A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

After a Church Is Attacked

ROME, 2 FEB. 2010 (ZENIT)

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

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 society."

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 violent clashes.

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 chair.

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.
 

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