We all have those precious sacramentals in our home. They are rosaries, scapulars, votive candles, crucifixes, prayer cards and more. Many of us have experienced rosaries breaking or a scapular deteriorating. It is always a good reminder to remember what the proper disposal methods are for these sacred items. If an object has not been blessed, such as many prayer cards or items we sometimes get in the mail from organizations and charities, there is no proper disposal process, and they can be thrown away. (Although many, like me, don’t throw away anything that has saints or other Church images on it) If the item has been blessed by a priest or deacon, it is placed into a sacred category which requires respectful disposal because it has served a special purpose in your faith life.
There are two reasons why you should be concerned and intentional about disposing of these items according to Church customs and Canon Law. The first, and primary, reason is out of respect for the item. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church to prepare us to receive the fruit of the sacraments and to sanctify different circumstances of our lives. (CCC 1677)
These items have been blessed and, therefore, designated for divine worship and to serve as an object to increase and strengthen your faith. Do not misunderstand the idea of sacramentals. The items are not worshipped. They are used in the divine worship of God. They point you to the Lord and, as a result, help to strengthen your faith.
The second reason you must be cautious about the proper disposal of these items is there are individuals who do not worship or serve the Lord. Some of these people would love to get these items in their hands for disrespectful and profane purposes. These items have been blessed and given a charge to point you, and others, to the Lord. They are not to be used for profane purposes and if they are simply thrown away then it leaves the opportunity for those against Christ and His Church to profanely and disrespectful treat them and abuse them. Proper disposal of these objects ensures they are treated with respect and honor. It protects them from abuse. According to the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin, “it is not a sin to throw away blessed items.” The diocese also, however, promulgates and encourages proper disposal of these objects.
Canon Law #1171 states, “Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.” If a rosary, for example, is broken then it is acceptable and encouraged to repair it if a repair is possible. There are a few different and respectful ways to dispose of broken rosaries, crucifixes, weathered and worn scapulars if you are not going to repair it.
1.) Given Away: They can be given to another individual that will treat them with respect. For example, if you do not have the knowledge or ability to restore a broken rosary then it is possible that you may be able to find another individual who can restore it and will repair it and use it. If the sacramental can continue to assist in another individual’s faith, then that is preferable to disposing of it in other ways. It is crucial, however, if you give it to another individual that you are confident that individual will respect it and treat it with reverence. If you do not know that person, it is recommended you do not give them a blessed object.
2.) Buried: For items, such as perhaps broken rosaries, that cannot be burned then they should be respectfully taken apart and then buried. The preferred location for burial is on church grounds or a church cemetery. The purpose of taking the item apart in a reverent manner is to ensure it cannot be obtained and abused, even if it is buried. It is acceptable to bury it on your property if you cannot bury it on church grounds. It is easiest, many times, to take it to your priest or someone at the church and they can properly bury it on church grounds. If it is buried on church grounds or at a church cemetery then it is buried on blessed and sacred ground.
3.) Burned: If the item can be burned, it is preferable that it is burned, and the ashes taken to a church and buried on church grounds or in a church cemetery.
When you dispose of a sacred object, you should give thanks to the Lord while you dispose of it because of the work the Lord did through it in your life. Give thanks to God for using the sacramental to lead you to the Sacraments and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Sacramentals, specifically blessed or dedicated sacramentals, are not objects of superstition. They have a higher purpose. It is our duty to reverently dispose of them out of respect and to ensure they are protected.