Constructing a chapel

Hello to you all!

I have some questions which I hope can be answered here. In my family it’s a tradition that we construct a chapel as a sign of appreciation after a great event in life. Mostly after weddings or by a will of a deceased family member, but also sometimes after a remarkable recovery of a disease.

Now, it’s been about twenty years since the last construction of one of these family chapels. And I have reason to construct one of my own in the light of our family tradition, but I’d like to know the requirements for building a chapel. I’ll need approval of both the local government (city) and our diocesean bishop, am I right? Are there other things to think about?

Thank you all in advance!

If Belgium is anything like the UK you will certainly need planning permission from the local authorities to construct a building.

Canon 1226 states: "The term private chapel means a place which, by permission of the local Ordinary, is set aside for divine worship, for the convenience of one or more individuals.

Canon 1228 states: “Without prejudice to the provision of Can. 1227 [this deals with a bishop having the right to a private chapel], the permission of the local Ordinary is required for the celebration of Mass and of other sacred functions in any private chapel.”

Canon 1229 states: “It is appropriate that oratories and private chapels be blessed according to the rite prescribed in the liturgical books. They must, however, be reserved for divine worship only and be freed from all domestic use.”

I would deduce from these canons that your local bishop would need to grant his permission. It would also seem appropriate that if it is allowed you should have it blessed.

They might imply that permission would not be required if no form of divine service (Mass, sacraments, LOTH, sacramentals, etc.) were going to be celebrated in the chapel.

I think if I were you I would be contacting the bishop’s office for advice on this matter. After all, irrespective of what opinions are posted on here it will be his decision that matters.

I have done considerable research into this recently. You do not need permission to set a room aside or build a chapel for private devotion or to have a priest or deacon bless the place, setting it aside for exclusive sacred use.

However, YOU DO NEED PERMISSION for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and for the celebration of Holy Mass.

If you want the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the chapel, you will need to have Mass said there a minimum of twice a month.

Here is a brief guide regarding the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in private chapels:

Permissions range, depending on whether you want a private chapel, a private oratory, a semi-public oratory or a public oratory. There are different distinctions.

The best advice would be to schedule an appointment with your bishop and share the beautiful custom your family would like to continue and see what advice he offers.

PLEASE DO LET ME KNOW HOW IT WORKS OUT! I would really like to know, as I am considering a similar project in France.

+Thank you and God’s blessings to you and your family.:thumbsup:

I thought chapels had to be blessed by a bishop although he can give a mandate for a priest to do the blessing. I am basing this on what is says in the Ceremonial of Bishops. I don’t have a copy of the Roman Ritual or would the rite be in the Pontifical.

Here is what I have found in my research:

If a private person wishes to build a chapel or set a room aside for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, they will need:

-The approval of the local ordinary
-A bishop or an agent sent on his authority needs to inspect that the place is suitable for sacred worship and is in compliance with the norms for liturgical function
-The chapel should be blessed or consecrated to the exclusive use of sacred worship (I do not think it has to be blessed exclusively by a bishop, I understand even a deacon could do so. Consecration would most definitely be done by a bishop.)
-If the place reverts to secular use, they will again, need the permission of the local ordinary to do so
-Mass must be celebrated at least twice a month to tie in the presence of the Eucharist with the liturgical action

If a person wishes to set aside a room or build a chapel, without the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament:

-he needs no approval
-he could have the place blessed, as long as the space is completely set aside exclusively for sacred worship
-he would need approval for Mass to be celebrated there

More than that I do not know, which is why I suggest the best thing the OP to do would be:

-lay out plans with an architect
-if you intend to have Mass said regularly, you may wish to find a priest who would be willing to do it. I would contact a religious order you are close to, or try calling a retirement home for priests, to see if there are any available to say Mass, if everything is approved.
-find out what city permits are needed, etc…
-make an appointment with the bishop of the diocese in which he intends to build
-bring the architect plans and building code permits, etc…
-discuss the beautiful custom of your family
-tell him of your desire and why you want to build the chapel and show him the architect’s plans
If he approves:
-find out what needs to happen next
-do some reading on your own about chapels. For instance, it is the norm that chapels be blessed, but I would want mine consecrated by a bishop. Another issue for me is that I want to have Mass in the Extraordinary Form. That takes more planning, consecration of the altar, making sure I have all of the correct altar gear, vestments and objects needed.
-you may need to coordinate a meeting between a knowledgeable priest and an architect.

