Reserving the Precious Blood

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Reserving the Precious Blood


Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is it ever permissible to reserve the Precious Blood, for example, on Holy Thursday for distribution of Communion on Good Friday? If so, under what circumstances; if not, why not? I am unable to find any documentation in either canonical or liturgical law which would prohibit reservation of the Precious Blood. But I fall on the side of those who believe it is not permitted. — J.K., Wilmington, Delaware

A: You are quite correct in assuming that the Precious Blood may not be reserved. There are several documents that show this.

First of all, Pope John Paul II's 1980 letter "Inestimabile Donum" makes this prohibition clear in No. 14:

"On the other hand, the consecrated wine is to be consumed immediately after Communion and may not be kept. Care must be taken to consecrate only the amount of wine needed for Communion."

There are also many other documents that state this point indirectly when they remind the priest to consume the Precious Blood after Communion. For example, "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 107, says:

"Furthermore all will remember that once the distribution of Holy Communion during the celebration of Mass has been completed, the prescriptions of the Roman Missal are to be observed [See GIRM 163, 249, 279, 284, 285a], and in particular, whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ must be entirely and immediately consumed by the Priest or by another minister, according to the norms, while the consecrated hosts that are left are to be consumed by the Priest at the altar or carried to the place for the reservation of the Eucharist."

A brief exception to this norm is, as indicated in Canon 925 and the Rites of Anointing and Viaticum, when Communion must be brought to the sick who are medically unable to consume under the form of bread. In the 1960s the Holy Office even granted permission to take the Precious Blood through a stomach tube.

In such cases it is preferable that the priest celebrate the Eucharist in the home or hospital of the sick person and bring the Precious Blood immediately. But if this is not possible he may bring it in a sealed vessel and pour it into a chalice for administration.

The reasons why the Church has never reserved the Precious Blood probably stem from a sense of respect for the Eucharistic Species and from practical consideration.

Since the species of wine can easily become corrupt, especially in hot climates, it would be disrespectful to risk having this happen. It is also more difficult to conserve in sufficient quantities, to transport and to administer.

It could be argued that custom plays a role and since, until recently, only the priest would receive under both kinds when he celebrated it was never necessary to reserve the Precious Blood. However, even those Eastern rites that have never abandoned the custom of Communion under both kinds do not generally reserve the Precious Blood.

Also, some of these rites do not celebrate daily Mass during Lent, and on Lenten Wednesdays and Fridays they celebrate a Communion rite with the "pre-sanctified" hosts from the previous Sunday. Although some of the prayers from this rite suggest that the chalice was once reserved along with the hosts, this has not been the case for many centuries.

There are still some traces of this practice of a-liturgical days in the West. The venerable Ambrosian rite of Milan in Italy neither celebrates Mass nor distributes Communion on Fridays of Lent.

Likewise we can easily forget that it was not until Pope Pius XII reformed the rites of Holy Week that Communion was distributed on Good Friday in the Roman rite.

Thus, from a canonical, historical and practical perspective, it is not correct to reserve the Precious Blood. ZE06030722

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Follow-up: More on Reserving the Precious Blood [03-21-2006]

There were numerous comments to our piece on reserving the Precious Blood (March 7).

Some hospital chaplains said that my suggestion — that ideally the priest would be able to celebrate at the house or hospital — was impractical.

Of course, my suggestion supposes optimal conditions, which rarely occur in real life. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that this would be the best possible solution.

Another chaplain proposed that my conclusion, that "'it is not correct to reserve the Precious Blood,' does not fully reflect the nuance you had noted from Canon 925 and the Rites of Anointing and Viaticum." He also states: "Viaticum is, of course, the proper sacrament for the dying; but our practice has denied this, making the anointing of the sick into the sacrament for the dying."

He and some other chaplains explain that they do often reserve the Precious Blood in order to be prepared for emergency situations such as late night calls when the celebration of Mass is impossible.

