Saturday 23 March 2019

Why desecration is a serious insult for Catholic community

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Sarah MacDonald

In that horror movie 'The Exorcist', an important conversation takes place between Lt William Kinderman and Jesuit Fr Damien Karras on the desecration of a church. Desecration can be seriously creepy stuff.

And for Irish Catholics, desecration is a red-line issue. Perhaps that's because so many people have memories of family occasions, gathered around the local parish altar for religious sacraments like baptisms, communions, weddings, and of course the sad farewell at funerals.

Desecration occurs when someone deliberately damages or insults something which is considered to be holy. In wars, churches are often targeted and religious items smashed, stolen or burned.

This is one kind of desecration. Another type occurs when something sacred is used for an unworthy purpose or with grave irreverence.

This includes the profane use of sacred vessels or vestments, the altar and ecclesiastical property.

In Catholicism, an altar serves as the place where the faithful believe the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Also, within the stonework of every single altar, the precious relics of some of the church's martyrs are inserted. The altar and the tabernacle, for many Catholics, are the 'holiest of holies'. Priests wear vestments for hugely symbolic reasons - they are not part of a costume.

Last year, a sexually provocative music video filmed inside the Good Shepherd Church in Belfast, which was to be released by DJ Wilkinson, was lambasted by the Diocese of Down and Connor as an act of desecration.

The video was recorded without the permission of the parish priest. In a statement, the diocese described the sexual nature of the video as "a desecration of the church" and said it caused "most grievous distress to the parish priest". Insisting that the footage be deleted, it said if viewed by parishioners it would cause "severe hurt and distress to the wider parish community".

According to Canon law (1211) sacred places are desecrated or violated when "gravely injurious actions" are done in them "which give scandal to the faithful". These actions 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".

Canon Law 1212 warns that profane use causes a sacred place to lose its sanctity. That is why there have been calls for the rural church where the alleged sex acts took place to be shut and a rite of reparation carried out.

An investigation will get under way - and the local community are entitled to know what has gone on in their church.

Irish Independent

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