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I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post many times. At first it was just supposed to be informational and light; but the further I dug, the more frustrated I became. I thought I had a pretty good handle on Sacramentals, but I was wrong.

The more definitions of “sacramental” I found, the more frustrated I grew. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from understanding what they actually were and how they fit into our Catholic faith.

 

Sacramentals Defined

According to the Catechism (CCC #1667)  Sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They 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.

Ummm… I still didn’t quite get it.

I knew that rosaries and scapulars were sacramentals; I also knew the list was longer than that, but I couldn’t quite understand what made a sacramental a sacramental.

And because I, as a person who works with rosaries, scapulars, and all things Catholic objects all day long, felt confused, I guessed that there were others out there in the same boat: You know they exist, they help in prayer life, but it just never felt super important to have a solid understanding of what a sacramental is or isn’t.

In light of this, I’ve been reading up! And here’s what I’ve found.

 

Sacrament vs Sacramental

As Jesus instituted the Seven Sacraments, the Church has instituted sacramentals.

The clearest definition I’ve found comes from Julie Dortch Cragon: “Sacramentals are items, actions, and blessings that remind us to be faithful, to pray, to love one another and to be grateful to our God.”

While Sacraments are signs and instruments of God’s grace, the role of Sacramentals is to magnify the grace of the sacraments. They show us what is holy and “draw us into a deeper devotion and prayer.” (Cragon’s Amazing Graces – The Blessings of Sacramentals)

Below are examples of Sacramentals under their 3 different forms – Actions, Blessings and Items. These are by no means comprehensive, but I find that examples help me understand the abstract better.

 

Actions

A few weeks back I had written about crossing our head, lips and heart before the Gospel at Mass. This is a sacramental. It reminds us to be witnesses to God’s Word.

A few more actions:

The Sign of the Cross

Ringing the bells during the liturgy of the Eucharist

Pilgrimage

Sprinkling Holy Water

 

Blessings

Prayers, scripture and the accompanying gestures are used to bless tools, people and experiences like pilgrimages and quinceañeras.

The clergy are not the only one able to bestow blessings (although they are certainly needed for blessing that call for a little more fire power. “[T]he more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons” (CCC 1669)

In baptism we laypeople are called to bless. Even a step farther, Luke 6:28 tells us to ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So be liberal with spreading those blessings!

 

Items

Blessed items, beyond rosaries and scapulars, are considered sacramentals when they are blessed and are used to sanctify ourselves.

The Catechism (1670) tells us that the list of items that can become sacraments is boundless. “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”

A few more common sacramental items include:

Candles, Advent Wreaths, Altar Linens, Pictures and Statues of saints, Medals, and Relics. Really, the list is inexhaustible.

 

Sacramentals in your life

We often talk about bringing more prayer into our lives. Using sacramentals helps us on this quest. Creating habits around them like crossing ourselves when we wake up in the morning, enrolling in a scapular, or keeping a bottle of holy water handy all serve us in completing the meaning of our lives: Get to Heaven.

 

The soul who blesses will prosper, whoever satisfies others will also be satisfied.” Proverbs 11:25

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Choosing a Catholic Devotion

When you have the perfect Catholic devotion, it is present in everything you do.

The beautiful fall weather has started and I keep trying to find excuses to be outside. Last night I attacked the thistles in my yard until the dark and mosquitoes chased me inside. Throughout my task, Anna Nuzzo‘s rendition of the Divine Mercy Chaplet kept going through my mind – my devotional earworm. I would find myself half-way through a decade, the prayers subconsciously counted off on my gloved fingers.

I did not seek out a devotion, but the Divine Mercy found me. I picked up a pamphlet one day and that was that. I was sold and haven’t missed a day of praying the chaplet since. It’s the first habit I’ve ever picked up so effortlessly.

The overwhelm of choice

Every day here at Discount Catholic Products I am surrounded by an innumerable selection of devotional tools. To just pick a devotion from the multitudes would be a daunting task for anyone. We humans when faced with too many choices usually default to no choice for fear of being wrong.

Granted, there is no “wrong” when choosing a devotion, but making any choice triggers Fear of Missing Out. Think of the last time you had to order from a menu and couldn’t decide between 2 or 3 entrees. Just like ordering 3 entrees leads to discomfort, regret and a large bill, having too many devotions leads to mechanical prayer, frustration and overwhelm while trying to “just get ’em all done.”

What is a devotion?

Catholic Devotions are ways of showing love for the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels and saints. It’s not a single prayer, or a check mark that you “completed it”; a devotion is an ongoing consciousness of your dedication to offering everything you have and do. It is keeping the devotion top of mind throughout every day, and bringing your spiritual life into your every day life.

