|ROME, 25 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Is it proper for the priest to clean the Communion vessels outside
the altar of celebration during Mass? Our parish priest, to save time,
would move all the vessels/patens, etc., used for Communion to a table
at the back of the sanctuary (away from the table of celebration), while
the prayer after Communion is said and announcements take place. The
cleaning is usually done by a concelebrating priest or deacon as the
case may be. I feel this practice is disrespectful to the entire
Eucharistic celebration; makes one feel like the vessels are just
J.N.M., Port Harcourt, Nigeria
A: The priest's mode of action is fundamentally correct and, except for
one detail, in conformity with liturgical norms.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in No. 163, states the
following about the purification of the sacred vessels:
"When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself
immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine
that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he
either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place
designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.
"Upon returning to the altar, the priest collects any fragments that may
remain. Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he
purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice then purifies the
chalice, saying quietly, 'Quod ore sumpsimus' (Lord, may I receive), and
dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the
altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister.
Nevertheless, it is also permitted, especially if there are several
vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal,
either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them
immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people."
When a deacon is present, he normally does the purification, not on the
altar however but at the credence table, as specified in No. 183:
"When the distribution of Communion is completed, the deacon returns to
the altar with the priest and collects the fragments, if any remain, and
then carries the chalice and other sacred vessels to the credence table,
where he purifies them and arranges them in the usual way while the
priest returns to the chair. It is also permissible to leave the vessels
that need to be purified, suitably covered, at the credence table on a
corporal and to purify them immediately after Mass following the
dismissal of the people."
If no deacon is present, he may be substituted [for] by an instituted
acolyte or by a concelebrating priest.
The basic reason for this norm is to reserve, as far as reasonably
possible, the use of the altar for the realization of the Holy
This is why the altar should preferably not be used until the offertory
and the priest should preferably say the closing prayer from the chair
although it is permissible to pray it at the altar.
The purification of the sacred vessels, while in no way reduced to being
a merely practical exercise, could in some cases distract the faithful
in making their thanksgiving during the sacred silence after Communion,
especially if the number of vessels requiring purification is quite
The detail in which I believe that your priest is incorrect is that the
purification appears to continue during the closing prayer.
All of the ministers should be at their proper places before the closing
prayer and so the purification should be completed during the period of
sacred silence following Communion.
If this is not possible, it is preferable to take the option offered by
the missal to purify the sacred vessels immediately after Mass.
* * *
Follow-up: Purifying Vessels Away From the Altar [02-08-2005]
A surprising number of messages arrived requesting clarifications about
the purification of sacred vessels (see Jan. 25). Since many of the
missives contained similar questions, I will divide the answer into
A frequent request concerned the possibility of using the sacristy,
instead of the credence table, to purify the vessels.
Although the liturgical books do not mention the sacristy, I believe
that this possibility may be adopted in cases of necessity
for example, if space within the sanctuary is too small to cater for a
credence table of sufficient dimensions, or if the vessels must be
purified after Mass and there is little time between scheduled Masses.
When this is done, great care must be taken so as not to convert the
sacristy into a washing room. A proper credence table, or one of the
vesting cabinets, must be prepared to receive the vessels.
This table should be covered with a white linen cloth and supplied with
corporal, purificators and water.
The ablutions should also be carried out in a climate of silence out of
respect for the sacred species as well as to maintain the traditional
silence observed in Catholic sacristies.
Another frequently asked question regarded who may purify. As mentioned
in our former reply, this task falls to the deacon or, in his absence,
the instituted acolyte, or, lacking both, the priest.
In normal circumstances, extraordinary ministers of Communion may not
purify the sacred vessels at Mass.
However, the United States
and I believe, so far, only the United States
has received a temporary indult derogating from the general norms.
The text of the indult (Prot. 1382/01/L) states: "In response to the
request of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Joseph Fiorenza, Bishop of
Galveston-Houston, President of the Conference of Bishops of the United
States of America, made in a letter dated June 21, 2001, and in virtue
of the faculties granted to this Congregation by the Supreme Pontiff,
John Paul II, we grant that in the dioceses of this same Conference, for
grave pastoral reasons, the faculty may be given by the diocesan Bishop
to the priest celebrant to use the assistance, when necessary, even of
extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the
distribution of Communion has been completed in the celebration of Mass.
This faculty is conceded for a period of three years as a dispensation
from the norm of the 'Institutio Generalis,' 'edito typica tertia' of
the Roman Missal."
The indult was effective from Holy Thursday of 2002 and, unless renewed
or made permanent, will expire this March 28.
Thus, for the moment, within the confines of the United States or any
other country that may have requested and obtained a similar indult, an
extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may assist in the purification
for "grave pastoral reasons."
The expression "grave reasons" is not boilerplate, and the bishop and
priest should weigh the circumstances heavily in deciding if this
assistance is objectively necessary. If it is not, they should not call
upon extraordinary ministers.
In most cases, an experienced minister can carry out this task combining
dignity with alacrity. And most other countries seem to be getting by
without any special indults, even those that also frequently distribute
Communion under both species.
However, if the assistance of extraordinary ministers is deemed
necessary, I think that this task should be assigned to no more than one
or two at a time, to avoid the danger of sparking conversations around
the credence table.
Also repeatedly requested was a description of the purification process,
whether during or after Mass.
Before purification proper begins, it is necessary to gather any
remaining fragments and consume any remaining Precious Blood. As the
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 163, indicates: "When the
distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately
and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens
to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either
consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for
the reservation of the Eucharist."
This task belongs to the deacon or priest although in the United States.
"When more of the Precious Blood remains than was necessary for
Communion, and if not consumed by the bishop or priest celebrant, 'the
deacon immediately and reverently consumes at the altar all of the Blood
of Christ which remains; he may be assisted, if needs dictate, by other
deacons and priests.' When there are extraordinary ministers of Holy
Communion, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood from
their chalice of distribution with permission of the diocesan bishop."
With regard to this latter point it is necessary to recall the
admonition of "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 102.
To wit: "The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ's
faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is
difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a
danger that 'more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ
remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration.' The same is true
wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where
such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain
provenance and quality could only be known with difficulty, or wherever
there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary
ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable
part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for
various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be
Either way, it is clear that all of the sacred species should be
consumed before purification begins.
Continuing with GIRM, No. 163: "Upon returning to the altar, the priest
collects (and consumes) any fragments that may remain."
The term "fragment" would seem to refer to larger parts easily taken up
by the fingers and not to the tiny particles that remain upon the paten
and in the ciborium.
"Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he purifies the
paten or ciborium over the chalice then purifies the chalice..." This is
usually done by placing the paten over the chalice at an angle so that
the tiny fragments fall into it. If necessary, this process may be
helped by moving the particles with the corner of a folded purificator
or with the thumb, which in turn is rubbed over the chalice to loosen
any particles that may have adhered. If necessary, especially in hot and
humid climes, the fingers may also be purified with water.
The ciborium may be purified by hand in the same manner. But because of
the large number of small particles in this vessel, it is often
necessary to purify it directly with water. In this case, water is
placed in the ciborium, gently swished to absorb all the particles and
this water is then poured directly into the chalice. Extra chalices are
likewise purified with water.
The minister then consumes the water containing the particles and should
not pour it into the sacrarium.
The minister then dries the ciboria and the chalice or chalices with a
When this process is completed, and only then, may the sacred vessels be
washed with other elements such as soap. This is usually unnecessary and
should not be done on a daily basis except, perhaps, when many people
partake of the same chalice. Excess washing can cause expensive damage
to the metal parts of the chalice. ZE05020822