Did you burn your old books?

What can you do with an old sacramentary? Here’s one suggestion:


After the switch to a new Mass translation, old liturgical books should be respectfully buried, either intact or after being burned, according to the U.S. bishops.

“Whether or not the Sacramentary has been blessed by an official rite, it is appropriate to treat it with care,” the bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship said in a recent response to several queries from U.S. Catholics. “Its disposal should be handled with respect.”

The bishops’ liturgy office recommends “burying the Sacramentary in an appropriate location on church grounds, or perhaps in a parish cemetery,” after the switch to a new liturgical translation on Nov. 27.

“Some have even suggested following a custom used in various Eastern churches,” they noted, “whereby liturgical books or Bibles are placed in the coffin of the deceased as a sign of devotion and love for the liturgy.”

Some Catholics may be surprised to learn that it is appropriate – and even customary – to burn or bury old liturgical books and other religious items.

According to the U.S. bishops’ secretariat, the ashes of liturgical books should be collected and “placed in the ground in an appropriate location on church grounds.”

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23 responses to “Did you burn your old books?”

  1. I hope that several copies are placed on the shelves of seminary and Catholic college libraries. These are important historical documents in the life of the Church.

  2. The environmentalist group will not be happy with this burning post. I suspect it could spark lawsuits against the Catholic Church should the USCCB officially endorse this burn. Also, we will hear cries of nazi from those who yell at anything that smacks of book burning, especially if it is a book favored by the left over its more conservative replacement.

    On a serious note, this is good information and everyone should pay a lot more attention to how we handle religious items.

  3. Actually, Mark, a good time and place to burn them would be at…
    …the Easter Vigil!

    We need a new fire, right? Perfect kindling! A Sacramentary has to be disposed of in a respectful way (burying it is another option). So why not burn it for a sacred use? And think about the theology (or even an approach to an Easter homily): the old is burned and buried, from it comes the new fire, used to light the new Paschal candle – which represents the risen Christ.

    (And to give credit where credit is due, the idea of burning the Sacramentaries at the Easter Vigil came first from a fellow parishioner…)

  4. I’m with you, Gerald. I don’t believe in burning books, especially this kind of books. I still have my old daily missal from 1950’s and 60’s grade school days. I wonder if physical books will someday be something of a rarity, with electronic readers like Kindle, etc. (I hope not).

  5. I hope you are kidding! Advocating book burning?

    Why? Because YOU don’t agree with the content, YOU decide others should not be allowed to read them?

    That seems a pretty draconian way to get across your viewpoint — allow no other ones to be read.


  6. I imagine that burning these books (and other sacred objects that have fallen into disuse) dates from a time when that notion had different connotations than it does today. Can’t we find a better way of disposing of these things in the 21st century?

    And yes: I think it would be best to give them to a library or keep them for future reference and study.

    Dcn. G.

  7. Recycle them just like phone books. Most of these books are mass produced copies with little artistic or historical value. Perhaps some years in the future they will have some historical significance, just in case I will keep my old sacramentary in the shelves.

  8. What God says goes. The Church did not make this up. God says, and it is so. So burning the book as God speaks through His Church is the most respectful way of dealing with old sacramentaries.

  9. So, the purpose of the new Roman Missal is to correct the Vatican II ‘rush job’ of converting Latin to English?

    It’s like the telephone game.

    Imagine what was lost from the Council of Nicea through the translation of original Bible into European languages to the later Guttenberg Bible.

    Now 40 years later we are changing things again. Man has repeatedly changed the original language of the Bible.


    Few Catholics even know that the original Ten Commandments said, “Thou shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13. Yet most know it as “Thou shall not kill” which has a completely different context.

  10. Burning books is respectful because fire has connotations of cleanliness and purity. Fire and earth both keep things unsullied, out of reach of disrespectful people or disrespectful lesser uses.

    Nothing that has been used for something sacred or sacramental can ever again be used for something less, without committing blasphemy. Back in the day, a non-sacramental book had many uses — usually it was torn up and used as repair material for other books, or the ink was scraped off and a new book written; or in the case of rag paper, you could wash and bleach it and turn it into new rag paper. Recycling isn’t new.

