QUAERITUR: How to dispose of an old sacrarium?

When there has been some mishap with the Blessed Sacrament, when perhaps liquid that was dissolved Hosts must be disposed of, when linens must be cleaned, when holy water or water blessed for Mass must be disposed of, it should go directly into the ground.  That is why ever sacristy should have a sacrarium, a kind of sink with its pipe going into the earth rather than into a sewer.  The sacrarium is useful and necessary for the disposal of some sacred things in the proper way.

But when the instrument of disposal, the sacrarium, needs disposing of, what to do?

From a reader:

Are there rubrics (if that is the correct terminology) for disposing of sacraria? A friend of mine is worried that his parish sacrarium may be inappropriately removed (alas, that it is being removed!). He thinks the parish may be throwing away the piping for it. Is there some way the pipe should be handled? Also, and somewhat related, is it acceptable to dispose of the water — used to soak the corporals and purificators — into bushes or plants on church grounds when there is no sacrarium? 

Good question.  Yes, the water for linens and so forth can be poured into the ground in some decent place.  The flower beds would be a pretty good choice.

In most American or modern sacristies the sacrarium could look like a regular sink, but it will usually have a cover of some kind, one that closes completely or one that is like a grate.  It could be next to the regular work sink or it could be freestanding or attached separately on the wall.   Variations abound.  It is, however, usually be marked, with a Cross or with the word “Sacrarium” itself.  It might even have a lock.  This would be because sometimes Hosts must be completely dissolved, and that takes time.  You would put them in, say, an covered ablusion cup, and then leave it sitting in the sacrarium, which you could lock, until it was time to pour the liquid down.

I am unaware of any directive about the disposal of a sacrarium. At first glance, it is reasonable that if we take care to disposed of books used for worship properly or dispose of vestments and vessels, then the sacrarium and its parts should be shown a measure of respect.  Surely this matter has come up before, somewhere, because churches are being torn down and/or rebuilt, sacristies are being redone all the time.

If the sacrarium and the pipes could not be recycled in some way so that it could continue their use as a sacrarium – because every sacristy needs one! – then I suppose they could be buried, perhaps in the foundation of a new church structure. I am reminded of the solution one diocese had for its old, now obsolete liturgical books. They placed them in space in the floor of a sanctuary being rebuilt.

Furthermore, it might not actually be possible in a reasonable and practical way to get at the pipe for the sacrarium, other than the part that is close to the basin and drain itself.  In that case, there is nothing to do.

I think the basic principle to protect is that we should treat those things which are intended for sacred uses with respect and not just toss them into the garbage as if they were nothing.


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  1. revs96 says:

    Burn the old sacrarium and pour it down the new sacrarium?

  2. ContraMundum says:

    I think at a minimum I would be sure to pour a good deal of clean water down the sacrarium before doing anything else. It’s probably not necessary, but it would be a good, respectful idea to make sure nothing is adhering to the pipes (which shouldn’t be anyhow).

    On the other hand, maybe the intentions of the Church might be implied by what materials are required for a sacrarium. Must it be made of precious metals? No. Must it be made of something that can burn? No. It is of base materials and cannot easily be given a dignified disposal, which seems to imply that such is not necessary.

  3. Choirmaster says:

    I think ContraMundum makes some excellent points!

    I guess the Sacrarium, being made of stainless steal or porcelain, is not necessarily looked upon in any sort of rigorous sacral mode. Compare to a chalice or ciborium.

    I always think of the sacrarium as an extension of the ground. That is, kind of like the referee in a hockey game is part of the ice. So, it is constructed to make convenient access to the ground from inside a building.

    Nevertheless, it bears asking what dignity would be afforded to the spot in the ground where rinse-water from the washing and laundering of vessels and linens is poured? I would think that that is appropriate for the sacrarium as well. I’m assuming that the sacrarium is not a consecrated object.

    Indeed, it may be that just considering the issue in a pious way is enough to ensure the proper dignity is shown to the apparatus!

  4. Fr. Erik Richtsteig says:

    As it has held particles of Host, I would suggest burying it somewhere on the church grounds.

  5. AnnAsher says:

    I concur with burial. But then I whine about our military chapel heaping altar linens in baskets, waiting for several to fill, and then laundered in machines. No rinsing. No pouring first rinse into the ground. Much Oxyclean. For all I know they could be laundered with the volunteers sheets. Sigh.

  6. Weetabix says:

    Another vote for burial. It’s had contact with the Eucharist.

  7. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    My eyes are playing tricks…I read it too fast and thought it said, “How to Dispose of an Old Sacristan?”

    I thought perhaps you were writing a priestly murder mystery novel – “We Shall All Parish!” or “Dial M for Monsignor” :-)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. CDNowak says:

    Send to Tim “Tool-Time” Taylor, then bury the pieces?

    But seriously, another vote for burial.

  9. Ed the Roman says:

    Oh dear. Talk about timing.

    Yesterday, my son invited a neighbor (10yo) to Mass with us. Knowing that the family did not practice, I told him he could go up for a blessing (yes, commenters, I know. I have reasons of which you know nothing) but that he could not take communion.

    Since I am in the choir, and we are close up altar left, I was able to see that he had taken a Host, which I relieved him of. Problem: in my estimation I wasn’t well disposed yesterday. SO I held a consecrated host through the remainder of the Communion hymn and the recessional until I could speak with the Pastor, whose Mass it had been. It old him of my pro.blem

    He told me to consume. Thinking fast, deciding that I can’t use force to get him to handle it otherwise, that I was **NOT** going to keep Him for after confession, and that obedience is a virtue, I replied that he was on the hook for it, and did so.

    Do I have still more grave matter for next confession?

