The most common image on Catholic medals is that of the Virgin Mary.
The most common image on Catholic medals is that of the Virgin Mary.

Roman Catholic medals are one form of Catholic devotion. These medals, which are small enough to be worn or carried, serve to remind Catholics of their faith. Usually made of gold, silver or pewter, they typically bear the image of the Virgin Mary or of a patron saint. Often they also include a request that the saint pray for the bearer.

Sacramentals

Catholic devotional medals are one form of sacramental, which are a part of popular devotion. They are similar to sacraments, but of lesser importance. The Rituale Romanum states: "These auxiliaries, the sacramentals, are the many powerful supports by which man's course to heaven can be lightened, affording protection against the enemies of his soul and promoting bodily well-being in the interests of the soul." Sacramentals not only help focus the devotion of the bearer, they also carry with them the intercessory prayers of the church. Those prayers join the medal when the medal is blessed.

Blessing

Canon 1168 of the the Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law says, "The minister of sacramentals is a cleric who has been provided with the requisite power." That cleric can be the pope, a bishop, a priest or a deacon. The exception to this rule is when the medal is not for personal use but is rather to be an object for public veneration. Images of Christ or the saints that will be publicly venerated must be blessed by a priest, bishop or the pope, according to "De Benedictionibus." Deacons may not bless them.

The Rite

The rite by which the medal is blessed includes prayers and ritual actions. The cleric first asks God to bless the medal. He then sprinkles water on the medal or sometimes immerses the medal in holy water. Sometimes a rite of exorcism is included. The cleric, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, casts out demons and any power of Satan that may be in the medal. Sometimes medals are incensed with smoke from a censer.

The Result

A religious medal does not become a talisman or charm upon being blessed. It has no built in power even if it has been blessed by the appropriate cleric. The protection that the medal symbolizes is not the protection of the medal itself, but the protection offered by God, the Blessed Virgin Mary or a saint. The Rituale Romanum says the medal helps supplement a Christian's weakness of faith, reminding the bearer of the power of God and the prayers of the church on his behalf.