Many Catholics are aware of the 7 sacraments – Baptism, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders. These are signs instituted by Christ to give grace. Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They can be objects, actions, gestures and prayers instituted by the Church and are not limited in number. Sacramentals lead up to or continue the grace of the Sacraments. For example, Holy Water is a sacramental used for the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Church and its contents are full of beauty, symbolism and meaning and an awareness of these fosters a deeper encounter with God each time we spend time in Church in prayer or during the Holy Mass. To discover more about the symbolism of the architecture of our church we invite you to visit our page on this subject. The coverage on that page overlaps and is related to this article on Sacramentals.

Sacred Objects

Sacred Vessels

Sacred Vessels are the receptacles and utensils used during liturgical celebrations to hold the consecrated Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These are the chalice, the Paten, the Ciborium, Pyx and Monstrance. They are treated with the utmost respect and care.

The chalice is a cup that is used to hold the wine which after the Words of Consecration become the precious Blood of Christ. The Paten is a small plate for the host which after the consecration become the Body of Christ. The Ciborium is a larger container for hosts for distribution during communion. A pyx is a small box containing consecrated hosts to be brought to the sick.

” Sacred vessels should be made from precious metal. If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, they should generally be gilded on the inside.” (GIRM 328)

Other materials may be used provided they are considered previous or noble in a particular region and do not easily break or deteriorate (GIRM 329). For chalices, the material of the bowl should not absorb liquids (GIRM 331).

Chalice Vesture/Linens

Customarily, the chalice is vested when placed on the credence table before it is brought to the altar. A vested chalice has with it a purificator, a paten with a host, a pall, a veil of the same material and color as the vestments of the day and a burse containing a corporal. This photo shows the burse and the veil with all the other items hidden inside.

The Burse (from the Latin for bag or container) is a square sleeve in liturgical color of the season and may also be decorated  with a cross. It serves to contact the corporal which is a square piece of fine white linen which is laid out on the altar and on top of which are placed the Chalice and the Paten. Corporal comes from the Latin word, ‘Corpus’ or body because it is used to catch fragments of the Body of Christ.

Under the Burse is the Veil, a piece of fabric with the same liturgical color as the priest’s vestments. The veil hides the sacred vessels from view and reminds us of the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple in the Old Testament and the removal of the veil following the Liturgy of the Word reminds us of the sacred mysteries about to be revealed to us and also alludes to the tearing of the curtain of the temple when Jesus yielded his Spirit on the cross.

Underneath the Veil are the Pall, the Paten with a large unconsecrated host, a purificator and the chalice. When placed on the altar, the chalice sits on top of a corporal as shown. The Pall is a covering to prevent foreign objects from falling into the paten or chalice. It is made of a square of linen stiffened with cardboard.

Right below the Pall is the Paten with a large host for consecration by the priest together with the other hosts in the ciborium or ciboria that are placed on the Altar during the preparation of the gifts. The host is not shown in the following image but it will normally sit on the paten which is the small circular dish on top of the chalice.

Removal of the Paten reveals the Purificator, a triple-folded rectangular piece of linen.  This is used to wipe the lips and fingers of the priest and for cleansing of the chalice after Communion.

The next image shows the Chalice and the Paten in the foreground; two sacred vessels made of noble materials that hold the precious Blood and Body of Christ respectively. Both vessels sit on top of a large square piece of linen called a corporal. When the vested chalice is brought to the altar, the corporal is located inside the burse. The purpose of the corporal is to catch any drops of the precious blood or fragments of the consecrated hosts.


The pyx is a small round container that is used to hold the consecrated hosts as they are being brought to the homes of the sick.


A cruet is a small container which holds either the wine or water that the priest uses during Holy Mass. They are used in pairs with one containing the wine and the other, water. The wine is poured into the chalice and becomes the Blood of Christ when the priest speaks the Words of Consecration. During the Preparation of the Gifts, the priest adds some water to the wine which signifies that Jesus is both man and God. Glass cruets make it easier to identify the contents but some cruets may be made from metal in which case some marks e.g. V (Vinum) on the wine cruet and an A (aqua) on the water cruet may be made to distinguish the two.

Holy Water

Holy Water is used for the Sacrament of Baptism. As we enter the Church, we dip our fingers into the stoop containing Holy Water and bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. This action reminds us of our baptism and our baptismal promises to reject sin and Satan and to believe in God. We should also remind ourselves that we are children of God and part of the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ and we are called to be Priest, Prophet and King to others.

