ROME, 2 FEB. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
Q: There was a bomb blast last year in our cathedral at
Kathmandu. In it, three people died and several were injured. In
all probability, one died on the spot (inside the church). We
did clean up the place after the police had done their job, and
we had Mass celebrated the following day. Now, there was doubt
in the minds of some of our old Catholics. At least one of them
told me that after a murder takes place in the church, it is
desecrated (because of the murder); therefore, before
celebrating Mass and other sacraments in the building, the
church needs to be re-dedicated. The person told me that that
was "the rule before." I personally had not come across a
situation like this before, and I did not know whether any rule
existed either. Could you please explain whether there are some
rules or regulations with regard to this?
P.P., Kathmandu, Nepal
A: This topic is dealt with in the Code of Canon Law and in the
Ceremonial of Bishops. Canons 1211-1112 touch upon the violation
of sacred places.
"Can. 1211 Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious
actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions
which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and
contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted
to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a
penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books.
"Can. 1212 Sacred places lose their dedication or blessing if
they have been destroyed in large part, or have been turned over
permanently to profane use by decree of the competent ordinary
or in fact."
To this must be added the norms of the Ceremonial of Bishops,
Nos. 1070-1092, which describes the public prayers to be made
after the desecration of a church.
First, it specifies further the nature of the crimes that can
desecrate a church as those that "do grave dishonor to sacred
mysteries, especially to the eucharistic species, and are
committed to show contempt for the Church, or are crimes that
are serious offenses against the dignity of the person and
It continues: "A church, therefore, is desecrated by actions
that are gravely injurious in themselves and a cause of scandal
to the faithful."
The situation in Kathmandu clearly fulfills all the conditions
for a desecration.
Reparation for the desecration is to be carried out with a
penitential rite celebrated as soon as possible. Until that
time, no sacred rite may be celebrated in the church. Preaching
to prepare for the penitential rite may be carried out. The
people are encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament of
reconciliation, which should be celebrated in another church. To
symbolize penance, the Ceremonial recommends: "The altar of the
church should be stripped bare and all customary signs of joy
and gladness should be put away, for example, lights flowers,
and other such articles."
It is fitting that the bishop presides at the rite of
reparation, which may be either a celebration of the Eucharist
or a Liturgy of the Word as circumstances suggest. It may be
celebrated on any day except the Easter triduum, Sundays and
solemnities, but may be celebrated on the vigil of a Sunday. The
Mass of reparation is the preferred mode.
The most suitable Mass formula may be chosen; for example: the
votive Mass of the holy Eucharist (in cases of profanation of
the Blessed Sacrament) or for promoting harmony in the case of
There are several forms of carrying out the rite. One is a
procession of the people from a nearby church or another
suitable place during which prayer and the litany of the saints
is sung, including the patron of the desecrated church and other
prayers found in the Roman ritual. If a procession is not
possible, then the people gather in the church and the bishop
and other ministers enter from the sacristy.
On entering the church, the bishop along with concelebrants and
other ministers goes to the chair without reverencing the altar.
He then blesses water, and after a moment of silent prayer
sprinkles the altar. He may also sprinkle the people and the
walls. Returning to the chair, and with hands joined, he invites
those present to pray. After a brief silent prayer, the bishop
recites the opening prayer with hands outstretched.
The readings usually come from the Mass for the forgiveness of
sins, unless other more suitable readings are chosen.
Appropriate general intercessions are prayed only if the litany
of the saints has not been used. After this, the deacon and
other ministers place the altar cloth and the other usual
elements upon the altar and may place flowers around it. The
procession of the gifts follows the bishop receiving them at the
When everything is ready, the bishop goes to the altar and
kisses it and the Mass continues in the usual manner.
In the case of desecration of the Eucharist, the concluding
rites of Mass are replaced by exposition, adoration and
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
If there is only a celebration of the Word, then everything is
done as above, until after the homily. A prayer of intercession
asking for God's mercy is carried out. The altar is then dressed
and decorated by the ministers or the faithful. The bishop then
approaches the altar, and kisses and incenses it. He
subsequently introduces the Our Father, followed by a suitable
closing prayer and the blessing.
When the Ceremonial of Bishops was published, the official rite
of reparation was not yet promulgated. However, the elements
provided in the Ceremonial and described above suffice for the
preparation of an adequate celebration.