The fun part will be designing your chapel. I’d love to see your plans and hear what ideas you have. I have been pulling ideas for altars, interior and exterior shape, choir loft, seating, color scheme, windows, ceiling paintings, flooring, vestibule and sacristy and other interior and exterior features and details.

The first thing I did, was to decided which saint or event of Christ’s life I would dedicate the chapel to. That gave me a “theme,” so to speak, which I could work the design around. Search the internet or visit chapels and find elements that you like and think would work well together. Take the ideas to your architect and have him/her bring your ideas together.

A few architectural firms I would recommend:

Please keep us informed as to how things progress.

HCC and Matthew,

You’re both “right.”

In the English language (and probably other European languages that have some form of “chapel”) the word itself can have 2 meanings.

Chapel as it’s defined in canon law must be pre-approved by the bishop, as well as everything else that we’ve heard described.

Chapel in the generic sense of the word, meaning simply a place (or even a room) that is set aside as a place of prayer without having any official status as far as the Church is concerned, can be built by anyone.

Let’s say I own a piece of land and I make that available for others to use, or maybe it’s family-owned land and we all share it from time to time (or whatever other scenario). I can put up a small building, even make it resemble a church, I can call it a chapel. No problems there. The difference is that the Church will not call it a chapel unless the bishop has officially established it as such. That means that whenever we read the word “chapel” in canon law, that word refers exclusively to a building that’s been set-aside by the bishop as a chapel.

In our everyday speech, we can (and do) call a private building a chapel, but the Church doesn’t see it that way.

Can. 1226 By the term private chapel is understood a place for divine worship designated by permission of the local ordinary for the benefit of one or more physical persons.

Regardless of what criteria the bishop might use to decide if he should approve it or not, the fact remains that unless the bishop has indeed designated it as a “chapel” then as far as the Church is concerned, it’s not a chapel.

Please keep in mind though, that we still use the word “chapel” in our everyday language, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We do it all the time for perfectly legitimate reasons. But we can never call it a “chapel” as defined by canon law unless the bishop designated it as such.

I think there might be a language issue here.

When you say “chapel” what do you have in mind?

I am imagining a very small building, maybe some pillars and a roof, that might hold 5 or 6 people at a time–if they stand very close together. Maybe a large crucifix with Mary and the Beloved Disciple on each side?

On the other hand, you might mean a complete building that could hold 20 to 50 people, with 4 walls, and looking exactly like a small church building.

Is it either of these, or neither one?

If I’ve understood Fr. David’s post correctly then I don’t think size matters. I could choose a room in my house, put a nice french polished table in it, cover the table with a nice white lace cloth, put a crucifix on it, two candlesticks with expensive beeswax candles, a statue of our Lady somewhere else in the room. I could say my private prayers in it, do my Rosary in it, say the Divine Office in it. I could call this room my chapel. Nothing wrong.

If I want the Church to recognise it as officially a chapel I need my local bishop’s permission. I particularly need this if I would like to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in it. I also understand from the Code of Canon Law that no form of official public liturgy could be performed in my chapel unless my local bishop approved it.

HCC says he would like his consecrated (although I believe the Church now calls it Dedication). I am fully prepared to be shown that I am wrong but I think the bishop would only bless a chapel. Also further to what HCC said about having the altar consecrated I thought that happened when a church/chapel/oratory is dedicated (consecrated). A lot of the ritual centres on the altar. I think you only need to have an altar dedicated (consecrated) separately if its a new altar being put in an already dedicated (consecrated) church.

