How to Explain Sacramentals to Fundamentalists, Part II

In the first part we looked at some Catholic practices that Fundamentalists find offensive, even if they sometimes replicate the practices in their own lives. Let’s look at a few more.

Bells

Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Large bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to mimic the hosannas of the heavenly choirs.

Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t precisely clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden, but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden. Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: They don’t like bells simply because bells are identified with the Catholic Church in their minds. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them opposition to bells is largely a matter of prejudice.

The rosary

The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”

“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer. Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible, which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers.

Read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t “repetitions.” It’s “vain.” Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to nonexistent pagan gods.

What’s more, the rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics usually call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible.

But most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. But when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection.

Priestly vestments

What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass. In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (see Exodus 40:13-14, Leviticus 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).

Holy water

Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:15–22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Exodus 17:6–7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14–17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1–12).

In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).

With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder the Church promotes the use of holy water? We find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of churches. With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.

If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Many Fundamentalists are what might be termed hereditary anti-Catholics. If something is Catholic, they don’t like it, period. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. But even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic. And patience works: Some Fundamentalists now even pray the rosary!

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Catholic Answers.

By

Karl Keating is founder and senior fellow at Catholic Answers. He is the author of seven books, including the recently published The New Geocentrists and the forthcoming The Ultimate Catholic Quiz. His books Catholicism and Fundamentalism and What Catholics Really Believe have been national best sellers.

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