Surrounding Marian devotion are a variety of blessed items that are associated with her. The most common (and often mainstreamed) is the Rosary but there are others including Miraculous Medals and scapulars. Each have their own origin and purpose in the Church that I wanted to break down and share. Often, we give or receive these items and although we know that they are blessed and honor Mary, Theotokos, we aren't sure how or why.
A simple definition of the Rosary is prayer beads used to assist in meditative prayer. Although some of us may flinch at the comparison, the Rosary is not all that different from prayer beads used in other major religions, such as Islam and Buddhism. History notes knotted prayer ropes being used by Catholic desert monks in the 3rd and 4th centuries. But the Rosary and how to pray it is often attributed to St. Dominic, a Castilian priest and founder of the Dominican order. The Rosary is at the heart of the Dominican order and they are attributed with its spread across Europe. Although unproven, it is believed that Mary herself taught St. Dominic how to use the Rosary to intercede through her.
The Miraculous Medal is what is known as a "sacramental", blessings which prepare us to receive the grace of the sacraments and help us to grow to be more like Christ. Despite secular appropriation the Miraculous Medal is not talisman (or as an ex of mine called it, his "real seat belt"). In 1830, St. Catherine Laboure heard a voice calling to her from the chapel. Mary gave her a mission and appeared to her a few months later. This time, Mary appeared as we see her on the Medal, standing on a globe with rays of light coming from her to the earth. The vision also rotated to show St. Catherine the "back" of the medal, which showed the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary, as well as a ring of 12 stars, and a large M surmounted on a cross. Mary told St. Catherine: "All who wear them will receive great graces."
Brown Scapular (of our Lady of Mount Carmel)
Although there are several different kinds of scapulars, one of the most common is the brown scapular that originated in the Carmelite order of nuns. The scapular began as a monastic tradition as a part of their every day attire. Non-monastic scapulars are smaller and are also known as oblates. There is a history of indulgences attached to the scapular but in modern times, wearers believe that although it does save them from Hell, it is because of the true faith and devotion to Mary that it symbolizes. Simply wearing the scapular (just like casually wearing a Miraculous Medal) does nothing. It is the consecration to Mary and her Son that leads the wearer to God's Kingdom.
Sacramentals can be difficult to understand. There is so much mysticism and oral tradition associated with them. Some cultures wear Rosaries around their necks while others make rubber ones for small children to teethe on. Neither way is wrong, as long as it is done with intentional holiness. If you do use or wear any sacramental, take some time to ask yourself if you are doing it from a posture of mindful faithfulness or out of sort of spiritual superstition. Something to consider would be how you can make faith the focus of the object rather than object itself.
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