Reserving the Precious Blood

And More on General Absolution

ROME, MARCH 7, 2006 ( 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.

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Follow-up: General Absolution at a Nursing Home

Following our commentary on general absolution in a nursing home (Feb. 21) a reader asked if it were possible or wise to give general absolution to young people with special needs.

He writes: “The first question I have is: If these young people (or adults) have severe learning difficulties, can they sin if they do not know what sin is? And then if they can’t sin they surely do not need absolution. The second question is (I would not think that just because they have special needs they qualify for general absolution): If they can sin, they must have some level of communication, however basic, and therefore a priest working with them should be able, with pastoral sensitivity, to give them some form of individual confession.”

I am reminded of what Cardinal John Wright once said when it was suggested that first confession should be postponed until after first Communion so as to be carried out with fuller comprehension: “What is easier for kids to understand: transubstantiation, or saying, ‘I’m sorry’?”

I am in broad agreement with our correspondent. If these people are in such a severe condition as to be considered on a par with infants, then evidently they are incapable of sin and the practice of general absolution serves no purpose.

It does not even seem to make much pastoral sense, since general absolution is not a magical rite. It implies that those who receive it are sufficiently literate in catechesis to grasp the necessary conditions, such as the requirement to confess individually before receiving another general absolution (unless in imminent danger of death).

If, on the other hand, they are capable of developing some notion of sin, as well as some notion of repentance and of the priest’s being able to forgive sins, then some form of individual confession is to be preferred.

Besides the priest’s absolution, the three acts of the penitent — repentance, confession and acceptance of the satisfaction — are essential to the validity of the sacrament, except in extraordinary circumstances such as when a person receives absolution in an unconscious state while in danger of death.

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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.

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