    But that would be saying, “Oh, yeah, Mr. Book, you used to serve the Lord on the altar at the highest Sacraments, but now you’re just scrap material.” Sort of like deciding that the great thing to do with human bodies is to recycle them into Soylent Green.

    But mostly… what’s been sacred is always sacred. Once you’ve set something apart to the Lord’s service, there’s no takebacks. You can’t change your mind and put the books to human service, or that of any other creature. Trust them to the keeping of earth or fire, to keep them set apart to the Lord.

  11. I totally agree with you, Dcn Greg. Burning seemed the best way to dispose of blessed or sacred things in times long past but today we have secure recycling options. I think what people need to keep in mind is WHY burning was the option: to assure that these blessed things were not picked up and used in sacrilegious fashion. An elderly wise priest told me years ago how to dispose of such things as broken statues, rosaries, scapulars, etc. Destroy them manually so that they are not recognized for what they are or cannot be used as they were meant to be used, and then you can dispose of them as you would anything else. He said that the blessing on a sacramental remains only as long as its appearance as such remains. For example: once you break apart a rosary it is just a bunch of beads without form or purpose and then the blessing is no longer present for it is no longer a “rosary”.

  12. “Nothing that has been used for something sacred or sacramental can ever again be used for something less, without committing blasphemy.”

    Then why did not a few bishop and priest saints sell the sacred vessels in times of great need in order to get money from the gold therein in order to minister to the sick and poor? They didn’t sell them to richer cathedrals but to local merchants.

  13. What do most parishes do with the disposable missals in the pews that get replaced every year. Are there great bonfires all over the country or do they get pitched in the dumpster?

  14. It’s worth pointing out that the US Flag Code recommends burning as the most respectful way of disposing of old and worn-out US flags. Scouts and veterans’ groups often hold ceremonies where old flags are “retired” by being respectfully burned.

  15. PS — of course, 40+ there was none of this angst over how to dispose of the old pre-Vatican II liturgical books. Many of them were just pitched out in the trash, as were many old hymnals.

  16. David_J_White,

    Do you speak from experience on this? How do you know that there wasn’t discussion of what to do with the old pre-Vatican II liturgical books?

    Not criticizing, just asking.

  17. We recently lost a child in late miscarriage, and our pastor asked our permission to bury one of the parish’s old liturgical books with him in our parish cemetery. I love the idea of the Word comforting our son in heaven as well as remaining with his body here on earth.

    The book wasn’t burned first, though. It was placed lovingly at the bottom of the grave.

  18. Well, there are many. Just google the topic and you can learn more. Church documents inform us that it is not right to sell the sacred vessels EXCEPT to relieve the poor or to ransom captives (i.e., works of mercy ) if no other means are available to carry out these demands of charity or justice.
    Perhaps for deacons it might be most interesting to note that, according to ancient stories, St. Lawrence sold the sacred vessels in the couple days prior to his martyrdom, having been commanded by Pope St. Sixtus to distribute the Church’s wealth among the poor. Lawrence obeyed his bishop (pope) and sold the vessels to increase the charitable sum.
    St. Ambrose of Milan did such and was condemned by local heretical Arians as committing sacrilege. St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Cyril of Jerusalem did likewise. As did St. Hilary of Arles, St. Odilio Abbott of Cluny and many others up into even our present day. After the more legalistic mentality of the scholastic period set in, it was considered better to melt down the vessels before selling their precious metals – and many did this even before that time – but not always.
    “What worthier use for the vessels chosen to hold Our Redeemer’s Blood than to employ them to ransom again those redeemed by this same Blood? So thought St. Ambrose when, to ransom slaves, he had to sell the sacred vessels.” St. John Bosco (19th century)

  19. Candles are lighted in churches, cremation had been used for centuries to send warriors off to their reward etc., so burning sacred books seems right in line as a respectful way of disposing of them. Of course there are those who abuse that by burning books in order to stop their influence on people( Hitler’s Germany) and there are countries that burn American flags, images of leaders as protest. Perhaps those who use fire for protest or control purposes didn’t realize that it is a respectful form of disposal. I do think, as mentioned above that some of the now outdated books should be saved for reference in various places.

  20. Having said the above, I should also have said that I personally don’t like to see books burned—-but if not useful anymore—-perhaps recycling?

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