As Catholics, we are accustomed to having religious objects “blessed.” Here a bishop or a priest imparts a blessing which signifies the permanent sanctification and dedication of an object for some sacred purpose.
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This blessing is technically termed “a constitutive blessing.” For example when a bishop dedicates, or classically speaking, consecrates, an altar, that altar must only be used for sacred purposes, particularly the offering of the Mass. Or, when a chalice is blessed, it becomes a sacred vessel dedicated solely to sacred usage. Once a religious object is blessed and dedicated for divine worship or veneration, it must be treated with reverence and not be used in either an improper or profane way (cf. Code of Canon Law, no. 1171).
However, blessed religious objects break or wear from use. The basic rule for the disposition of these items is to burn or to bury them. During the 1800s, both the Sacred Congregation for the Rites and the Holy Office (now known respectively as the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) issued various determinations concerning this issue. Here are a few examples: A chalice which becomes “unserviceable” is not to be sold, but must be used for some other sacred purpose or melted. Vestments, altar cloths and linens must be destroyed. Polluted or excess holy water must be poured into the ground. Palms are to be burned, and the ashes then used for distribution on Ash Wednesday or returned to the ground. A broken rosary or religious statue normally would be buried. In all, the underlying idea is that what has been dedicated to God should be returned to God. Never should one just “throw out” what has been dedicated to God.
Interestingly, this same reasoning governs the disposition of the Holy Eucharist. In each sacristy, there is a sacrarium, which is a sink which does not drain into the sewer system, but directly into the ground. If, for some reason, the priest had to dispose of a Sacred Host, he would rinse it down the sacrarium with water. For instance, once when I was distributing Holy Communion at the nursing home, one of the elderly patients wanted to receive Holy Communion as usual but for some reason on this occasion could not swallow. She proceeded to expectorate the Sacred Host onto a linen purificator. When I returned to the Church, I dissolved and rinsed the Sacred Host down the sacrarium with water.
Living in a society where things have become so disposable, we must not forget those religious objects that have been blessed and dedicated to God and for sacred use. My heart breaks every time I enter an antique store and I see a chalice, a reliquary (sometimes still containing a relic), vestments and other sacred objects that were one time used for the Holy Mass. I have to wonder, “What was someone thinking to just dispose of these items in this way?” They should have tried to find these religious objects a new home in a mission Church or have disposed of them in the proper way. Please be sure to always cherish the blessed religious objects at home, venerate them with piety, and when necessary, dispose of them properly.