November 24, 2019 – Ruminations by Fr. Pat

In many a car that may be owned by a Catholic, one may see, in one way or another, a medal dangling from the rearview mirror or clipped on the visor. For many a Catholic, a religious medal may be worn about the neck. Where did this practice come from? Is it something new?
Actually, wearing a religious medal is something that is very old, both in the Church and in the secular world. In the Roman world people wore amulets, which were supposed to guard the person from curses, or which gave them supernatural powers. It was a very common practice. They used them as “magical” items, in order to protect themselves from various evils of the world or to ward off disease.
When the Roman world became Christianized, the Church Christianized the use of medals. The Church sanctified the practice, removing the perception that the charm had “power” and replacing it with the under-standing that wearing a medal is intended to remind the wearer of the power of Jesus in their life. Within the Church the practice of wearing medals for religious reasons reminds Christians of their bond with Jesus Christ. Archeology has discovered medals bearing the image of St. Peter and St. Paul manufactured in the second century. In fact, there was a St. Zeno of Verona (d. 371) who had the custom of giving religious medals to newly baptized Christians to commemorate their baptism and reception into the Church.
There is one very important item that needs to be understood. Many people think of medals as good luck charms. The Church, from the very beginning, has condemned this type of thinking. Currently, the Catechism states: All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion (#2117).
Medals are reminders to help the believer to pray, or to perform acts of reverence to God. They may help the believer directly pray to God. They may be reminded that the Saint is praying for them. Remember, the medal itself does not give any help to the believer, but inspires occasions of Faith and Hope in God. They are not to be perceived as good luck charms. Wearing the medal of St. Michael doesn’t protect us; it is his prayers to the Lord which protects us. By wearing the medal, we are reminded of that fact. Wearing a medal of the Blessed Mother doesn’t force her to help us. It is a reminder that she does help us because of her love for us and her Faith in her Son.

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