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June 16, 2024

Last Sunday, Kimberly and I attended Mass at St. Francis of Assisi - a small, historical church nestled in the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  As the priest handed a cup to a Eucharistic Minister for Communion, the cup tipped, and a large amount of Precious Blood spilled on the floor behind the Altar.  It was an accident.  No one was at fault.  It just happened.  But how everyone reacted was a beautiful example of just what the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist means to Catholics.

 

No one panicked.  Everyone acted with great reverence and devotion.  The sacristan and servers brought purificators (those little linens people think are napkins) and 2 large bowls – one filled with clean water, the other empty.  The priest crawled on his hands and knees and methodically wiped up the spill with purificators.  The deacon used purificators to dab Precious Blood which had soaked into the Altar cloth.  They dipped clean purificators in the water and continued wiping and dabbing. When finished, water was poured directly on the affected area of the floor, and they knelt to dry the floor with purificators.  The purificators were placed in the empty bowl and brought into the sacristy by the servers.  While this was happening, the music continued to play while we waited in the pews and sang hymns.  No one complained that Mass was delayed.  No one left early.  Once the priest was satisfied all the spilled Precious Blood was properly cared for, the ushers released us for communion and the Mass continued. 

 

So, just what is the protocol when the Precious Blood is spilled?  Because even though I’ve seen a few spilled drips before, I’ve never seen Precious Blood pooled on the floor.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote when the elements of the Eucharist no longer have the appearance of bread or wine, Christ ceases to be present. He wrote: “If there is any change 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…either…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…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.” (Summa Theologiae III:77:4).  This is historic Catholic teaching. Christ remains present only so long as the species of bread and wine maintain the appearances of bread and wine.  If a drop of the Precious Blood has dried, it no longer has the appearance of wine, and so Christ is not present.

 

Even so, the Church takes a strict stance.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal governs the celebration of the Mass. It says “if a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently and if any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be [immediately] washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy.”  This is exactly what the priest and deacon did.  The area was washed with water, diluting the precious blood so that it no longer has the appearance of wine and so that Christ ceases to be present.  Although not specifically addressed, a dropped host should be picked up and either presented to the communicant again, consumed by the minister, or held to dissolve in water and poured into the sacrarium after Mass.  The sacrarium is a special sink that has been set aside only for such a purpose, with pipes leading directly into the ground and not into the sewer system.  If a sacrarium is not available, it is permissible to pour the water directly onto the ground in a respectful place and manner. Although mishaps at Mass are something we hope never happens, what Kimberly and I witnessed at Mass was a beautiful reminder that there is no longer wine in the cup – there is the Precious Blood of Jesus, His Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Have a Blessed Week!

 

Deacon John

 

References:  Catholic Answers at Catholic.com; Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa – dmdiocese.org

 

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