Purely point of interest: as HCC says he would like the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite Mass celebrated in his chapel - are the pre-Vatican II Roman Ritual and Roman Pontifical still licitly and validly used?

Fr David,

Thank you for making that distinction. So, if a person has a local priest come over and bless a small building they wish to have private family prayers in, it would be the same, as, say, having one’s house blessed? It does not make the building a canonically recognized chapel?

And, with all expected norms and approvals being followed, a chapel is built with the intention of having the Blessed Sacrament reserved there, would the chapel need to be consecrated or blessed? And would it have to be blessed or consecrated exclusively by the bishop?

Also, if you have time, I realize it is a lot to ask, could you briefly clarify some of the various types of chapels/oratories I have read about:

private chapel, private oratory, semi-public oratory or public oratory?

+Thank you and God’s blessings to you.

Yes, all rituals are licitly in use, check Summorum Pontificum to verify. If you have any questions regarding this you might contact: for more information.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to make a distinction between having the chapel consecrated and the altar consecrated. I just meant there are a lot of things to consider when putting this together and consecration was one of them (for me at least).

However, that raises a question that I intend to ask, so might as well ask it here…
The chapel I am designing will have 3 altars. A high altar and two side altars. Since an altar is only consecrated in connection with the Mass of consecration (or dedication, if you prefer) of a church (in this case chapel), would the bishop consecrate all 3 at the same time? Just curious? And, yes, I would desire Mass to be celebrated on the side altars for various feasts.

Right. Anyone can have a room or a building blessed. But it cannot be called a “chapel” unless the Bishop decrees that it is a chapel. Again, we can use the word in a casual, informal way “our family chapel” but not in any canonical sense unless the bishop decrees that it is one. It would be better to call it a “prayer room.”

And, with all expected norms and approvals being followed, a chapel is built with the intention of having the Blessed Sacrament reserved there, would the chapel need to be consecrated or blessed? And would it have to be blessed or consecrated exclusively by the bishop?

Yes, of course it would need to be blessed or consecrated. But remember that first of all, the bishop must decree it to be a chapel. Only after he’s decreed that it is a chapel (or at least decided to do so) can the matter of reserving the Blessed Sacrament be discussed. The bishop can at one moment decree that the building is a chapel and also permit a tabernacle. But please keep in mind that a private person can never build a building with the intention of reserving the Blessed Sacrament there–asking the bishop has to come first. To build it first, then ask permission would be to undermine the bishop’s authority.

Even to build a building with the intention of calling it a chapel requires the bishop’s permission beforehand, not afterwards. One more time, just a casual use of “chapel” is fine, but that would not give the building any official status–none at all.

I believe the bishop can delegate to a priest the faculty to dedicate or bless a chapel. I’m not certain, but almost certain.

Also, if you have time, I realize it is a lot to ask, could you briefly clarify some of the various types of chapels/oratories I have read about:

private chapel, private oratory, semi-public oratory or public oratory?

+Thank you and God’s blessings to you.

I would also caution against asking any priest to dedicate a place that you’re going to call a “chapel” until you first contact the bishop. A priest who uses the ritual for dedicating a chapel but does so without the bishop’s mandate would be guilty of a serious offense–and it would be hard to find a priest willing to do that. Even if he uses some other prayer, if the situation looks as if he’s dedicating a chapel without the bishop’s mandate, it can cause serious problems for that priest.

Here’s the section from canon law


Can. 1223 By the term oratory is understood a place for divine worship designated by permission of the ordinary for the benefit of some community or group of the faithful who gather in it and to which other members of the faithful can also come with the consent of the competent superior.

Can. 1224 §1. The ordinary is not to grant the permission required to establish an oratory unless he has first visited the place destined for the oratory personally or through another and has found it properly prepared.

§2. After permission has been given, however, an oratory cannot be converted to profane use without the authority of the same ordinary.

