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Definition: Sacrilege

 

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"SACRILEGE. The irreverent treatment of sacred things, persons or places, i.e., those dedicated by God or the Church to sacred purposes. It is a sin against the virtue of religion, of its nature grave, but admitting smallness of matter. Sacrilege may be either personal, as when violence is done to a cleric or religious; local, as when certain crimes are committed or actions done in a church; real, as by the abuse of sacraments, the theft of sacred objects or their irreverent misuse, and the sin of simony. These varieties of the sin differ specifically from one another." (Catholic Dictionary)

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"...sacrilege...is [a] great sin, because it is an abuse of a sacred thing." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A person sins by sacrilege when he mistreats sacred persons, places, or things." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A sacrilege is the profanation of a place, of a person, or of a thing consecrated to God and set apart for his worship." (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X) 

"[T]he sin of sacrilege consists in the irreverent treatment of a sacred thing. Now reverence is due to a sacred thing by reason of its holiness: and consequently the species of sacrilege must needs be distinguished according to the different aspects of sanctity in the sacred things which are treated irreverently: for the greater the holiness ascribed to the sacred thing that is sinned against, the more grievous the sacrilege. Now holiness is ascribed, not only to sacred persons, namely, those who are consecrated to the divine worship, but also to sacred places and to certain other sacred things. And the holiness of a place is directed to the holiness of man, who worships God in a holy place. For it is written (2 Maccabees 5:19): 'God did not choose the people for the place's sake, but the place for the people's sake.' Hence sacrilege committed against a sacred person is a graver sin than that which is committed against a sacred place. Yet in either species there are various degrees of sacrilege, according to differences of sacred persons and places. In like manner the third species of sacrilege, which is committed against other sacred things, has various degrees, according to the differences of sacred things. Among these the highest place belongs to the sacraments whereby man is sanctified: chief of which is the sacrament of the Eucharist, for it contains Christ Himself. Wherefore the sacrilege that is committed against this sacrament is the gravest of all. The second place, after the sacraments, belongs to the vessels consecrated for the administration of the sacraments; also sacred images, and the relics of the saints, wherein the very persons of the saints, so to speak, are reverenced and honored. After these come things connected with the apparel of the Church and its ministers; and those things, whether movable or immovable, that are deputed to the upkeep of the ministers. And whoever sins against any one of the aforesaid incurs the crime of sacrilege." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")


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