Why a devotion?

The USCCB points out that while the Liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, the time between attending mass should be filled with prayer as well. This is where devotions come in. “Popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster ceaseless prayer…. Popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life.”

To Begin a Devotion

So start with one. Simplicity in devotion is best.

Which one? Start with this list from the Knights of Columbus or these Eucharistic devotions from Loyola Press. Catholic devotions are too many to list, a sample being the rosary, litanies, saints, novenas, scapulars, Seven Sorrows, consecration, and chaplets. Don’t let the plethora of devotions detract you, though. Pick the first one that calls to you and do a little research, and pray about it.

Choose whichever devotion that

  1. Helps you meditate on the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ;
  2. Brings you closer to the Church; and
  3. You know you can be faithful to and build a habit around.

A devotion is a means to an end. If the focus you chose is not helping you fill your heart with love for God and and your fellow man, try something different.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception. Phil 1:9

Tell us: What is your devotion and how/why did you pick it?

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Two years, 10 months and 16 days ago a 27′ UHaul Truck with a dead headlight and bad windshield wipers was driving over the Rocky mountains then through a terrible snowstorm. The truck contained the entire contents of a 13 year-old (old for the internet) company and was traveling from Silicon Valley to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Six months before that, Travis and I were looking at each other asking each other “Are we nuts?” as we kept coming across this website for sale: DiscountCatholicProducts.com.

All I really wanted was a little something I could do on the side of my “real job” to pay off student loans a little faster, just a couple extra $100 a week or so. What commenced after that… I never would have gone down that road if I knew what were to come.  (Don’t get me wrong – we’re having a blast. But it’s the complete opposite of what I thought I wanted. A few hours a week on my own time? HAH! Not even close!)

I thought maybe having a website would fill this criteria, so the search began. We looked at a few small sites here and there, and then we came across this behemoth that was super compelling, but way outside our list of criteria, and way outside our price range. So we ignored it and kept looking.

But it kept popping up. This Catholic website. It wouldn’t be ignored.

So, fine, we thought. Let’s just take a look and see what it has to offer. What could it hurt? We may even learn something.

What we saw was very compelling. We saw a business with strong roots – founded by a brother/sister team out of their garage back in 1999, with great customers and vendors. And then it had been sold off to a large Silicon Valley company that wanted to use it for their Christmas decoration business, but it just never really tied together. Discount Catholic Products was tucked into the corner of a much larger office, and cared for by a small staff.  The synergies they were hoping for never really panned out, so they were selling it off, and not having an easy time of doing in.

That’s where we came in. At the time it just seemed like such a large, daunting company (even with a staff of only 3) – so much more than we were looking for – that we didn’t want to want it, so we passed.

And it just kept coming back into our minds. As did insecurities – Could we handle something like this? How would our family life change? Are we Catholic enough?

So we put forth what we thought was a ridiculously low offer – that way we could say we tried and then forget it.

But they accepted. 

Nuts. Not what we were expecting. But on the other hand we were SO EXCITED – and totally scared! This little website needed some dedicated, Catholic love! It needed to come back to a Catholic family willing to nurture the customers and catalog. It needed an upgrade and some testing, and pruning of product list. It was a fixer-upper!

I LOVE new projects, I love challenges, and I had nothing but pure anticipation when we realized what was coming. 

So I took a few days off my job, conned my mother into being a trucker for a week, flew out to California, loaded the business onto a U-Haul. The original plan was to run the business out of our basement, but when we saw the racks of product when we got to Silicon Valley, we knew it would never fit.

So I flew back to South Dakota, and Mom took off in the U-Haul. I had 2.5 days to find a place for this business to land. She would remind me of this with a string of text messages that said “by Friday”. That’s all it said. Each text – for 2 days straight “by Friday.” Meaning – “you better find a place for this stuff to land because I’m only moving it this once.”

“By Friday”

“by FRIDAY”

On Thursday Travis was driving the same route to school that he had driven over 1000 times in the last 7 years, and he noticed a barn that had been converted into offices. On a whim he pulled in to the parking lot and poked his head around. Within 2 hours he and I were talking with the landlord and helping him clean out a space he was using for storage that would now become our Discount Catholic Products HQ.

Our First Office - in a barn (which is fitting, since we're both farm kids)

Our First Office - in a barn (which is fitting, since we're both farm kids)

And it was perfect!

