Q: I understand that objects of devotion that have been
blessed (such as palm branches, rosaries, crucifixes, etc.)
should never be simply discarded in the trash, but should be
disposed of by burying them or by burning them and then
burying the ashes. Is this correct? - Via email
A: As Catholics, we are accustomed to having religious
objects "blessed," which signifies the permanent
sanctification and dedication of an object for some sacred
purpose. I think every weekend someone asks me as well as the
other priests to bless a rosary, a statue, or some other
religious object. Once a religious object is blessed and
dedicated for divine worship or veneration, it must be
treated with reverence and must not be used in either an
improper or profane way (cf. Code of Canon Law, #1171).
What happens when the rosary or statue breaks and is
irreparable? Or, when the palm dries out, and the following
Palm Sunday provides us with new palm? The basic rule for the
disposition of these items is to burn or to bury them.
During the 1800s, both the Sacred Congregation for the Rites
and the Holy Office (now known respectively as the Sacred
Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, and the
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) issued
various determinations concerning this issue. Here are a few
examples: A chalice which becomes "unserviceable" is not to
be sold, but must be used for some other sacred purpose, or
melted. Vestments, altar cloths, and linens must be
destroyed. Polluted or excess holy water must be poured into
the ground. Palms are to be burned, and the ashes then used
for distribution on Ash Wednesday or returned to the ground.
A broken rosary or religious statue normally would be buried.
In all, the underlying idea is that what has been dedicated
to God should be returned to God, in a sense, the same way a
person's dead body is committed to the earth. Never should
one just "throw out" what has been dedicated to God.
Therefore, the normal "rule of thumb" is that anything that
has been blessed should be burned (and then the ashes buried)
or simply buried. I remember as a child, several times when
my father dug the hole to plant a new shrub, my Mom would
first add the broken rosaries, which made me think of the new
shrub as something holy. My job as a child was always to burn
the old palm. Even as a pastor, I have a whole box of old
palm, worn linens, and other things, that I save and burn
Living in a society where things have become so disposable,
we must differentiate from trash those religious objects that
have been blessed and dedicated to God for sacred use. My
heart breaks every time I enter an antique store or look on
EBay or another website and find a chalice, a reliquary
(sometimes still containing a relic), vestments, and other
sacred objects that were once used for the holy Mass. I have
to wonder: "What was someone thinking to just dispose of
these items in this way? What will happen to them and how
will they be used? Will they even be used for a profane or
Satanic purpose?" The owners should have tried to find these
religious objects a new home in a mission church or disposed
of them in the proper way.
Please be sure to always cherish blessed religious objects at
home, venerate them with piety, and when necessary, dispose
of them properly.
Questions may be sent to Fr. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of
Hope Church in Potomac Falls, at
firstname.lastname@example.org or Our Lady of Hope Church,
46639 Algonkian Pkwy., Potomac Falls, VA 20165.