Catholics who frequently use sacramentals (brown scapulars, St. Benedict medals, blessed rosary beads, etc.) often run into a problem when the object breaks or wears out. What should be done with these holy objects? Is it okay to simply throw them in the trash?
To briefly summarize, sacramentals are anything set apart or blessed by the Church for the purpose of sanctifying our lives and leading us to the sacraments. They are sacred signs and provide for us grace (spiritual help) through the intercession of the Church. Sacramentals used at home can be any number of religious items that have been blessed by a priest or deacon — a rosary, medal, crucifix, or even a candle. Regardless of what it is, if it has been blessed by a member of the clergy, then it needs to be treated with due care (cf. Canon 1171).
As Catholics, we believe that blessings from ordained ministers have real spiritual power. This is most evident in the seven sacraments, where the words of the priest can bring about a spiritual transformation. The obvious example is the Eucharist, where through the priest’s words, the bread and wine at Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a miracle that God brings about through words said by his chosen ministers.
On a much lower but analogous level, we believe that when a priest or deacon blesses a religious object, something changes. We may not be able to see it, but at times we may feel the spiritual weight of a sacramental that has been blessed.
Consequently, Catholics are instructed to dispose of old sacramentals in a way that shows due reverence. All sacramentals can be either burned or buried in order to properly dispose of them. This type of disposal honors their sacred purpose and returns them to the earth in a dignified way. If a person is unable to do either, the sacramental may be dropped off at the parish office and someone on staff can take care of it.
We often forget that the physical things we see are only one part of a much larger universe. There exists a spiritual world around us that we cannot see, but which constantly affects our daily life. By treating sacramentals with respect, we recognize this basic truth and honor the heavenly blessing that was placed on the object by a priest or deacon.
Read more in the “Why Do We Do That?” series from Deacon Mike Fritz.