The UHaul arrived the next day, we unloaded it, and began filling orders that had been backing up for the last 3 days. Due to both our inexperience and the mess of unpacking Travis and I would be filling orders until 1-2 AM every night, and teaching/accounting during the day. 

And slowly we’ve made our upgrades, we’ve honed our product offerings, and we have learned so much. But the main take-away for us so far is our faith and how much we’ve grown in our faith thanks to our customers. 

You don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out. Sometimes we felt really dumb, under-catechized, and confused, but the amount that we learn only fuels our faith. We know God brought us to DCP for a reason. My prayer is that we somehow help others on their faith journey so they can grow in their relationship with God, as we have been gifted for the last 3 years.

So while this labor of love is much more labor than I ever expected, the other end of that is that the love is multitudes more than the labor. Thank you so much for being part of the DCP Family. We appreciate every one of you!

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Everywhere I turn these days I seem to encounter athletes. One of my friends did a half IronMan this last weekend, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and I recently learned about Sister Madonna Buder, about whom Nike recently made a great commercial.

Sr. Madonna’s story is fantastic. She has completed over 40 IronMan competitions – for the uninitiated the race includes a 2.4 mile swim, a marathon run, and 112 bike ride, for a total of 140.62 miles in under 17 hours. Oh… and she’s 86.

It’s all very intimidating or inspiring… I can’t decide which one. I’m not a complete couch potato – I play on a few rec leagues, but what these people can physically accomplish is amazing. It makes me want to go out and run a mile. 

My mom always said that I shouldn’t use the word hate. So I won’t.

I very strongly dislike running. VERY strongly.

I love mowing the lawn. I have a super old Dixon lawn mower and for 2 and half hours every weekend I get to mow the lawn. It’s very mesmerizing.

What do these two thing have in common? They are great times for prayer. 

I’m particularly fond of the Divine Mercy Chaplet (I found the one sung by Angelina on Google Play is my favorite) when I’m mowing. It is such a powerful prayer and when sung, it adds time for me to meditate on each iteration of “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s beautiful and moving and very personally meaningful.

Then there’s running. Did I tell you how I feel about running? Well that hasn’t changed in the last 4 paragraphs. I don’t like to do it.

However, prayer is a great tool for my mental game when I run. It not only keeps my mind busy, but it also helps me keep tempo and sets milestones for marking my run. (Tip – Rosary Rings work really well for this.)

The man who teaches the adult education classes at my church swims as he prays the rosary. He says he can spend an entire half hour on a single mystery.  That is inspiring.

So with rosary ring securely around my finger, I run. I run the rosary. And the results are a slightly better soccer game, physical well-being and an inner satisfaction that can only come from the grace of God.

 

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I LOVE watching the Olympics and I LOVE reading about public figures and their Catholic faith.

So when I heard that Katie Ledecky says a Hail Mary or two before every race, I wondered who else competing in Rio is Catholic.  Here are a few I found with my preliminary search tonight:

Katie Ledecky (Swimming) 

  • Gold in 400m Freestyle on Sunday
  • Godfather is a Jesuit priest
  • “I do say a prayer – or two – before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me.” 
  • Catholic School educated
  • “My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith. It helps me put things in perspective.”  (Catholic Standard)

Sydney McLaughlin – Track and Field

  • Youngest U.S. Olympian to compete for track and field in the Olympics since 1980. She was only 16 years old when she qualified, but turned 17 2 days ago on 8-6-2016
  •  “My Wildwood Catholic teachers, coaches and classmates taught me what it meant to have faith, to work for ideals, and to use that work to make the world a little better.” (Epic Pew)
  • Competes in the 400m hurdles

Kelly Murphy – Volleyball

  • attended Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Illinois

Joe Maloy – triathlete

  • graduated from Wildwood Catholic HS in Wildwood, NJ – the school held a blue & white day in his honor
  • “My Wildwood Catholic teachers, coaches and classmates taught me what it meant to have faith, to work for ideals, and to use that work to make the world a little better.” 
  • On Facebook, he left current Wildwood Catholic high school students with “homework.” “Remember to say ‘thank you.’ No one ever accomplishes anything great alone.”

Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – Track and Field

  • the “fastest man on earth”
  • his middle name is “St. Leo” – named after Great Leo the pope from 440 to 461
  • crosses himself and says a silent prayer before each race

Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina) – Tennis

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This week my sweet daughter Joy is taking the helm. She was pretty stoked about World Youth Day and wanted to lend her voice to the conversation. I also think she may be missing school just a little bit.

