Churches Dedicated and Consecrated


Churches Dedicated and Consecrated

ROME, 23 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I would like to know if a church that was "dedicated" but not "consecrated" according to the Tridentine rite in 1923 may now be retrofitted with the consecration candles, since there is no distinction between dedication and consecration in the new rite. — G.P., El Dorado, Arkansas

A: I would first like to clarify the terms. I believe that the earlier version of the Roman Pontifical did not distinguish so much between "dedication" and "consecration" as between "consecration" and "blessing" (either solemn or simple).

However, it was quite common to refer to the blessing of a church as its "dedication," and this probably originated some misunderstandings with respect to present terminology.

The present version of the Ceremonial of Bishops no longer mentions consecration but rather distinguishes between the dedication and blessing of a church.

The fundamental ceremonies formerly ascribed to the rite of consecration are now undertaken in the rite of dedication, albeit in a simplified form. Thus, rather than a union of two rites, we are before a change in terminology to describe the same rite.

Something similar happened in other rites. The liturgical books now speak of "episcopal ordination" and not "episcopal consecration" as did the former books.

The rite of blessing a church still exists. If for some good reason a new church cannot be dedicated ("consecrated"), it should at least be blessed before use. Also, private oratories, chapels and sacred buildings only temporarily set aside for sacred worship should be blessed rather than dedicated. This rite of blessing is carried out either by the diocesan bishop or a priest specifically delegated by him.

Thus, only buildings that are built to serve permanently as houses of worship may be formally dedicated.

From what we have said, I think that what happened in the above-mentioned church in 1923 was probably a solemn blessing and not, strictly speaking, a dedication or consecration.

The purpose of the consecration crosses and candles is to mark the spots where the walls are anointed during the rite of dedication. This practice of permanently marking the anointing is no longer obligatory, but the Ceremonial of Bishops (No. 874) still recommends keeping this "ancient custom" of hanging either 12 or four crosses and candles on the walls, depending on the number of anointings.

Since the walls of the church in question were never anointed, it makes little sense to retrofit the crosses and candles to symbolize a rite that never occurred.

The fact that a church is blessed rather than dedicated makes no difference with respect to the ceremonies that may be performed within it. For this reason, once it has passed into general use a blessed church is not dedicated.

There are some cases, however, in which the norms allow for the rite of dedication to be carried out in an undedicated church already in general use. There are two principal requirements that must be fulfilled in order for this to happen (Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 916):

— That the altar has not already been dedicated (or consecrated) for it is forbidden to dedicate a church without dedicating the altar.

— That there be something new or notably altered about the edifice, for example, after major renovations, or a change in its juridical status (e.g., a former chapel being ranked as a parish church).

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Follow-up: Churches Dedicated and Consecrated [10-8-2008]

Pursuant to our comment that a "blessed" church that has passed into common use is not usually dedicated or consecrated (Sept. 23), several readers pointed out a certain usage once common in some parts of the United States.

One wrote: "From talking to older priests, it seems that in the Eastern U.S. what is now called the Rite of Blessing a Church was commonly referred to its 'Dedication,' and the formal elaborate rite (now called 'Dedication') was called its 'Consecration.'

"The distinction made in these dioceses was that in many cases a parish would take out a mortgage in a secular bank in order to finance the building of its church. Once the church was built, the civil title was held by the lending institution until the mortgage was paid, which could take upward of 30 years or more. What would happen then is that the church would be blessed upon completion of the building project and then consecrated once the mortgage was paid."

Effectively this appears to have been common and was rooted in canonical principles that the consecration could only take place when there was no doubt that the building could be permanently used for the purpose of a church. As this was guaranteed only after the building was substantially debt-free, the consecration would often take place many years after the building was complete and in regular use.

Since this model of financing the building of new churches was less common in other countries, most of them were either dedicated or blessed shortly after completion.

Some readers asked about the opposite end of the stick and the thankless burden of desacralizing churches. We addressed this topic last Dec. 18 and Jan. 1.

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