Reverence required for sacred objects

By | August 20, 2009

I love going to rummage sales. The seller can downsize, dispose of items they no longer use, or even clear out grandma’s estate. It gives me the opportunity to acquire items I didn’t even know I needed!

In this Sunday’s Gospel you will hear how we tend to cling to human tradition, even when God is nudging us in another direction. Some of our deepest attachments are to those things we find within our parish church. Each Sunday we come to church expecting our “cups, jugs and kettles” to be where they have “always” been. But what happens to church objects that no longer serve their purpose?

Parishes do have rummage sales, but you do not find an old sacramentary or stacks of frayed purificators among the wares. Unless a parish owns a warehouse, there’s a limit to how many crucifixes, statues, vessels and vestments they can accumulate over the years. There is very little that will not eventually become worn, damaged or dated.

Canon Laws states: “Sacred objects, set aside for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated with reverence. They are not to be made over to secular or inappropriate use, even though they may belong to private persons.” [Canon Law 1171]

The Catholic Church has always stated that broken or worn out objects, torn liturgical clothing, and so on, should be buried or burned as the means of disposal. However, as we continue to see church buildings closed, we need to be aware of other options.

In the case of worship sites being merged, parishes incorporate sacred items from all the previous churches. This needs to be done with great care befitting the celebration of the liturgy. We do not want our worship sites to look like oversized storage rooms.

Often other parishes will acquire items from a church building that is being closed. Stained glass windows from an old church may be reused. Statues, processional crosses or stations may go to another parish.

Sometimes religious objects are given to the missions. However we must not use mission territories as our dumping ground. To give away vestments or a chalice that our parish indeed would use, but just does not need, is one thing; to send items that are tarnished, worn or broken, is another.

Some religious goods stores take items from parishes on consignment. The objects are sold “as is” far below the price of new liturgical items.

There are situations when sacred objects do pass into secular hands. People do reverently maintain sacred items in their homes that may have come from a church. However, sometimes due to people’s lack of understanding, sacred items are not cared for in an appropriate manner. I’ve been in antique stores and seen a monstrance or sacred objects that were at one time used for the Mass and I have wondered, “How did that ever get here?”

The church’s purpose in encouraging the use of blessed objects is to increase our faith and assist our spirit of prayer and devotion. When those objects have served that purpose they can be disposed, but we must make every effort to do so reverently and appropriately.


Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. She has a master’s degree in liturgical studies


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