Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What is the proper way to dispose of the Precious Blood that may remain after Communion? According to the Code of Canon Law No. 1367 and Redemptionis Sacramentum, Nos. 107 and 172a, it seems that pouring it into the sacrarium is forbidden. I asked three priests what should be done. Two of them said basically that having leftover Blood of Christ sometimes happens, and they sanctioned pouring it into the sacrarium. The other said that it should be diluted with water to the point that the Real Presence no longer remains (because it’s so diluted that it’s no longer “wine”) and then be poured down the sacrarium. The latter approach sounds much more reasonable (and allowable?) to me, but what is the official rubric on this? Also, what can a parishioner do when his or her pastor sees no problem with pouring the Precious Blood down the sacrarium? “After all,” he said, “what’s a sacrarium for anyway?” I am aware that Redemptionis Sacramentum further states in No. 107 that any remaining Precious Blood is supposed to be consumed by the priest or another minister, but what happens when those people just don’t do that? — J.P., New Jersey
A: The sacrarium is a basin or sink, usually located in the sacristy, with a separate drainpipe directly to the earth rather than to the public drains.
The texts our reader refers to, and some others, state the following:
“Canon 1367: A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiaeexcommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; moreover, a cleric can be punished with another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.”
This canon exists shows how seriously the Church considers offenses against the Holy Eucharist and as a consequence how much care and reverence should be taken in all that involves the Sacred Species.
The General Introduction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:
“284. When Communion is distributed under both kinds,
“a.) The chalice is usually administered by a deacon or, when no deacon is present, by a priest, or even by a duly instituted acolyte or another extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or by a member of the faithful who in case of necessity has been entrusted with this duty for a single occasion;
“b. Whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ is consumed at the altar by the priest or the deacon or the duly instituted acolyte who ministered the chalice. The same then purifies, wipes, and arranges the sacred vessels in the usual way. Any of the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion under the species of bread alone should be granted their wish.
“285. For Communion under both kinds the following should be prepared:
“a. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by communicants’ drinking directly from the chalice, a chalice of a sufficiently large size or several chalices are prepared. Care should, however, be taken in planning lest beyond what is needed of the Blood of Christ remains to be consumed at the end of the celebration.”
The U.S. bishops have specific instructions, first published in 2002 and updated in 2011 in line with Redemptionis Sacramentum, regarding distribution of Communion under both kinds which are obligatory in the United States. For our purposes the 2002 texts are clear enough:
“30. When Holy Communion is to be distributed under both species, careful planning should be undertaken so that:
“– enough bread and wine are made ready for the communication of the faithful at each Mass. As a general rule, Holy Communion is given from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and not from those reserved in the tabernacle. Precious Blood may not be reserved at one Mass for use at another; and
“– suitable number of ministers of Holy Communion are provided at each Mass. For Communion from the chalice, it is desirable that there be generally two ministers of the Precious Blood for each minister of the Body of Christ, lest the liturgical celebration be unduly prolonged.
“52. When more of the Precious Blood remains than was necessary for Communion, and if not consumed by the bishop or Priest celebrant, the Deacon, standing at the altar, ‘immediately and reverently consumes all of the Blood of Christ that remains, assisted, if the case requires, 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.
“54. The Precious Blood may not be reserved, except for giving Communion to someone who is sick. Only sick people who are unable to receive Communion under the form of bread may receive it under the form of wine alone at the discretion of the Priest. If not consecrated at a Mass in the presence of the sick person, the Blood of the Lord is kept in a properly covered vessel and is placed in the tabernacle after Communion. The Precious Blood should be carried to the sick in a vessel that is closed in such a way as to eliminate all danger of spilling. If some of the Precious Blood remains after the sick person has received Communion, it should be consumed by the minister, who should also see to it that the vessel is properly purified.
“55. The reverence due to the Precious Blood of the Lord demands that it be fully consumed after Communion is completed and never be poured into the ground or the sacrarium.”
Redemptionis Sacramentum states:
“4. Communion under Both Kinds
“100. So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ’s faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds, in the cases set forth in the liturgical books, preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.
“101. In order for Holy Communion under both kinds to be administered to the lay members of Christ’s faithful, due consideration should be given to the circumstances, as judged first of all by the diocesan Bishop. It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned. With a view to wider coordination, the Bishops’ Conferences should issue norms, once their decisions have received the recognitio of the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, especially as regards ‘the manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful under both kinds, and the faculty for its extension.’
“102. 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 negated.
“103. The norms of the Roman Missal admit the principle that in cases where Communion is administered under both kinds, ‘the Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.’ As regards the administering of Communion to lay members of Christ’s faithful, the Bishops may exclude Communion with the tube or the spoon where this is not the local custom, though the option of administering Communion by intinction always remains. If this modality is employed, however, hosts should be used which are neither too thin nor too small, and the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue.
“104. The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.
“105. If one chalice is not sufficient for Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, there is no reason why the Priest celebrant should not use several chalices. For it is to be remembered that all Priests in celebrating Holy Mass are bound to receive Communion under both kinds. It is praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice of larger dimensions, together with smaller chalices.
“106. However, the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms.
“107. In accordance with what is laid down by the canons, ‘one who throws away the consecrated species or takes them away or keeps them for a sacrilegious purpose, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.’ To be regarded as pertaining to this case is any action that is voluntarily and gravely disrespectful of the sacred species. Anyone, therefore, who acts contrary to these norms, for example casting the sacred species into the sacrarium or in an unworthy place or on the ground, incurs the penalties laid down. 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, 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.”
Although one presumes that in the case presented by our reader there was no sacrilegious intention, priests and deacons have an obligation to inform themselves about the relevant norms and ignorance cannot be presumed. They are also responsible for adequately forming and informing other possible ministers. Therefore, a priest who pours or instructs others to pour the Precious Blood down the sacrarium could be liable for the most severe penalties. If this happens, then the bishop should be informed so that he takes appropriate action. If no action is taken and the abuse continues, the Holy See should be informed.
As should be clear from the above documents, the only way that Precious Blood may be “disposed of” after holy communion is by consumption by priests, deacons, and, if necessary and with the bishop’s authorization, with the help of extraordinary ministers. This requires careful planning so as to avoid there being an excessive amount to be consumed.
Under no circumstances should the Precious Blood be poured down the sacrarium.
The possibility of diluting the Precious Blood is not usually to be considered as an option. This solution may be occasionally used in special cases. For example, when the species of wine is brought to someone with an illness that both impedes consuming solids and where there is some danger of contagion. Should that person be unable to consume all the Precious Blood, then it could be diluted and poured down the sacrarium.
The primary purpose of the sacrarium is the disposal of water used for any sacred purpose such as the washing of chalices, altar linens and water used for baptism if the font does not have its own sacrarium. The ashes of blessed burnt objects such as oils used in the sacraments may also be washed down this drain.
In special cases it may be used to dispose water used to dissolve particles of hosts or, very rarely, dilute the Precious Blood. It is also used to dispose of water that has been used to clean places where hosts have fallen or the Precious Blood has been spilled.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.