When do sacramentals and devotions become sins of supersitition?

I know many Catholics who believe firmly in the power of sacramentals to do fantastic, extraordinary things. I was raised on these beliefs myself, but now as a discerning adult, I worry if such practices can become sins of superstition or idolatry. Examples of such practices: Believing that everyone who dies wearing the Brown Scapular will go to Heaven, believing that you receive special spiritual protections simply by wearing the Miraculous Medal, believing the Drops of Blood devotion guarantees the Salvation of your family four generations after you and believing, that by praying the Chaplet of Unity ten souls will be released from Purgatory. The idea that one can use an object or formula of words to enter Heaven, or get your great-grandchild to Heaven, seems to counter-act the Redemptive role of Christ, and seems very similar to the sinful practice of spell-casting. Likewise, the idea you can get special privileges, protections and blessings simply by wearing an object, seems very much like the sinful practice of using occult amulets. Admittedly, the miracles attributed to the various sacramentals are no laughing matter, and given the Divine sources they are attributed to, I dare not denounce them entirely. Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches sacramentals are very good things when used correctly (CCC 1667). My concern is about whether using them merely for magnificent promises or as magical formulas is a sinful misuse of sacramentals. What do you think? Is it a sin of superstition to wear the Brown Scapular for the purpose of getting to Heaven, to pray the Drops of Blood devotion believing it will guarantee your granddaughter’s Salvation or that by saying the Chaplet of Unity ten souls will be released from purgatory? Do you know of any Church documents which discuss the sinful misuse of sacramentals or prayers?


No expert, but I would imagine adding ‘if it is God’s will’ to any expectations would take care of that issue…

You ask a good question, but I’m not sure what the answer is.

Superstition is the act of ascribing to an object or to an action a power that it doesn’t have and which is proper to God alone.

Sacramentals are properly used when their final object is God, Who works through them.

They are superstitiously used when they are treated as an end in themselves.

So, for example, any devotion that you pray for someone’s conversion of course depends ultimately on God’s holy will, on the graces He chooses for that individual, and on various points connected to their use of their own will. Treating a devotion like that, with faith and with submission to God, is proper. But treating that devotion as if it could, of itself, force your desired outcome is superstitious.

Here’s more from Fr. John Hardon’s dictionary: catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=36723.

If you search the brown scapula, the Catechism for this Sacramental today, is different to what was traditionally prescribed to it. In fact, enrolement in the scapular, and hence , becoming a member of a community , is no longer required or, recommended. Don Ruggero has posted Catechism for this Scapular, recently on CAF.

As far as devotions that traditionally promised 4 generations of a family being saved, such as the 15 wounds prayed daily for a year, or the 12 year prayers (both of St Bridgette), the Catholic Church has revoked such promises. And prayer books like the Pieta are not allowed to publish these promises. They are not valid.

I believe the same non validity stands for saying a prayer that will release x number of souls from Purgatory each time it is prayed. So the Catholic Church has done a lot to vaniquish these type of promises.

Valid promises attached to valid devotions can be found on the Vatican website.

The best , and recommended way to attempt an Indulgence , either for yourself or for the dead, is through a Plenary or Partial Indulgence, offered by the Pope.

An Indulgence can be gained daily according to the works and rules attached to it.

Google the Vatican documents on Indulgences.

3 ways to gain indulgences that are within everyone’s reach are

  1. Rosary (5 decades)

  2. Stations of the Cross ( has to be in a Church , I think)

  3. Reading the Bible for half an hour or less.

  4. There is a list of Prayers which can gain the Prayer a Partial Indulgence

These works are done Either in a Church or home, according to the rules of the Indulgence… And also fulfilling the general conditions of Indulgences.
1 Communion in a state of Grace
2. Confession
3. Prayer for the intentions of the Pope.

Great way to help dead relatives, or the forgotten dead!

Got a relative that might be in Purgatory? Gain them an Indulgence :pray:

Andrea Day. You said . . .

the idea you can get special privileges, protections and blessings simply by wearing an object, seems very much like the sinful practice of using occult amulets.