The 1967 instruction "Eucaristicum Mysterium," which forms the basis for the rubrics of the rite of viaticum, indicated the following in No. 41 under the heading, "Communion under the Species of Wine Alone":

"In case of necessity, depending on the judgment of the bishop, it is permitted to give the Eucharist under the species of wine alone to those who are unable to receive it under the species of bread. [Since 1972 the judgment of the local bishop in each case is no longer required.]

"In this case it is permissible, with the consent of the local Ordinary, to celebrate Mass in the house of the sick person.

"If, however, Mass is not celebrated in the presence of the sick person, the Blood of the Lord should be kept in a properly covered chalice and placed in the tabernacle after Mass. It should be taken to the sick person only if contained in a vessel which is closed in such a way as to eliminate all danger of spilling. When the sacrament is administered, that method should be chosen from the ones given in the Rites for Distribution of Communion under Both Kinds which is most suited to the case. When Communion has been given, should some of the precious Blood still remain, it should be consumed by the minister; he will also carry out the usual ablutions."

Thus, while these priests show authentic zeal and spirit of self-sacrifice, as well as a deep desire to facilitate Communion to as many sick and dying people as possible, I think that the norms permitting a temporary reservation of the Precious Blood clearly imply a specific and concrete personal need.

Thus, I do not believe that the present norms permit the habitual reservation of the Sanguis in order to be ready for an emergency situation.

At the same time, advances in medicine have probably greatly increased the number of people who survive for quite some time in conditions where they could only be able to receive Communion under the species of wine.

In hospitals where their number is significant, and where, due to circumstances, either the priest cannot celebrate daily or else cannot administer Communion to all those needing it in a reasonable time, then the above norm would probably permit reserving the Precious Blood overnight or for a few days.

Since such pastoral situations are likely to augment, it would be desirable that either the Holy See or bishops' conferences propose specific norms as to the mode of reservation and administration so as to avoid any danger of profanation or lack of respect.

A very different situation was brought to light by several readers who reported that several parishes reserve the Precious Blood on Holy Thursday.

One wrote: "I have been in several churches which do display the Precious Blood on Holy Thursday evening for adoration along with the consecrated hosts. Is it sinful for me to thus adore the Precious Blood that is displayed in this way?"

As we mentioned, except for medical emergencies, it is not permitted to reserve the Precious Blood — and Holy Thursday is no exception.

In line with long-standing tradition, when Communion is given (and until about 50 years ago it was not given) on Good Friday, it is distributed under the species of bread alone.

Besides, the manner of reservation described by our correspondent compounds the error because, for all practical purposes, we have an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament which is expressly forbidden on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

While one could hardly be described as sinning by adoring the Lord, it would be worthwhile for our correspondent to express his doubts to the parish priest and if necessary to the bishop.

Finally, a New York reader wrote describing a rather unusual occurrence: "Last Sunday the celebrant consecrated the wine in the glass pitcher. Not all of the Precious Blood was consumed during the Mass and so needed to be consumed during the purification of the vessels in the sacristy following Mass. Our associate told me that if we just added more unconsecrated wine to the Precious Blood existing in the pitcher, then the Precious Blood would now be more wine than Blood and we could use it at the next Mass. I told him I had never heard that. He assured me that it was taught at the seminary. I consumed Jesus anyway and told the associate I would write you. Please advise. I certainly do not want to challenge a priest but do not want to promulgate error."

Apart from the fact that the norms issued by both the Holy See and the U.S. bishops no longer allow wine to be consecrated in a flagon or pitcher, but in several chalices, I would say the following:

The priest is theologically correct in saying that the addition of excess unconsecrated wine would remove the Lord's real presence. (See our commentary in follow-ups on May 13 and July 5, 2005.)

To do so, however, is at the very least a grave lack of respect and, if done with full awareness of its gravity, more than likely an act of sacrilege.

The norms we quoted last time are very clear: All of the Precious Blood must be consumed as soon as Communion is over and before the end of Mass, and thus not left until the purification of the vessels after Mass.

Great care should be taken regarding the quantity so that no Precious Blood should be left over after Mass. ZE06032122

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