Outward Signs of Devotion
In the Catholic worldview, God is revealed in all things, even in words, objects, and places. These are known as sacramentals, which are not to be confused with sacraments. Sacramentals are instituted by the Church; the sacraments are instituted by Christ.
The sacramentals provide grace that encourages Catholics to do good works, help diminish any venial sins they may have committed, and generally protect the soul. When Catholics practice “popular devotions,” they are expressing ardor for God. These external practices of piety are often devised by the faithful, but in accordance with Church thinking. According to the ruling of Vatican II, “Devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it and lead the people to it, since the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them” (from
The Holy See (that is, the high Church office in Rome) does not allow devotional extravagances to get out of hand. Every once in a while, it issues a ruling that prohibits a practice it finds objectionable.