In regard to the Eucharist, the term consecration refers to those words/actions/intentions by which bread and wine is said to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ (also called the Transsubstantiation).
The understanding in the Catholic Church is that the gifts (bread and wine) are consecrated during the Words of Institution amid the Canon of the Mass. In the western or Latin Church, the consecration is emphasized as being the Divine action in and through the Words of Institution, by which verba a priest is said to act "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) as the physical and personal instrument through which Christ is present and acting.
At one time, there was a rite for the Consecration of Virgins (see the article on Virginity in External links, below, for a description of the ritual), though it died out after the fifteenth century.
It can also refer to the solemn blessing by a bishop of a fully completed and paid-off church building (e.g. parish church). The altar of a church may be consecrated separately, or as part of the consecration of the whole building. There is also a consecration of an altar stone, which may be used to celebrate Mass when there is no consecrated church building available.
Orthodox believe their bishops to be in Apostolic Succession, and that at their Ordination they receive the fullness of the Grace of the Priesthood (priests and deacons function as the "hands" of the Bishop and are thus an extension of his ministry). For the Orthodox, the office of bishop is the highest rank in the Church. Although certain bishops may receive titles such as Patriarch, Metropolitan, or Archbishop, ultimately all bishops are equal, and such titles constitute marks of dignity and honor, but not any higher order in the Church or greater measure of grace. At his Ordination, a bishop receives grace not only to perform the Sacred Mysteries but also to bestow the grace of Ordination on others.
The Scriptural foundation for Cheirotonia is found in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles to Timothy (). Just as in Acts there were two stages involved: (a) election and (b) the prayerful laying on of hands, so the Ordination of a bishop in the Orthodox Church takes place in two stages:
(Contrary to what the person above wrote, there is no hint of election in the early church (book of Acts). Leaders were appointed by other leaders. Most of the converts were new believers and had no business voting for bishops. Paul tells Titus (TITUS 1:5) to "appoint elders (Greek: bishops) in every town..." not to hold an election.)
According to the Canon I of the Apostolic Canons, a bishop must be Consecrated by at least two or three bishops. Normally, there will be three or more Consecrating Bishops.
The Greek words meaning ‘dedicate’ and ‘dedication’ are not easy to translate into English, since they also have the connotation of ‘newness’, ‘renewal’. The opening Stichera for Vespers, for example, make frequent play on the ideas of ‘new’ and ‘old’. David, in Psalm 51:10, asks God to ‘renew a right Spirit within me’, rather than ‘dedicate a right Spirit’.
The Consecration of a Church is a complex service filled with many profound symbolisms. Many biblical elements taken from the Consecration of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40) and the Temple of Solomon are employed in the service. According to Orthodox theology, once a building has been Consecrated as a church, it may never again be used for any secular purpose.
No one may construct an Orthodox church without the blessing of the local bishop. Before construction begins on a new church, the bishop or his representative lays a foundation stone which may or may not contain relics of a saint. Only after all construction on the new church has been completed may it be Consecrated.
The Orthodox ritual for the Consecration of a Church is modeled on the ritual of Baptism and Chrismation. Before the Consecration begins, there is a Great Blessing of Waters as is served at Theophany; Chrism, white robes, and tapers are used during the service (the bishop will wear a special white linen garment over his vestments, called a Savanon). A procession goes three times around the church building, just like a similar triple procession around the font at Baptism. Another symbolism which occurs frequently in the service is the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
Relics of Saints (preferably martyrs) are placed in the Holy Table during the Consecration (). This is a continuation of the practice of the ancient Church of celebrating the Liturgy over the tombs of the Martyrs.
The Consecration should be performed by the diocesan bishop; but if he is unable to do so, the bishop may delegate an Archimandrite or other senior priest to perform the service in his behalf. The bishop himself must consecrate the Antimension (see below) and send it with the priest who will be performing the service. In this case, the rite of Consecration is briefer than normal. There is no Consecration of the Antimension (since the bishop himself accomplished this earlier), and no Relics are placed in the Holy Table.
There are a number of differences between the rite of Consecration as practiced by the Greeks and as practiced by the Slavic churches. Generally, the Greek rite presumes that the Holy Table will be made of stone, while the Slavic presumes it will be made of wood.
Orthodox do not normally use the term "Transubstantiation" to describe the "change". The Latin doctrine of Transubstantiation attempts to explain "how" the elements are changed; Orthodox regard this as attempting to explain the unexplainable. Orthodox only explain "that" the elements are changed, without attempting to delve too deeply into the Mystery.