  10. frjim4321 says:

    Burial is probably a good idea. Maybe find a church that is being built and when they excavate the footer add the sacarium.

    Bad situation here, the settling of the building or something has rendered the sacraium unusable. You can run about two gallons down there and then the sink fills up.

  11. rcg says:

    Sorry for being geeky about this: Extract the Sacrarium and as much pipe as possible. Cut the pipe into manageable lengths and run all of it through a kiln. That would drive all moister off and the Blessed water into the ether, as it were. Absolutely none would remain. Then, if it is considered that the pipes and porcelain are changed substantially, grind them into powder and ignite, ala road flare. The metals in the pipe and porcelain would oxidize in normal atmospheric conditions, All that would remain would be the earthen part pr the ‘sink’ and that could be reused in creating another Sacrarium. This could all be done by the same folks who either make them or other sacred art. Artists have this sort of this handy and could be supervised by a local bishop.

  12. ContraMundum says:

    Lead water pipes were still in common use in the early 20th century and remain in many households.

    And probably many churches, too. That’s my main concern about disposing of the pipes.

  13. Gaz says:

    A suggestion. Find another Church that needs one. … (yes. Like here).

  14. ContraMundum says:


    I you could perhaps move the sink part to another location, assuming it is still in good condition, but I think the pipes would still present a problem.

  15. ContraMundum says:

    Related question: How are baptismal fonts disposed of? Of course they should last a very long time, and they do not come into contact with the Sacred Host.

  16. iPadre says:

    Send it to me at Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton, RI. We can use one! Imagine building a church without a sacrarium!

    [Watch! You’ll get three dozen sacraria next week.]

  17. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Ed the Roman, in my uneducated OPINION, no, you were being obedient.

  18. dominic1955 says:

    I remember hearing of a church renovation in my area back in the ’50s in which everything they took out was burned. Everything. Metal light fixtures, windows, etc. etc. -all of it was burned then burried. Then, as a counter-point, about 10 years later another church was getting a renovation and everything usable (light fixtures, windows, lumber, etc.) was sold at auction.

    I do not know what’s really the official position. I could certainly see burying something like a sacrarium if its no longer usable but maybe just throwing away plaster and wood and selling or giving away things that could be salvaged.

  19. seattle_cdn says:

    Related to this topic, as it is confirmation season after all – how is Sacred Chrism to be disposed?

    [I wrote on that HERE.]

  20. heway says:

    Our beautiful little church does not have a sacrarium. It was built in the 50’s, consists of rewood logs and Zuni stone….no plumbing at all. However we do know how to properly care for the soiled linens, especially corporal…everything has to be taken to the rectory to be cleansed before taking it home for further washing…no problem.
    I do believe that it should be buried as other articles are.

  21. Joseph says:

    I’m very curious about this topic, especially as it relates to other furnishings and materials (as dominic1955 mentions).

    I “rescued” a pew and a holy water cistern that were likely going to be thrown out. The holy water cistern isn’t the problem — since it says “Holy Water” on it and has a little cross on top, it really can’t be used for anything else. But, what about the pew? I wasn’t comfortable using it as a bench. . . and both remain in storage. Am I scrupling? Any suggestions on how I could use them, or should I offload them (or dispose of them) somehow?

    Any insights appreciated!

    (p.s. Is there anything in canon law that speaks to this?)

  22. Mrs.Abingdon says:

    In a similar vein, I have a large ziploc bag full of broken palm fronds which I picked up outside (off the playground) following this year’s Palm Sunday Mass. I did not know what to do with them. Is it appropriate to bury them respectfully in my backyard? I think that waiting until next year’s Vigil Fire is likely better, but I will almost certainly forget to submit them at that time. Thank you.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    My parents built two houses and an addition during the time I was of an age to pay attention, and my husband and I built our first house and did a lot of the work ourselves. Our second house is old and has lots of “interesting” problems.
    Based on that limited experience, I would not consider settling to be the most likely cause – not unless you have signs of significant foundation settling such as large cracks, separating steps or corners, and so forth.
    More likely, if the end of the line is buried in a French drain rather than simply running onto soil or gravel, the French drain could be silted up. Or, the plumbers put too tight a turn in the drain line somewhere, and over time debris has accumulated in the bend and blocked the pipe (plumbers are not supposed to put ordinary 90 degree joints in soil stacks (there’s a special ‘sanitary elbow’), but sometimes they do when you’re not looking).
    Which leads us to another question — is drain cleaner something that can legitimately be put down a sacrarium? If so, I would try that first.
    If not, I would just open up the French drain and inspect it. If it’s not that, open the wall and replace the bad tee or elbow with the proper fitting. If it is actually foundation settling, you’ll have to do that anyhow because the pipe is probably leaking. There’s got to be at least one plumber and/or a general contractor in your parish.

  24. DKJ says:

    I have a further question. How does a sacrarium work in places where everything freezes in the winter? I mean if it just drains into some sand then in freezing climates all you have is a big pile of ice. How is this managed? Anyone know?

  25. AnAmericanMother says:

    French drain (which is essentially just a large deep hole filled with gravel), with the outlet below the frost line.
    When we were not on the sewer system – in downtown Atlanta! – we dug a French drain for the washing machine and laundry sink, so that the bleach would not kill the beneficial bugs in the septic tank.

  26. DKJ says:

    American Mother:

    Thanks for the answer. I have wondered about that. I live in Ontario, Canada and have never heard or seen such a thing but I can see that if the pit is deep enough it might work.

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    Around here, in a REALLY cold winter, our frost line is probably only a few inches down!
    But it’s still a good idea to bury a French drain pretty deep, any water line in an outside wall is at risk to freeze, even in the sunny South. You also want it well below the footings.

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