|ROME, 7 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
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
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
Great care should be taken regarding the quantity so that no Precious
Blood should be left over after Mass. ZE06032122