Many people wonder what to do with old sacramentals. What should you do with the palms you received on Palm Sunday last year or ten years ago? How about that old rosary that has been broken and left in a draw? Holy cards are another problem, they pile up and after a while, you just don’t know what to do with them.
First, we must ask what sacramentals are. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (1677). Sacramentals come in many forms and shapes. Any religious object that has received the blessing of the Church becomes a sacramental. Rosaries, pictures, statues, bibles, prayer books, incense, among many other things can be sacramentals. To become a sacramental, the religious good must be blest according to the approved rites of the Church.
Once an object becomes a sacramental, it still holds not magical powers. A crucifix or holy water have no power in and of themselves. It is not as if I can take a little holy water, pour it on something or someone and that person or thing will be transformed. Sacramentals, unlike the Sacraments depend on our personal faith. The Eucharist, as long as it is celebrated by a validly ordained priest, who uses the form and matter required by the Church has it’s own power. The Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and the bread and wine are transformed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ despite the worthiness of the minister.
Sacramentals on the other hand demand our personal faith. The grace you and I receive through our devout use of a rosary or crucifix do not come from the sacramental, but through my/ you faith and trust in Jesus Christ to work through this vehicle. Someone can wear the brown scapular, for example, and not make it into heaven. Our Lady’s promise to those who wear the brown scapular demands a life in conformity with the moral code and creed of our Faith. So the person who lives a devote, moral and upright life is saved not because of the scapular, but the scapular is a reminder to that person of their dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her desire that we “do whatever He tells” us.
Now, although these sacramentals have no power on their own, they are dependent on our faith, they are still to be treated with utmost respect and reverence. I would never allow someone to take a picture of my parents and do something crude to it. We all know that the picture is not my parents, but it symbolizes something very sacred to me – my mother and father. It is the same with sacramentals. Sacramentals represent something very sacred and dear to us and must be treated with reverence and respect.
So, let’s get to the point of the matter, what to do with old sacramentals. Old sacramentals should be burnt or buried. If you have old palms from Palm Sunday, or holy cards that bear the image of Our Lord or the saints, they could be placed in a fireplace and burned. Old rosaries, crucifixes or statues could be broken beyond recognition and buried in the back yard or garden. The point is that we should never find a statue standing up in a trash can on the sidewalk, or any blest object in a situation that it would end up in the dump.
If you don’t know what to do with an item, give it to your priest. Remember how you would want your most treasured items treated by someone else and treat sacramentals one step above!