring down God's grace. The spiritual benefits obtained through the sacramentals include actual graces, the forgiveness of venial sins, the remission of temporal punishment due to sin that has been forgiven, bodily and material blessings, and protection against demons. There are three types of sacramentals–blessings, exorcisms, and blessed objects of devotion.
Blessings are given to invoke God's favor upon people, places, and things. Individuals, families, the sick, travelers, and any other type of person or people can be blessed. New building sites, homes, religious houses, schools, hospitals, shops, factories and offices, and other places can be blessed. Among things that can be blessed are fields, harvests, organizations, equipment and tools, animals, and food. These blessingsa re usually given using the Sign of the Cross, and sometimes with a certain prescribed formula.
Exorcisms are used to drive out demons: "[Jesus] summoned the twelve disciples and gave them the authority to expel unclean spirits" (Matt. 10:1); "They will use my name to expel demons" (Mark 16:17-18). Demons can be exorcised from people (Matt. 17:14-21; Mark 1:23-28), or from places and things, such as homes and fields.
Blessed objects of devotion are "made holy by God's word and by prayer" (1 Tim. 4:5). These objects are blessed to set them apart for sacred use. Many of them are used in private devotion by the faithful, and many of them accompany certain devotions.. The Crucifix is a cross with a figure of Christ crucified on it, symbolizing the sacrificial death of Christ. The Stations of the Cross consists of fourteen stations with fourteen corresponding meditations on the Passion and death of Christ. Sacred images (paintings or statues of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints) are displayed, and are sometimes kissed, knelt before, and prayed in front of. Candles and incense are often used, the former because Jesus is the "Light of the World", and the latter to symbolize our prayers rising to heaven. The rosary is a string of beads, divided into five "decades" (or a group of ten Hail Mary prayers). The rosary contains fifteen different decades, corresponding to fifteen different aspects of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to be meditated upon during each decade. Chaplets are similar to the rosary, in that chaplets consist of a string of beads, with prayers to be said on each bead, and sometimes meditations as well. Different chaplets have different numbers of beads, and are devoted to different people (ie. The Chaplets of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the Infant Jesus, St. Anthony, etc.). One of the most popular chaplets is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which, unlike other chaplets, is prayed on a string of rosary beads, and was revealed to St. Faustina, as an efficacious means of drawing down God's mercy. Other beads are used, such as the "Jesus Beads", a string of 100 beads, on which a short prayer of mercy, such as "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner", is recited, and the "Sacrifice Beads" of St. Therese of Lisieux, which consist of ten beads that are pulled toward a cross each time one makes a sacrifice or penance according to St. Therese's "Little Way", who taught that sacrifices made with the heart, no matter how small, have great effects. Blessed medals are worn to commemorate special people, places, and events, and to obtain blessings: the medal of St. Christopher, patron of travelers, is worn for safety in traveling; the Miraculous Medal was received by St. Catherine Laboure through a vision of Mary, and has been the source of many blessings and miracles; the Medal of St. Benedict, which can be worn around the neck or on one's person, is said to be the medal which derives the most benefits. Badges are worn by some, such as the Sacred Hearts badge, as a sign of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the hearts of Jesus and Mary represent their love for us). In relation to this, some receive communion of reparation on the First Friday of every month for nine consecutive months, and some confess (eight days before or after), receive communion, say five decades of the rosary, and meditate on some or all mysteries of the rosary for 15 minutes, all with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The former devotion was revealed to St. Margaret Mary, and the latter to the children of Fatima, with promises of salvation attached to them. Scapulars are two small rectangular pieces of cloth, attached by a string and worn over the shoulders, so that the cloths rest on the front and the back of the wearer. The most popular scapular is the Brown Scapular, given by Mary in a vision to St. Simon Stock in 1251. The Green Scapular is also popular. The former is used as a means of special grace and the special protection and intercession of Mary, and the latter is given to people and placed in their possession in order to convert them. Cords are tied around the waist, such as the Cords of St. Joseph, and of the virgin and martyr, St. Philomena, for the gift of purity and chastity. The Sign of the Cross is made to profess our faith, hope, and love in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–the Trinity. This is the sign by which we acknowledge the cross–more specifically, Jesus' redemptive death on the cross. It is usually made with Holy Water, which is used to remind us of our baptism, and to drive off demons and any temporal or spiritual evils. In 1858, in Lourdes, France, Mary appeared to a peasant girl, and a stream of water came forth from the ground. Washing in or drinking the water proved miraculous for many, and Lourdes water is still used for miracles and healings. Sacred oils are used in the sacraments, for strength and spiritual activity. In the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is placed in the home, and the family consecrates itself to Jesus, to make Him the Lord of one's household. Novenas are prayers (intentions) said for nine consecutive days, in imitation of the Apostles, who prayed for nine days before Pentecost (Acts 1-2).
The use of sacramentals is not superstitious. Superstition claims that an object is the direct cause of an effect. Sacramentals, on the other hand, are not the direct cause of a blessing; rather, God is the source of the blessing, and simply uses the sacramentals as his instruments. Far from being superstitious, the sacramentals do not always derive the benefits of the seeker. Often enough, the benefits rely on the faith and disposition of the seeker.