When Jesus told the blind man to go wash in the pool of Siloam and received special privileges and blessings for this . . . was Jesus mimicking the occult?

JOHN 9:6-7 6 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Do you think the guy would have gotten his sight back had he said:

“Well I’m just going to believe and NOT DO what Jesus told me to do”?

Do you think this guy’s blindness would have went away ANYWAY?

Sacramentals assume a proper disposition. Sacramentals are not reducible to charms.

**People who are implicitly and sometimes unwittingly anti-incarnational will reject physical means of God’s grace. **

Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness . . .


Manichaeism is a very virulent early heresy and there are still remnants of it in our day.

No proper disposition with sacramentals, no “cashing in” on the promises associated with them.

The Church knows full well what She is doing when approving such means of grace.

LUKE 8:43-48 43 And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed by anyone 44 came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

MATTHEW 9:20-22 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Here we see the woman with the hemorrhage’s faith AND touching the garment of Jesus working in tandem.

Do you think the salt that The Prophet used in the River Jordan at Jericho was superfluous?

2nd KINGS 2:17-22 17 But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and for three days they sought him but did not find him. 18 And they came back to him, while he tarried at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?” 19 Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, “Thus says the LORD, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Elisha spoke.

In Acts 19 who do you think provided the proper disposition with sacramental (“handkerchiefs or aprons” of St. Paul) usage?

ACTS 19:11-17a 11 And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks . . . .

Continued . . . .

***Continued from last post . . . ***

Yes sacramentals can be ABUSED like when the Israelites ABUSED the bronze serpent by burning incense to it.

But that does not do away with the PROPER use of it as prescribed by God (or His Church).

King Ahaz “did what was right” taking the bronze serpent away from the Israelite people for their abuse of "burning incense TO IT.

2nd KINGS 18:1b, 3-4 1 . . . the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. . . . 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan.

But this does not do away with the PROPER use of the bronze serpent.

NUMBERS 21:5-9 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

And this abuse did not keep Jesus from using the bronze serpent as a PREFIGUREMENT for Himself!

JOHN 3:14-16, 20-22 12:32-33 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. . . . 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. 22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. . . . . 32 **and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33 He said this to show by what death he was to die. **

(You can read on your own, 2nd Maccabees chapter 12 and see amulets – which are NOT sacramentals – and the disastrous results they have).

Amulets and charms are to be opposed.

It’s the ABUSE of sacramentals that should be opposed, not the proper USE.

And to DENY a proper use is . . . . unbiblical.

God bless.


The reason that sacramentals “work” is that prayers of blessing by priests do something real to material objects – God responds to His priests, and makes them sources of blessing to us. Lack of faith is sometimes allowed by God to stop sacramentals from “working,” but generally they are going to “work” whether or not the user believes in them. Whether or not it will do the user any good is dependent on the mercy of God and the disposition of the person.

That said, it is true that most modern prayers of blessing don’t actually ask God for any great graces. This is a great pity. If we don’t ask, it’s only by the mercy of God that we will get.

Nobody can place his faith in devotions. It is faith in God and His promises, including His promises to the saints. Having faith in God is hardly idolatry.

Treating devotional prayers as spells and sacramentals as magic (or a divine vending machine) is wrong. God blesses us and fulfills His promises freely, every time, out of individual love for each of us.

But having contempt for legitimate blessings and devotions is also a grave error. It calls good things evil, including the Holy Spirit. What seems weird to Bob might turn out to be a time-honored Catholic practice, if you ask Gwenda who knows all about its history. So it is often better to reserve judgment until you know more.

If you don’t know much about a devotion and it has an imprimatur or other approvals, it is better to assume that it is legit than to worry about it. But you don’t have to practice every devotion, either. Pick and choose what is spiritually useful, and doable, for you personally.

If you see something hinky, you can always talk to a priest about it or do research. But passing judgment on other people’s devotional lives is risky, unless you are a trained spiritual director. Assume the best of people until further notice, and you will have a lot more peace.