Aspersorium and Aspergillum

From time to time on Sundays, especially in Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of Baptism. (GIRM, 51).

The rite of sprinkling of water on the congregation is also called the Asperges. Holy water is brought in a holy water bucket or aspersorium. The priest dips an instrument called an aspergillum, which often consists of a short handle with a perforated ball at the end, and uses the aspergillum to sprinkle holy water on the congregation.

Incense, Thurible and Boat

The General Instruction for the Roman Missal or GIRM has this to say about incense in paragraph 75:

“The bread and wine are placed on the altar by the Priest to the accompaniment of the prescribed formulas; the Priest may incense the gifts placed on the altar and then incense the cross and the altar itself, so as to signify the Church’s offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God. Next, the Priest, because of his sacred ministry, and the people, by reason of their baptismal dignity, may be incensed by the Deacon or by another minister.”

Incense may be used at various parts of Holy Mass especially on Feasts and Solemnities.

  • Entrance procession
  • Beginning of the mass for the cross and altar
  • During the procession before the Gospel and while the Gospel is being proclaimed by the priest
  • After the Bread and Wine are placed on the Altar when the priest will incense these as well as the crucifix and the altar
  • When the Body or Blood is elevated during consecration

Incense is also used during processions such as Corpus Christi and Easter Vigil and at funerals. At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the priest inserts five grains of incense into the Paschal Candle representing the 5 wounds of Jesus.

Incense comes from the resin of trees found in the Middle East. During Mass, they are put into a container called a Boat. Before the incense is used, the priest spoons incense from the Boat into the Thurible which contains hot coals.

He then blesses the thurible before it is used. The incense in contact with the hot coals produce white smoke and the scent we are all familiar with. The rising smoke (GIRM 75) signifies the offerings and prayers of the church rising in the sight of God.

Church of St Anthony Servers at Corpus Christi

The number of times the Thurible is swung is also significant.

3 swings to incense:

  • The Blessed Sacrament
  • A relic of the cross
  • Images of the Lord exposed for public veneration
  • The offerings on the altar
  • The altar cross
  • Book of Gospels
  • Paschal Candle
  • Priest and the People

2 swings to incense:

  • Relics and images of the saints exposed for public veneration

1 swing to incense the altar as the priest walks around it

Sanctus Bell

The Altar or Sanctus Bell is a small handheld bell which is used to solemnly call the attention of the faithful during Holy Mass. According to paragraph 150 for the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the bell is rung at these times of the Mass.

“A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom.”

Sanctuary Lamp

The Sanctuary Lamp is a mark of honor to remind the faithful that Christ is present in the Tabernacle and is a profession of their love and affection. It must be lighted as long as the Blessed Sacrament is in the Tabernacle. There must be at least 1 lamp (according to Rit. Rom IV, 6). In our church, there are two sanctuary lamps located on either side of the Altar.

In the Old Testament we find this passage in Exodus:

“Command the children of Israel that they bring thee the purest oil of the olives (…) that a lamp may burn always, in the tabernacle of the testimony (…) that it may give light before the Lord until the morning. It shall be a perpetual observance throughout their successions among the children of Israel.” (Exod. 27:20-21)


The Tabernacle is a box in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for adoration and for use during Holy Mass and for communion for the sick. In our Church, it can be found right behind the Altar under the Crucifix. The veil over the Tabernacle represents the tent that covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. As we enter the church, we are reminded that Jesus is present in the Tabernacle and we genuflect before we enter the pew for prayer or Mass. As we touch the ground with our knee, we remind ourselves how the Lord came down and became Man to save us.

The Altar

The Altar is a symbol of Christ himself (GIRM #1383). It is both the Altar of Sacrifice where the victim, Jesus, is offered for our reconciliation and the Table of the Lord on which Christ gives himself as good from heaven. At the beginning of the mass, the priest kisses the altar as a sign of veneration.

Altar Candles

The candle signifies the presence of Christ, the light of the world. Through baptism, we share in his light. There are at least two candles at every mass, usually on weekday masses. For Sundays in Ordinary Time, there are 4 candles and for solemnities, 6. For masses celebrated by a bishop, 7 candles are lit.

Gestures, Postures and Actions

During Mass, the Assembly adopts various gestures and postures depending on the part of the Mass. These actions include genuflecting, bowing, standing, kneeling and sitting. These things we do in common together with the prayers of the Mass foster communion within the Assembly and with the priest.


