|ROME, 23 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
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).