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Desecration

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Desecration is the loss of that peculiar quality of sacredness, which inheres in places and things in virtue of the constitutive blessing of the Church. When material objects are destined for purposes of Divine worship they are set aside with a view to this end by the solemn form of consecration or by the simpler formula of a blessing, so that they assume a sacred and inviolable character which renders unlawful their employment for profane uses. Now when they lose this stamp or character of sacredness they are said to become desecrated. As a general principle it may be set down that places and things, which have been either consecrated or blessed, retain their consecration and blessing so long as they remain, morally speaking, the same as they were in the beginning, and consequently, so long as they continue fit to serve the purposes for which they were originally destined. The opinion was formerly held by some that sacred utensils, such as chalices, which are anointed with holy oil should, before being sent to a mechanic for repairs, be deprived of their sacred character by a special ceremony of desecration. This view was condemned by the Congregation of Rites (n. 2620, ed. 1900). Such a ceremony is entirely superfluous. For if a sacred utensil becomes broken and unfit for use it thereby loses its consecration ; while if it is still fit for use but requires regilding, no ceremony could desecrate it. In this instance permission, express or implied, should be obtained from the ordinary to hand it over to a mechanic for repairs (cf. Gardellini, Commentary on Decrees of C. S. R., 225). Should consecrated vessels become altogether unfit for altar use, they may be melted down and devoted to profane uses. But vestments, altar cloths and linens must, in similar circumstances, be destroyed, because they retain the form under which they were originally blessed (cf. Gardellini, loc. cit).

The word desecration is commonly used in regard to churches, altars, chalices, etc.

(1) A church loses its consecration or blessing when the building is destroyed either wholly or in greater part, or when an addition is made to it of larger extent than the original edifice. It does not become desecrated:

  • (a) if a portion of the walls and roof falls in, provided the main portion stands, or
  • (b) if all the interior plastering becomes detached, or
  • (c) if all the crosses disappear, or
  • (d) if all the walls are gradually renewed, provided on each occasion the old part is greater than the new, or
  • (e) if converted for a while to profane uses, provided it is not polluted (cf. Many, De Locis Sacris).

(2) An altar (fixed) loses its consecration :

  • (a) by a notable fracture of table or its support; as, for instance, if the table were broken into two large pieces, or if an anointed corner were broken off, or if the support were seriously impaired, or if one of the columns were displaced;
  • (b) by removal of the table from its support, so as to disjoint them;
  • (c) by displacing the relics, or cover of the sepulchre (cf. Schulte, Consecranda, p. 222).

(3) An altar-stone loses its consecration :

  • (a) by removal of the relics ;
  • (b) by fracture or removal of the cover of the sepulchre;
  • (c) by a notable fracture of the stone;
  • (d) by breakage of the anointed corner of stone.

(4) As to the chalice and paten, see ALTAR, under subtitle Loss of Consecration .


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