As we enter the church, we genuflect to the Tabernacle just before we enter the pews. Genuflecting is a sign of adoration and reverence because of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle.  The priest and ministers genuflect towards the Tabernacle during the Introductory Rites and the Concluding Rites. As we genuflect and as our knee touches the ground, we are reminded of the Incarnation when Jesus came down to the ‘ground’ to become man for our salvation. Genuflection originates from court etiquette during medieval times when people genuflect to the King as a sign of respect or as a pledge of service. Christians adopted this over time and by the 16th century it became part of the Roman (Latin) Rite.


According the the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) #137, a bow is a sign of reverence and honor to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. For example, we bow to the Altar which represents Christ. It is also a mark of submission to God. We bow during a part of the Creed, before receiving communion, when we pray and finally when we receive a blessing.

There are two kinds of bows – a bow of the head or a profound bow which is a bow of the body. When do we perform a bow of the head or of the body?

Bow of the Head
  • We bow at the head before receiving Holy Communion as a gesture of reverence (GIRM #160).
  • At a Solemn Blessing when the priests says, “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing. ‘ (GIRM #185) e.g. during the Concluding Rites for some feasts and solemnities.
  • When the names of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, Mary or the Saint whose name is being honored by a particular mass e.g. Feast of St Joseph.

The origin of the bowing when the name of Jesus is mentioned is inspired by the words of St Paul in Philippians 2:9-11, “…st the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,..” Pope Gregory X in his letter to the Dominican Order in 1274 proposed that every head should bow when the name of Jesus is mentioned and that when we bow, interiorly we bend the knee of our hearts to honor the “name above every other name.”

Bow of the Body (profound bow)

During the Creed when we recite the words, “by the power of the Holy Spirit.. and became man,” except at the solemnities of the Annunciation and the Nativity of the Lord when all genuflect. (GIRM #137).


We stand during the Introductory Rites, the Gospel Acclamation, the Gospel, when receiving communion and at the end of the mass. It is a posture of respect and reverence.


We sit during the 1st Reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the 2nd Reading, during the homily and offertory. Sitting is a posture that signifies listening or attentiveness.


Kneeling is a sign of prayer and adoration and of supplication and humble prayer. It expresses our humility and lowliness before God. We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer after the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy..) and through the Doxology (“Through Him, With Him ..”). We also kneel after the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God, before and after communion.

Orans Posture

This posture is reserved for priests. As he priest holds his hands in this posture, he is gathering our prayers and offers them to God on our behalf and at the same time receive God’s blessings and graces for his people. At the end of the Introductory Rites is The Collect when the priest invites us to pray in our hearts, “Let us pray.” There is a brief moment of silence when we offer our intentions in silence, in our hearts. The priest, with his hands held in the Orans posture, collects our intentions and offers them up to God. Hence the name of the prayer, “The Collect.”

Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross originates from the early 2nd Century AD. We sign ourselves in the name of the Holy Trinity and declare our belief in the Trinitarian God. The Sign of the Cross also reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation and when we sign ourselves, we are confessing our faith and recalling our baptism and baptismal promises.

Prayers and Words


The Hebrew word, ‘amen,’ is derived from the verb ‘aman’ which means “to strengthen” or “to confirm.”  By saying ‘Amen,’ we fully accept what was previously said. So when we reply, “Amen” to “The Body of Christ,” we confirm that we believe what we receive in Communion is the Body of Christ himself.


In Matthew 21:9, it says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna comes from the Hebrew word, ‘hoshi’ana’ which means, “Save us, we pray.” It is an expression of joy of triumph shouted by the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem. During Mass, we proclaim “Hosanna in the Highest,” twice during the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, Holy.


Alleluia is an expression of praise, glorifying God for his goodness. It is rooted in a Hebrew expression which means ‘praise the Lord.’ During the Acclamation before the Gospel, we sing with joy to welcome Jesus who speaks to us through the Gospel. The Alleluia is omitted during Lent and is sung again at the Easter Vigil as the Great Alleluia as Easter represents is for us, a period of great joy and exultation.

The Lord Be With You

When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” (Ruth 2:4) he reminds us that the mass in not a common meal but a heavenly banquet.

And With Your Spirit

When we reply to the priest’s words, “The Lord be with you,” we say, “And with your spirit,” to refer to the Holy Spirit and the special graces given to the priest and the Holy Spirit’s activity through the priest. This phrase recognizes that priests are set apart by virtue of their ordination (Sacrament of Holy Orders) to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The priest acts in the person of Christ.