I am sorry Graceful_Lamb.

Looking at your post 8 . . .

I don’t think I made my point sufficiently clear.

The point I was trying to make is SURE it IS Jesus.

But HOW did that guy RECEIVE the healing graces of Jesus?

By Jesus’ touch but by him yes but ALSO by his WASHING IN THE POOL associated with that.

God healed the man through the waters, Jesus’ touch, and Jesus’ command.

The water here, served as a sacramental so to speak.

And if the guy would have decided to blow off Jesus’ command to “go wash”, he in all likelihood would NOT have gotten his sight back.

Very well said. It is the application of these principles I struggle with. For example, do you think that wearing a Brown Scapular merely for the promise of Salvation would fall under the category of “end in itself” or “final object is God”?


I agree sacramentals are Biblical–you have cited the evidence well. I am asking whether the specific practices I mentioned in the OP constitute proper use or abuse.

FWIW, simply wearing the Brown Scapular doesn’t guarantee entry into heaven any more than wearing your wedding ring will keep you from adultery. If you read a description of the devotion, you’ll see that entering into the confraternity involves promising to perform certain prayers and devotions every day. It is performing these devotions, NOT simply wearing the scapular, that will gain you heaven.

As for your prayers contradicting G_D’s will, it is G_D’s will that we all spend eternity with Him in heaven. If we are willing to make sacrifices and offer prayers for our children and grandchildren, if we unite those sufferings with those of the Cross, do you honestly believe that G_D will count those sufferings as wasted? Remember: Our Lady appeared to Jacinta when she was dying in the hospital and gave her the choice of coming to heaven with Our Lady now, or suffer more on earth to save sinners. Jacinta chose to remain on earth, and 6 months later Our Lady appeared to her to tell her that Jacinta’s willing acceptance of suffering, of being Christ to each other, resulted in a man in China being saved.

Not necessarily…

“God, I place my trust in you that this rabbit’s foot will bring me luck, if it is Your will.”

…I’d say that is still a sin of superstition.


Another one that comes to my mind is the idea that if you say a certain prayer seven times and whatnot, then you’ll learn the name of your guardian angel. I remember, two decades ago, Fr. Dave Pivonka speaking against that practice.

Andrea Day:

I agree sacramentals are Biblical–you have cited the evidence well. I am asking whether the specific practices I mentioned in the OP constitute proper use or abuse.

That’s where we trust the authority of the Church in allowing those decisions and we carry out personal discernment (sometimes with he help of a spiritual director) to apply these sacramentals to our lives.

I was always taught that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel promised St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular Shall not suffer eternal fire!”, and that if you performed extra devotions you could achieve the Sabatine Privilege, getting out of Purgatory the first Saturday after your death. I heard that at one point the Scapular was only open to religious of Mt. Carmel, but that when the Scapular became available to the public, so did the promise of salvation.

Not wasted per se, but Jesus and the Church clearly teach a specific formula for salvation which includes baptism and choosing to remain out of mortal sin. Prayers promising another’s salvation ignore this reality. Either a person is baptized and dies without mortal sin and will go to Heaven without the help of the prayers, or the person dies unbaptized or in mortal sin and won’t go to Heaven despite the prayers. It seems the best prayers can do is compel us towards baptism and staying out of mortal sin, but I am doubtful whether we should believe any prayer can override a person’s free will and force us into Confession or Baptism, yet that is the only way such promises could be valid.

It is an objective sin, but not necessarily a formal sin, to belive something that is opposed the Catholic dogma of salvation which is that a state of sanctifying grace is needed at the point of death.

Salvation is certainly not granted by use a sign (sacramental) or by prayers.

To be released from purgatory requires that one is already saved, for which a plenary indulgence is sufficient. So there is no plenary indulgence granted by the Church for the Chaplet of Unity but there is for the Way of the Cross, the Marian Rosary, the Akathistos, the Office of the Paraclesis, which would only be one soul per indulgence. And all the additional requirements for a plenary indulgence must be fulfilled.

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