Saint medals and pocket saints are types of "sacramentals," which the catechism teaches are "holy things or actions of which the church makes use to obtain for us from God, through her intercession, spiritual and temporal favors." They may have the image of the saint and related objects, inscriptions or symbols to inspire piety and devotion. These items are worn or carried as sacred objects, not jewelry or toys, and should be treated reverently.
Although there are records of devotional medals dating back to the first centuries of Christianity, the Catholic Church did not incorporate the practice of blessing medals until the 1500s under Pope Saint Pius V. Although blessed saint medals and pocket saints, as sacramentals, share many qualities with the sacraments like baptism and confession, one major difference is that sacramentals were created by the Church whereas Catholics believe that Jesus instituted the sacraments.
Saint medals and pocket saints are not to be confused with amulets or charms. The object itself has no inherent power, but is worn or carried to remind the bearer of her faith and devotion and to "convey and obtain God’s grace and blessings," as the Sisters of Carmel explain. When a priest blesses the object, it officially becomes a sacramental and should be handled with respect. A priest's blessing does not turn a medal or statue into a "get out of jail free card," however. Its power lies in the prayers and good deeds of the bearer, the Church and the depicted saint.
A saint medal is a small piece of metal hung on a chain or cord that bears the likeness of a saint and associated imagery. The medal may be oval, circular, or in the shape of a cross (known as a four- or five-way medal). A four- or five-way saint medal usually has one image on each arm of the cross with a fifth (such as a dove) at the center. Instead of wearing a medal, some people carry a miniature sculpture, stamped coin, or other pocket-sized token.
Catholics often choose a representation of their patron saint or a saint associated with a certain cause or profession who may be able to intercede on their behalf before God. Others might choose a saint associated with a particular country, such as Mexico's Virgin of Guadalupe. Catholic Online lists the ten most popular saints as: Archangel St. Michael, St. Patrick, St. Valentine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Lucy, St. Jude Thaddaeus, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Clare.
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