A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
When a Host Isn't Swallowed
ROME, 12 JUNE 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: How should one dispose of a consecrated host which was placed in the mouth of an ill person who, in the end, was unable to swallow it? — L.M., Kennesaw, Georgia
Q: In Canada most parishes use several types of missal booklets for either English or French Masses. Once these have expired they are thrown out. The question is, since the majority of people now take Communion in the hand instead of directly by the mouth, particles of the host are bound to become attached to these missals when the communicant returns to their pew. How then should these missals be disposed of? It just doesn't seem right, if they have particles of host on them, to throw them in the garbage. Could you please give us some advice on this problem? — R.H., Otterburn Park, Quebec
A: A host which has been partially consumed in some way may be disposed of by placing it in water until it has dissolved, and then pouring the water into the sacrarium or into the ground.
If the mishap has occurred outside of a parish — for example, in a nursing home or hospital with no chapel — then it should be carefully wrapped in a purificator and brought to the parish for proper disposal.
Some courageous ministers might be willing to consume such a host themselves out of respect, but this is usually not advisable and is unnecessary.
Regarding the second question, I do not think there is really much danger of fragments of hosts remaining on the booklets.
If such were the case, then they would also remain in other places such as the pews, the clothes worn by the faithful and all over the floor. If the Church had considered that there was a serious danger of fragments being deposited in various places as a result of the practice of receiving Communion in the hand, then it would never have contemplated permitting the practice.
This is, of course, presuming that the hosts used are properly produced and not subject to easy fragmentation.
Also, as dealt with in more detail in the follow-up published on July 5, 2005, according to traditional Catholic theology, above all, that of St. Thomas Aquinas, a microscopic fragment is no longer an integral part of the host and may therefore be considered as equivalent to a corrupt host in which Christ's presence would no longer subsist.
Therefore, I believe that the booklets may be disposed of without scruple as regards the possibility of the Eucharistic presence. They still contain God's Word, however, and, while strictly speaking they are not sacred objects like the missal or lectionary, many people have scruples about mixing these booklets with the common trash.
While it is not necessary to go to great lengths to dispose of them, if feasible, it may be better to take them directly to an incinerator or paper recycler rather than mixing them with the common garbage.
* * *
Follow-up: When a Host Isn't Swallowed [6-26-2007]
Some readers took umbrage toward the affirmation in our June 12 column on corruption of the host: that Christ's real presence would no longer subsist in a microscopic fragment of the host.
A clarifying link to an earlier reply was provided in the earlier piece. However, given that not all of our readers have access to the Internet, I will restate the essential point here.
My reply was principally based on an application of the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae" III pars q — In the corpus of the fourth article of this question, "Whether the sacramental species can be corrupted," the Angelic Doctor affirms:
"An accident can be corrupted in another way, through the corruption of its subject, and in this way also they can be corrupted after consecration; for although the subject does not remain, still the being which they had in the subject does remain, which being is proper, and suited to the subject. And therefore such being can be corrupted by a contrary agent, as the substance of the bread or wine was subject to corruption, and, moreover, was not corrupted except by a preceding alteration regarding the accidents.
"Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between each of the aforesaid corruptions; because, when the body and the blood of Christ succeed in this sacrament to the substance of the bread and wine, if there be such change on the part of the accidents as would not have sufficed for the corruption of the bread and wine, then the body and blood of Christ do not cease to be under this sacrament on account of such change, whether the change be on the part of the quality, as for instance, when the color or the savor of the bread or wine is slightly modified; or on the part of the quantity, as when the bread or the wine is divided into such parts as to keep in them the nature of bread or of wine. But if the change be so great that the substance of the bread or wine would have been corrupted, then Christ's body and blood do not remain under this sacrament; and this either on the part of the qualities, as when the color, savor, and other qualities of the bread and wine are so altered as to be incompatible with the nature of bread or of wine; or else on the part of the quantity, as, for instance, if the bread be reduced to fine particles, or the wine divided into such tiny drops that the species of bread or wine no longer remain."
Thus, our discussion dealt specifically with the theme of corruption of the host by reduction "to fine particles … that the species of bread no longer remain."
This is a different question to that of Christ being really present in small particles or fragments of a host while retaining the species of bread. So long as the species of bread remains, Christ is really present and it is even possible to administer Communion to the sick or persecuted using very small pieces of hosts or even drops of Precious Blood.
Thus, while Christ would certainly not be present in microscopic or no longer visible fragments, it is almost impossible to establish a dividing line when dealing with small but visible particles — and the Church has never wished to pronounce on this theme.
In part this is due to the objective difficulty and danger in making such a demarcation, but also so as avoid giving any justification whatsoever for a lackadaisical manner of treating the sacred species.
Even when specifically asked about this question in the 1960s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith merely recalled the necessity of observing due reverence for all fragments by carefully following all Church norms regarding the purification of sacred vessels and altar linens as well as the proper procedure for cleansing the area if a host should happen to fall to the floor.
I hope that this clarifies Church doctrine on this matter for our concerned readers. As for me, my intention is always to coincide with the Church's teachings.
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