The decrease in people who regularly celebrate liturgy in western Europe has led to the question of what to do with so-called obsolete church buildings. This question not only refers to whether or not a church building will be converted, reused or demolished, but also to the question of whether or not such a building needs to be deconsecrated, and if so, what does deconsecration of a church building actually entail? In this contribution, I will consider the role deconsecration rites play in the Roman Catholic church when a church building is taken out of liturgical use. In Roman Catholic liturgy, there are no prescribed, official deconsecration rites that are mandatory for a church building that is to be taken out of liturgical use. The actual deconsecration of a church building is, according to canon law, established by a decree that is issued by the responsible diocesan bishop. In the case of a church being taken out of liturgical use, however, there seems to be a shift from having a ritual void with regard to deconsecration rites, and also a focus on the “legitimate” way (in the sense of canon law) to deconsecrate a church building (object orientation), towards, in recent decades, paying more attention to a growing pastoral need (subject orientation) for deconsecration rites. These new ritual initiatives can be regarded as forms of pastoral care intended to help parishioners cope with the loss of their church building. I will show that different interpretations of canon law articles complicate straightforward answers to the question of which arguments are legitimate to deconsecrate a church. Furthermore, I will address the “ritual muddle”, the mixture of the actual deconsecration act in the sense of canon law and deconsecration rites that, from the perspective of canon law, do not effect church deconsecration. I will also address the differentiation between desecration and deconsecration, address historical forms of deconsecration rites and pay attention to the making and unmaking of sacred space. Finally, I will focus on contemporary deconsecration rites against the background of the complex reality in which such rites are situated.
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