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Liturgy: When a Consecrated Host Falls

5/25/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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And More on Blessings for Non-communicants.

ROME, MAY 25, 2005 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What is the proper procedure when a consecrated Host falls on the floor when distributing Communion? We were told to leave the consecrated Host on the floor till the Communion procession is over, then pick up the Host and put it in a bowl of water to dissolve and then pour the contents on a plant in the church or down the sacristy sink. Is the dissolved Host still the Body of Christ? Is this a new directive to be followed? -- M.B., Upper Sackville, Nova Scotia

A: This subject is addressed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 280:

"If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently. If any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy."

There is no mention of leaving the host on the floor, and in fact it should be picked up immediately, both out of respect for the Lord and lest it be trampled by unwary communicants.

Nor is there any indication about dissolving the host. I would say that, if the host remains clean, then either the minister or the communicant should consume it directly.

The process of dissolving the host in water may be used in special conditions if a host had been seriously soiled. Once the host is dissolved, the water may be poured directly upon the earth or down the sacrarium -- the special sacristy sink that leads to the earth, not to a drain.

It should not be poured down a common sink.

With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians would hold that, although the host externally remains intact for several days, the real presence would cease as soon as the host is fully soaked with water as from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

It is necessary to wait for the host to dissolve, out of respect for what once contained the presence of Christ and in order to avoid any danger or appearance of a host being discarded or profaned.

* * *

Follow-up: Blessings for Non-communicants

Regarding our comments on blessings for non-communicants (see May 10), a reader asked if my opinion contradicted the following observations made by Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Colorado, in an article from 2003:

"As members of the community move forward to receive holy Communion during Mass, parents will often bring their small children along. Over the years, it has become a custom in many parishes for these children to receive a blessing. I don't really know where this practice began, but it's worth some reflection.

"Usually the children in line will look up expectantly at the person distributing holy Communion. The minister then responds by doing one of several things: He or she may pat the child's head, or touch the head in a sign of blessing, or mark the child's forehead with a sign of the cross. As warm and well intentioned as the gesture may be, in the context of the liturgy, the Communion procession really isn't the time for a blessing of children or adults who are unable to receive Communion.

"There are times in the liturgical year when the laity assist in specific acts of blessing, such as the blessing of throats or the distribution of ashes. These are clearly indicated in the Book of Blessings. But extraordinary ministers of holy Communion do not ordinarily have a commission to bless in the name of the Church, as priests and deacons do. At this point in the liturgy, they have a very specific function: to collaborate with the clergy in the distribution of holy Communion.

"As we'll explore in a later column, the blessing of the assembly properly occurs at the end of the Mass. As the body of Christ, the assembly is blessed together before we depart to live the fruits of the liturgy.

"What would be appropriate for children to do who accompany their parents in the Communion procession, and adults who do not receive Communion?

"The Communion procession is an opportunity for parents to begin to teach their children about the great gift of the Eucharist. First of all, children could learn to give reverence to the Lord hidden under the forms of bread and wine. Children can already learn from their parents, and others receiving holy Communion, to give honor to the Lord by bowing reverently.

"Parents and catechists should start teaching the mystery of the Eucharist at an early age. Children will soon begin to desire to receive holy Communion. This earnest desire to receive our Lord sacramentally is traditionally called a 'spiritual communion.' Regrettably, we don't talk about ...

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