In the early church, after an individual was Baptized, one of the Apostles would then lay hands upon them and they would receive the Holy Spirit (). According to Orthodox Tradition, as the Church grew it became impossible for the Apostles to go to each convert personally, so the Apostles laid their hands upon a vessel of oil, consecrating it, and the oil was distributed to the various churches so that all could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whenever new Chrism is consecrated, it is added to the existing stock. The Orthodox believe that the same Chrism consecrated by the Apostles is still in use today, having been added-to by all generations of the Church. The earliest mention of the use of Chrism is by Saint Hippolytus of Rome (†235).
While any bishop is empowered to Consecrate the Chrism, so long as he adds to the existing stock; in practice the Consecration is reserved to the Primates who preside over the local autocephalous churches. Traditionally, the Consecration of Chrism occurs during Holy Week. The preparation of the Chrism begins on Great Monday, using a recipe based upon the Anointing Oil consecrated by Moses Then, on Great Thursday the Patriarch or Metropolitan will consecrate the Chrism. Chrism is not consecrated every year, but only according to need. The Patriarch or Metropolitan will normally make a formal announcement beforehand when there is going to be a Consecration of Chrism.
The Antimension (literally, "In place of the Table") is a piece of cloth, often silk, that has depicted on it Christ laid out for burial with Icons of the four Evangelists in the corners. It also has a space provided for the bishop to inscribe and sign the Antimension. Relics of Martyrs are sewn into the Antimension, and it is usually wrapped in another protective cloth called the Iliton, which is often red in color and symbolizes the swaddling-clothes with which Christ was wrapped after His birth, and also the winding-sheet in which His body was wrapped after His Crucifixion.
It is forbidden to celebrate the Divine Liturgy without the Antimension. If the Holy Table is damaged or destroyed the Divine Liturgy may still be celebrated with the Antimension. If it becomes necessary to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in an unconsecrated building, it is permitted to do so as long as the priest uses an Antimension.
Only a bishop may Consecrate an Antimension. This may take place as a part of the Consecration of a church, or as a separate rite. The bishop wears a special linen garment over his vestments, called a Savanon, during the service, just like when he consecrates a church. He will anoint the pocket sewn into the Antimension to receive the Relics with Chrism, he then places the Relics in the Antimension and seals them in place with wax mastic. He then inscribes the Antimension with the name of the church for which it has been Consecrated and signs it. He may also stamp it with his official seal.
The Antimension always remains the property of the Bishop. He bestows an Antimension and Chrism on a priest as a sign that the priest has his authorization to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. If a bishop withdraws this authorization from the priest, he takes the Antimension and Chrism away from him.
In consecrating a home, there are several services that take place. First of all, there is the "Blessing for the Foundation of a Home", similar in concept to the blessing of the foundation stone, but consisting only of a single prayer. Obviously, this service is used only when a new home is being constructed from scratch.
There is also a "Prayer When One is About to Take Up His Abode in a New Home", said before the family moves into a new home, whether they built it or not.
The actual "Blessing of a New Home" takes place once the family is fully moved in, and repeats many of the ceremonies at the Consecration of a Church. The house is blessed with holy water, the walls are anointed with blessed oil, and a candle is placed in front of each place where the house was anointed. As he anoints each wall in the Sign of the Cross, the priest says, "This house is blessed through the anointing with this Holy Oil, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Among the imagery used in the service is the salvation which came to the house of Zaccheus when Jesus visited it ().
There are a number of other blessings which take place in the home, such as the annual blessing at Theophany, and the slava which is celebrated on the feast day of the family's patron saint. These, however, are simple blessings, and not consecrations.
Church buildings, a chapels and altars are consecrated to the purpose of religious worship, and vessels are consecrated for the purpose of containing the Eucharistic elements, the bread and wine/the body and blood of Christ.
In the Eucharist, Lutherans hold that the consecration is effected by the recitation of the Words of Institution (sometimes sung) over the bread and wine, resulting in the sacramental union whereby the bread is the communion of Christ's true body and the wine is the communion of Christ's true blood. Among Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other Protestants that accept some form of Real Presence Theology, the elements are consecrated when the presiding/celebrating minister calls upon the Holy Spirit to "make them be for us 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 which 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. Also, those who take the vows of religious life are said to be living a consecrated life.
Among some religious groups there is also 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 making a church "redundant" may remove the legal effects of consecration.
The priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also perform a consecration of oil, for use of blessing the sick. The term 'consecration', as it applies to the Lord's Supper in other Christian churches, is simply called a 'blessing' by the Latter-day Saint priesthood.