Can. 1225 All sacred celebrations can be performed in legitimately established oratories except those which the law or a prescript of the local ordinary excludes or the liturgical norms prohibit.

Can. 1226 By the term private chapel is understood a place for divine worship designated by permission of the local ordinary for the benefit of one or more physical persons.

Can. 1227 Bishops can establish a private chapel for themselves which possesses the same rights as an oratory.

Can. 1228 Without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1227, the permission of the local ordinary is required for Mass or other sacred celebrations to take place in any private chapel.

Can. 1229 It is fitting for oratories and private chapels to be blessed according to the rite prescribed in the liturgical books. They must, however, be reserved for divine worship alone and free from all domestic uses.

Thank Father you for all of this information. Perhaps I didn’t make clear, I would never undertake building a chapel, with the intention of having Mass said there or having the Blessed Sacrament reserved there without the express permission of the local bishop.

I’m truly concerned here that you are attempting to build a chapel without the bishop’s mandate. If you had it, I think you would be addressing those questions to the bishop, or to his representative in the diocese.

Based in your earlier post , you seem to be under the misunderstanding that you can build your own chapel as long as you don’t have a tabernacle there. Someone gave you some very bad advice. Again, very bad advice indeed. If you are doing what it looks as if you are doing, and you don’t have the bishop’s mandate to do this, you are undermining the bishop’s authority to erect a chapel.

Please see the canon law that I’ve quoted.

I truly hope that you DO have the bishop’s permission, but you just have not yet mentioned that, because from what I’m reading (and not-reading) I’m concerned about what you’re doing. Please tell me that I’m the one who is unaware that you have the bishop’s permission.


I just hit “submit” on my earlier post and then noticed this one.

Why didn’t you just say so earlier? The way you wrote your other posts, it seemed like you were doing this on your own.

I am SO GLAD this is the case, and I just didn’t see it.

Dear Father, :slight_smile:

Not at all–not at all! Please lay your fears to rest. I have every intention of bring the questions I post here to the bishop in France where I intend to build. We are only in the planning stage and my steps are listed in an above post. Right now our concerns are mostly continued prayer about the project, (as this is something I feel very called to do for specific reasons-which has nothing to do with going against the mind of the Church) and decorative concerns.

I will do nothing without the complete consent of the local ordinary!

This thread popped up, please note I am not the OP and I decided to ask a few points that I have been curious about. I will most certainly readdress all of these questions to the local ordinary, when the time comes to present the whole plan.

I am so glad you are deeply concerned, I pray everyday that a spirit of obedience returns to our Church from the pope to the newly baptized.

+Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for them.

Thank you all for the information, tips and tricks and support.

There were a few questions asked to me and I will try to answer them all:

The question if the Blessed Sacrament will be in the chapel. Of course It would be nice, but the regulation of the Holy Mass is needed. In Belgium we have a heavy shortage of ordained clergymembers so I would prefer a parish church with two Masses a month then my own chapel. So I would be a place for everyone to just come a sit and pray.

About the size. Well I would certaintly like some side chapels with statues of saints where people can sit and pray. But this is all to discuss with the architect and my wallet. Because I would love to build a cathedrale-like chapel, but we’ll see what my wallet allows. :wink:

So I would aim for a chapel where about fifthteen people could still move in.

I also have a concern… When it’s open, the chapel… I am so afraid of vandals (for glass-in-lead-windows), and thieves… I will have to hire a “swiss”. Some historical churches in Belgium still have a “swiss” or “suisse”. A sort of ceremonial church guard. :wink:

What I have in my home is a small oratory for my private prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is also in the same room as my home office.

Of course if you intend to use something similar for all family members, it will have to be somewhat larger!



The oratory would be to the right of the office, in the above picture; you can just make out the partition dividing the office from the oratory.

I am thinking more along the lines of:

I thought you wanted to build a private chapel not a church or cathedral.:confused:

How did the construction go?
I would imagine either it is built now, or never happened.

Would love to hear more.

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