By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 09 April 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I wonder if the priest can use the purifier to clean the wine on his mouth after drinking from the chalice, knowing that the purifier is used to clean the vessels. — J.T.P., Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A: In principle the answer would be no, at this moment.
In his handbook "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite," now-Bishop Peter Elliott describes this moment of the priest's communion:
"Taking the purifier in his right hand, he transfers it to his left hand, saying quietly, 'May the Blood of Christ … life' then reverently and without haste he drinks the Blood of the Lord, holding the purifier beneath his chin. If he consumes the contents of the chalice, he should not tip the vessel high. He places the chalice on the corporal, transfers the purifier to his right hand and carefully wipes the lip of the cup, while keeping his left hand on the node or base. If a pall is used, this is removed before he takes the purifier and replaced if the chalice is empty.
"Alternatively, the celebrant may take the chalice in both hands, saying quietly, 'May the Blood of Christ … life.' Then reverently and without haste he drinks the Blood of the Lord. He places the chalice on the corporal, takes the purifier in his right hand and carefully wipes the lip of the cup, while he keeps his left hand on the node or base. This procedure is more convenient if the chalice is full."
However, in the context of the purifications Elliott makes a different observation:
"After drinking the ablutions, the celebrant wipes his lips with the purifier, if this is necessary. He leaves the purifier on the altar or credence table, where the servers cover the chalice."
Manuals for the extraordinary form are even more detailed but generally concur in not foreseeing a purifier (also called a purificator) used in the manner of a napkin or a handkerchief, not even in the case of the ablutions.
I believe that the reason for this difference is not as much a question of hygiene, as one of appropriate use of the liturgical object.
The principal function of the purifier at the moment of communion from the chalice is to prevent any drop of Precious Blood from falling or sticking to the rim of the chalice. This is not usually a danger when a priest carefully consumes from the chalice and there is no need to wipe the lips.
The purifier would, however, be used in this manner if some Precious Blood accidentally spilled on the chin.
During the ablutions it might be necessary to wipe the lips after drinking. This case might arise if there were many small fragments in the water, some of which might stick to the lips.