So Joy, darling, take it away:

Going into every spiritual retreat, whether that be SEARCH, Totus Tuus, or a diocese youth conference, expectations arise and are, more frequently than not, met. There is also the rare occasion where an event that I didn’t participate in had an effect on my spiritual life.

I experienced that previously this year on the March for Life, where I had many friends get stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I was able to see their effect on the world, a world which had, earlier, chosen to ignore the large number of buses from across the United States to peacefully protest.

I was blessed enough to experience the same world-wide feeling of unity reading about World Youth Day. The gathering, starting in 1984 by Saint John Paul II with 300,000 responsive youth has grown to hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to gather to hear Pope Francis’s message of hope: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The amount of people that are still open to God’s love continues to prove Saint John Paul II’s questions to still be true: “Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?”

This year Pope Francis focused on the idea of mercy, encouraging the young people of the world to not be afraid to trust in mercy and in the hope of a better future. He said “People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, (…) one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”

It was in this way that Pope Francis encouraged the young generation to guide the world into being better by being merciful. It was in the number of youth responding that encourages hope in a more merciful world.

For me this means that I can live with less fear because God’s mercy is in my future. So any pain from today is temporary. There’s a happily-ever-after.

So that means I can contribute to the revolution without fear. I can go to daily Mass during the summer, or go early on Sunday to pray the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. I can make the revolution grow by inviting my friends to come with me, knowing that any pain of rejection or judgement would be temporary.

JPII started a revolution to last for centuries. The symbol of the Youth Day Cross, symbolizing the love of Christ for humanity, entrusted to the youth, gives hope in mercy, starting with little acts. How can you start the revolution for mercy this week?

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There is a scene in the film “Sgt. Bilko” where Phil Hartman’s character Major Thorn is on a date with Glenne Headly’s character Rita. They order some wine and trying to impress Rita, Major Thorn picks up the cork and sniffs it.

Rita asks “Why do you smell the cork?”

And Major Thorn responds with “Your eyes are hazel,” obviously not knowing the answer to her question. (Rita’s eyes are actually green.)

I felt like this a while ago when my brother-in-law asked me why we (Catholics) cross ourselves on the forehead, lips and heart at the beginning of the gospel reading at Mass. I vaguely remembered something Sr. Jane had said way back in 3rd grade about mind, tongue and heart, but didn’t have any details to fill in. 

I did not comment on his eye color, though. (Blue, I think?)

Turns out, it boils down to courage. Admitting fault in ourselves and preparing ourselves to receive the word of God in a way that we can change ourselves for the better is no easy task. 

For the word which Christ brought and which is set down in this book we are willing to stand up with a mind that is open, we are ready to confess it with our mouth, and above all we are determined to safeguard it faithfully in our hearts. (CIN-Origin of the Sign of the Cross, Father Mateo, July 28, 1991)

In this action we are also mimicking the action of the priest who silently prays “Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim Your Gospel” as he bows before the Gospel reading. He then not only crosses his head, lips and heart, but starts by crossing the reading.

We too want (and need) the Word to penetrate our thoughts, words and actions. This small gesture is a physical reminder to ourselves to be open to whatever transformation the Word will make in our life. It’s a prayer for bravery.

So in what small way have you been brave in your faith this week? What is one small thing you can do this week?

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I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this… but every once in awhile we get an order for an item we didn’t even know we had.

And it happened today. An order for 50 St. John Berchmans medals came across the order table. And there they were 2 feet from my face the whole time (and by “whole time” I mean “3 years”).

The natural reaction whenever an obscure inventory item pops up is to research! (Being that Travis is a high school debate coach – research is a favorite past time around here.) Here’s what I found:

At 7 (SEVEN!!) John (who was named for John the Baptist) would get himself out of bed early – 5 a.m. early – so that he could serve 2-3 Masses for the priests each day. Hence why he is the patron saint of altar servers.

Try to think back when you were 7. If you were anything like me, sitting through a single Mass on Sunday morning was difficult. Now multiply that times 7 (each day of the week) and that times 2-3 (# of Masses served per day). Somehow this child was imbued with an understanding or a thirst at an incredibly young age. Beyond serving at Mass he was known for his love of the rosary and prayed it while walking through the streets. All of this from the age of 7-9 (about 1606 to 1608). He often said “If I do not become a saint when I am young I shall never become one.”

Granted, standards of behavior were much stricter then and there (born 1599 in Diest, Belgium; died 1621 in Rome) than they are here and now, but even in that atmosphere the difference in John that was noticed by priests and family was his eagerness and yearning for perfection. John sought to follow the rules of the Jesuits as perfectly as possible. One of the symbols that appear in images of St. John Berchmans is a Jesuit rule book.

