Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I understand that a church (cathedral and parish churches) should be dedicated and consecrated for its purpose as a house of worship for the People of God. Is this also applicable to chapels? We acquired a new set of sacred furnishings for the seminary chapel: altar, ambo, and crucifix. There were also repairs to the tabernacle and enhancement of the sanctuary. We intend to consecrate the altar. We discovered that the church itself has not been blessed nor consecrated. Since the altar is to be consecrated, can we proceed to dedicate the entire structure? The chapel celebrates the Eucharist every day for the seminarians and a considerable group of faithful: benefactors and the communities around the seminary. On Sunday there are two Masses celebrated for the people and the chapel is full. — G.A., Iligan, Philippines
A: We are probably dealing with the case of an oratory. Canon law states the following:
“Canon 1223. By the term, oratory is understood a place for divine worship designated by permission of the ordinary for the benefit of some community or group of the faithful who gather in it and to which other members of the faithful can also come with the consent of the competent superior.
“Canon 1224 §1. The ordinary is not to grant the permission required to establish an oratory unless he has first visited the place destined for the oratory personally or through another and has found it properly prepared.
“§2. After permission has been given, however, an oratory cannot be converted to profane use without the authority of the same ordinary.
“Canon 1225. All sacred celebrations can be performed in legitimately established oratories except those which the law or a prescript of the local ordinary excludes or the liturgical norms prohibit. …
“Canon 1229. It is fitting for oratories and private chapels to be blessed according to the rite prescribed in the liturgical books. They must, however, be reserved for divine worship alone and free from all domestic uses.”
Thus, in accordance with Canon 1229, it would be fitting to bless the entire chapel and its liturgical objects, this may be done according to the norms found in the Roman Pontifical, the Book of Blessings and in the Ceremonial of Bishops.
However, since the chapel is also used for the faithful, it falls within the province of the bishop to designate it as a church and dedicate it. Certainly it would be a church which is not habitually accessible to the faithful except during public celebrations, but this possibility is foreseen. In this case, the applicable canons would be:
“Canon 1214. By the term, church is understood a sacred building designated for divine worship to which the faithful have the right of entry for the exercise, especially the public exercise, of divine worship.
“Canon 1215 §1. No church is to be built without the express written consent of the diocesan bishop.
“§2. The diocesan bishop is not to give consent unless, after having heard the presbyteral council and the rectors of the neighboring churches, he judges that the new church can serve the good of souls and that the means necessary for building the church and for divine worship will not be lacking.
“§3. Although religious institutes have received from the diocesan bishop consent to establish a new house in the diocese or the city, they must also obtain his permission before building a church in a certain and determined place.
“Canon 1216. In the building and repair of churches, the principles and norms of the liturgy and of sacred art are to be observed, after the advice of experts has been taken into account.
“Canon 1217 §1. After construction has been completed properly, a new church is to be dedicated or at least blessed as soon as possible; the laws of the sacred liturgy are to be observed.
“§2. Churches, especially cathedrals and parish churches, are to be dedicated by the solemn rite.
“Canon 1218. Each church is to have its own title which cannot be changed after the church has been dedicated.
“Canon 1219. In a church that has legitimately been dedicated or blessed, all acts of divine worship can be performed, without prejudice to parochial rights.
“Canon 1220 §1. All those responsible are to take care that in churches such as cleanliness and beauty are preserved as befitting a house of God and that whatever is inappropriate to the holiness of the place is excluded.
“§2. Ordinary care for preservation and fitting means of security are to be used to protect sacred and precious goods.
“Canon 1221. Entry to a church is to be free and gratuitous during the time of sacred celebrations.”
It would seem that in the above case the access of the faithful is sufficiently guaranteed. However, in order to designate the seminary chapel as a church, it would have to receive a definitive title in accordance with the norms which, apart from Canon 2018 above, would also have to take into account the Rite of Dedication of a Church (4) and the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 865. The title is given to the church building at the time of dedication through a decree of the bishop.
To further clarify these norms and address some new pastoral situations, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a notification, “Omnis Ecclesia Titulum,” on February 10, 1999, “Concerning the Constitution of Patrons of Dioceses and Parishes.” This brief document states:
“1. Every church must have a title assigned to it within a liturgy either of dedication or blessing.
“2. In their title, Churches may use the Most Holy Trinity; Our Lord Jesus Christ, invoked under a mystery of his life or under his name as already used in the divine liturgy; the Holy Spirit; the Blessed Virgin Mary under a given title already found in the divine liturgy; the holy Angels, or a Blessed or Saint inscribed in the Roman Martyrology.
“3. There may be only one title for a church unless it is derived from Saints who are inscribed together in the same proper Calendar.
“4. Any Blessed whose celebration has not yet been inscribed in the legitimate diocesan Calendar may not be chosen as the title of a church without an indult from the Apostolic See.
“5. Once established in the dedication of a church, the title cannot be changed (can. 1218), unless, for grave reasons, it is expressly allowed by indult of the Apostolic See.
“6. However, if a title has been assigned as a part of the blessing of a church, according to the Ordo Benedictionis Ecclesiae, it may be changed by the diocesan bishop (cf. Can. 381, 1) for a grave reason and with all factors duly considered.
“7. The name of a parish may commonly be the same as the title of the parish church.
“8. As an intercessor or advocate before God, the patron is a created person, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Angels, a Saint or Blessed. For the same reason, the Most Holy Trinity and the divine Persons are always excluded as patrons.
“9. A patron must be chosen by the clergy and the faithful, whose choice must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. In order that they may carry liturgical effect, the choice and approbation require the confirmation of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which is granted by decree of this same Dicastery.
“10. The patron of a place is distinguished from the title of a given church; they may be the same but are not necessarily so.
“11. When a new parish has been erected in place of several suppressed parishes, the new parish may have its own church, which, unless it is a new building, retains its existing title. Further, churches of suppressed parishes, whenever such parishes are considered as ‘co-parishes,’ retain their own proper titles.
“12. If several parishes are joined together so that a new parish is established thereby, it is permitted, for pastoral reasons, to establish a new name differing from the title of the parish church.”
The rite of dedication of a church probably originates from the time of Emperor Constantine (272-337) when Christians received freedom of worship. For many centuries it consisted of the first solemn celebration of the Eucharist. At a later stage, a rite of placing relics was added. The nucleus of the present rite with the different anointings originated in the Middle Ages.
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