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Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word "consecration" literally means "to associate with the sacred". Persons, places, or things can be consecrated, and the term is used in various ways by different groups. A synonym for to consecrate is to sanctify; an antonym is to desecrate.
"Consecration" is used in the Catholic Church as the setting apart for the service of God of both persons and objects.
The ordination of a new bishop is also called a consecration. While the term "episcopal ordination" is now more common, "consecration" was the preferred term in the centuries immediately preceding the Second Vatican Council (11 October 1962—8 December 1965).
The Vatican II document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy n. 76 states,
The English text of Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 1997, under the heading "Episcopal ordination—fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders", uses "episcopal consecration" as a synonymous term, using "episcopal ordination" and "episcopal consecration" interchangeably. (CCC nn. 1556–1558)
The Code of Canon Law Latin-English Edition, (1983), under "Title VI—Orders" uses the term sacrae ordinationis minister "minister of sacred ordination" and the term consecratione episcopali "episcopal consecration". (CCL cc. 1012, 1014)
A rite of consecration of virgins can be traced back at least to the fourth century. By the time of the Second Vatican Council, use of this rite was limited to cloistered nuns. The Council directed that the then existing rite should be revised. Two similar versions were prepared, one for women living in monastic orders, another for consecrated virgins living in the world. An English translation of the rite for those living in the world is available on the web site of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.
Chrism, used as anointing oil, is (usually scented) olive oil consecrated by a bishop.
A more solemn rite exists for the consecration of an altar, either of the altar alone or as the central part of the rite of consecration of a church. Since it would be contradictory to consecrate to the service of God a mortgage-burdened building, the rite of consecration or dedication of a church is carried out only if the building is debt-free. Otherwise, it is only blessed.
A very special act of consecration is that of the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, which according to Catholic belief involves their change into the Body and Blood of Christ, a change referred to as transubstantiation. To consecrate the bread and wine, the priest speaks the Words of Institution.
In the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches, the term "consecration" can refer to either the Sacred Mystery (Sacrament) of Cheirotonea (Ordination through laying on of hands) of a Bishop, or the sanctification and solemn dedication of a church building. It can also (more rarely) be used to describe the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. The Chrism used at Chrismation and the Antimension placed on the Holy Table are also said to be consecrated.
Church buildings, chapels and altars are consecrated to the purpose of religious worship, baptismal fonts and vessels are consecrated for the purpose of containing the Eucharistic elements, the bread and wine/the body and blood of Christ.
A person may be consecrated for a specific role within a religious hierarchy, or a person may consecrate his or her life in an act of devotion. In particular, the ordination of a bishop is often called a consecration. In churches that follow the doctrine of Apostolic Succession (the historical episcopate), the bishops who consecrate a new bishop are known as the consecrators and form an unbroken line of succession back to the Apostles. Those who take the vows of religious life are said to be living a consecrated life.
Among some religious groups there is a service of "deconsecration", to return a formerly consecrated place to secular purpose (for instance, if the building is to be sold or demolished). In the Church of England, an order closing a church may remove the legal effects of consecration.
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