John had a reputation for volunteering for more chores and harder chores than his peers. He sought opportunities to work hard. He was a boots-on-the-ground Catholic. I imagine that in today’s world he wouldn’t be the one to make Facebook posts about social ills, he’d be out in the community finding ways to fix them. He was known to be friendly and easy to talk to. 

In the fall of 1618 John walked 1,000 miles to Rome in order to continue his philosophy studies that he began in Belgium. He died of dysentery there almost 3 years later in August of 1621. 

Sometime during his short life, St. John Berchmans composed the Chaplet of Immaculate Conception, stemming from his deep devotion to Mary.

St. John Berchmans was beatified 244 years later in 1865 and canonized in 1888. Although it took a long time for sainthood, his image was printed and spread across Belgium due to the large number of miracles attributed to him. However, the miracle that tipped him into sainthood took place in Louisiana in 1866 when a very ill novice Mary Wilson prayed for his intercession, had a vision of John Berchmans, and was immediately healed.

EWTN notes that it wasn’t anything extraordinary about John Berchmans that made him a saint – no single deed or heroic action – it was that “He made kindness and courtesy as well as constant fidelity an important part of his holiness”. And that may not be something we can all attain, but we can reach for it.

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Fr. Gary at St. Lawrence in Milbank, SD always has a great homily. But his opening line this week struck me dumb, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

He stated:
 "You will be the only bible many people in your life will ever read. What verse will you be?"

I'm going to go off on bit of a side note here: I'm not good in crowds. Just the idea of networking frightens me. So calls from the pulpit to evangelize don't necessarily fall on deaf ears, just very shy ears. The soul is willing, but the nerves are weak.

Back to Father Gary:

His point was that we don't need to be out there lecturing on our faith - attempting to convert everyone we meet - we just need to be true examples of our faith. Hence the question of the bible verse. 

I've picked a few below, but I'm curious as to what your picks would be. Comment below to add to the conversation.

1. On our love for my family:
"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19
What it means to me: The love I have for my family is a gift. Be grateful to God for all the love I'm able to give and receive.

2. On treating those against whom I have a grievance:
"As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do." Col 3:13
What it means to me: To that guy who decided to light off fireworks right in front of our car last night - I forgive you. It's a whole lot easier to sleep at night without a collection of grudges from the day piling up next to my pillow. 

3. On treating both friends and strangers: 
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:31
What it means to me: Empathy and sympathy - before I paint someone with a broad stroke or judge them - surround them in love, take a breath, and put yourself in their shoes.

4. On work:
"Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others" Col 3:23
What it means to me: There are days... and there are days, as my mother says. Sometimes work is a real grind and it's hard to get through. However, if I am able to bring my mind back around to "why" I work and the differences that I make, it's easier to change my attitude. And if that fails, offering my work up to God and doing my best for Him brings perspective.

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Dealing with a Prayer Desert

The last day of prayer of the Divine Mercy Novena is dedicated to “Lukewarm hearts.”

And sometimes I worry that it’s referring to me.

It comes and goes, stays for different lengths of time – days or months. There doesn’t seem to be any rhythm or particular trigger. It just appears on my heart without warning. A prayer desert. 

Ugh.

A prayer desert for me is when I’m just not “feeling it” when I pray. My prayers feel rote, my imagination wanders, and there’s a lack of connection. And it’s miserable.

Mother Theresa famously had a thirst for God that she couldn’t quench. 

Can you relate? If so, here are a few tools I use to find an oasis in the desert.

  1. Recognize where you are, and where you want to be. And tell God. And keep telling Him. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Be explicit in what you are experiencing.
  2. Go to confession/Adoration/Mass – Immerse yourself in spiritual experiences offered by the Church.
  3. Try a different form of prayer – The rosary, pick a novena, Lectio Divina, sing, silence, read the Psalms.
  4. Adult religious education classes/bible study – I love the adult education at my church because it not only gives me a chance to ask [dumb] questions, but I can surround myself with other people who are yearning to learn more. If your parish doesn’t offer classes, perhaps a nearby parish does.
  5. Get out of your comfort zone and serve. Soup kitchen, litter cleanup, retirement home, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Put yourself in situations to see Jesus in other people.
  6. Rinse and repeat – just do it. If worse comes to worse, slog it out. Don’t give up!

Have you ever had this experience? What do you do?

Divine Mercy Novena

Find all things Divine Mercy

Blessed Sacrament Chaplet

Find the chaplet for your chosen devotion.

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