September 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In an earlier post at LifeSite, I spoke about the crucial place a Catholic should give to frequent Holy Communion for the preservation and strengthening of chastity — on the assumption, of course, that whoever is approaching the communion rail is, to the best of his knowledge, in a state of grace, having brought any mortal sin to Confession beforehand.
The reason we benefit so much from Communion is that we come into contact with the holy, pure, immaculate, and life-giving Flesh of Christ, the virginal High Priest who placed His Father’s will above all earthly enticements and goods, however great they are (or seem to be). From His Sacred Heart, the burning furnace of charity, we receive the strength of will, the determination of purpose, the restraint of passion, the calm of mind, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, rather than deviating along the way.
If we fall into sin, moreover, we know that God has not abandoned us, but has permitted this stumbling for our humiliation and the stirring up of the spirit of repentance, without which no fallen human being will be saved. Even those who are far advanced along the way of perfection in charity must sorrow for their sins and the sins of the whole world. Indeed, as we see in the lives of the saints, it is the most perfect who feel most sharply the ingratitude of even the lightest of venial sins in comparison to the immensity of God’s goodness.
The spiritual masters teach that those who conquer sins of the flesh often fall into more subtle vices — above all, pride at being free from lesser sins! — and that the Lord, knowing their danger, will at times permit them to yield to a sin they thought they had conquered. In this way, He teaches them multiple lessons at once: (1) their virtue is not exclusively their own work, but comes first and foremost from God, whom they must humbly beseech for it; (2) pride goeth before a fall, as Scripture says, and those whom God favors with graces must ask even more insistently for humility; (3) the thorn of disordered concupiscence will stick in our flesh until the moment the soul is torn from the body, so we should not be naïve in our thoughts or actions.
As great as the power of the sacraments is — no power is greater in this world of ours! — they are not the only aids provided for us by the mercy of God. The Lord has empowered His Church to institute what we call “sacramentals,” which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments” that “signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy” (n. 1667).
Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. In accordance with bishops’ pastoral decisions, they can also respond to the needs, culture, and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time. … Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. (nn. 1668, 1670)
Thus, we should not be surprised to find that Holy Mother Church has instituted several sacramentals intended to help us in preserving chastity.
The one I have been using for many years is the Cord of Purity of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. It consists of a blessed white knotted cord one wears about one’s waist as both a reminder that one’s body belongs to Christ and as a silent appeal for grace in the battle for purity. This practice is derived from the original cord that St. Thomas Aquinas was given by angels after he drove away a prostitute with a fiery brand (the approach of “dialogue” was, evidently, not popular back then). To this day, the Dominicans are in charge of the Confraternity and have set up a useful website about how to be enrolled in it. I really cannot recommend this too highly. Many saintly people — including St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Columba Rieti, and Blessed Stephana Quinzan — have belonged to this Confraternity.
Other sacramentals with the same purpose exist in our Catholic tradition. One is the Cord of St. Philomena. (To read more about St. Philomena and devotion to her, read this excellent sermon from a priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter.) A brief summary of the cord may be found here, and the cord itself purchased here or here. Another is St. Joseph’s Cincture, about which Fisheaters provides ample information. I have seen mention of the White Cord of St. Francis as well, though it seems much less popular than the aforementioned cords.
The Catholic tradition is practically bursting at the seams with devotions, so we must not let ourselves get overwhelmed by the choices available to us. Because they all enjoy the blessing of the Church and have proved themselves effective over a long span of time, we may freely choose any of them, without the need to collect and combine as many sacramentals as possible. The most important thing is that we become aware of the helps placed at our disposal — this would include the crucifix, holy water, the rosary, the St. Benedict medal, the Brown Scapular, other scapulars, and the chastity cords — and make a point of using at least some of them consistently. It is very important, too, that whatever sacramentals you use be blessed by a priest using the Roman Ritual, which actually blesses the objects, instead of the Book of Blessings, which merely says nice things about them and us.
I would like to conclude with a note sent to me by a young man, writing to me about his experience of the Cord of St. Philomena.
I have found this very helpful against temptation. Sometimes we are not even aware of the difference it makes to carry or wear a blessed item on our person, but this one, I have to say, was really noticeable in its effects on my thoughts and feelings. Why is it not more talked about? Why don’t chaplains give them to students more frequently, given the plague of unchastity in schools? I sometimes feel there is a failure on the part of those who should be talking about the wonderful treasures of the Church — not you, but others — and a failure of young Catholics to have or even know about what could help to save their souls.
I couldn’t agree more.
Holy Mary, Virgin Most Pure, Virgin Most Chaste, pray for us!
St. Joseph, Chaste Spouse of the Mother of God, pray for us!
St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philomena: pray for us!