QUAERITUR: priest drops Host, does nothing, what do I do?

I got this question by e-mail:

Hello Father,

I’m a young Roman Catholic who frequently serves at the altar. This Sunday, shortly before the "Lamb of God", my priest dropped the large host on the ground and almost stepped on it. He picked it up and proceeded with mas as though nothing had happened. After recovering from my initial shock, I soon noticed he had no intention to purify the ground on which it fell. I proceeded to send another altar server to place a purificator on the spot upon which the host had fallen (as I had been taught to do by another pastor). He only then reluctantly did the purification.

I would like to know the proper procedure to follow when the host falls to the ground. Should the purification take place immediately, or is it OK to wait until after Mass? Was I right in sending the other sever to place a purificator on the spot?

(I was pretty upset by this incident, I’ll admit. I’ve come to feel that this is only one of several occasions where my pastor has treated the Eucharist very casually. I wrote a complaint the the Vicar Forane of my Vicariate — I hope this wasn’t overstepping anything!)

The best thing to do at that moment of the Mass would be to cover the place where the Host fell with a purificator, or an auxiliary Communion paten, to keep anyone from stepping on that area and to remember where it was, and then do the purification immediately after Mass.

It is a little tough for someone to tell a priest what he has to do.  If a priest doesn’t know what to do, and I think there are many today who don’t because these practical things were not part of their formal training, the best approach is simply and matter of factly to get everything ready for him to do what he needs to do, and present them with a measure of calm expectation.  If he doesn’t know what to do, he may ask a question: be ready to answer it.  If you are going to work in a sacristy, know your stuff.

Be careful about writing letters about things like this, that is, that you don’t think that, in your opinion, the priest treats the Eucharist with "enough" reverence, or that he is too "casual".  You can’t easily write about the attitudes of others and provide proofs of what you are talking about.  Concrete demonstrable abuses are another matter.  A good approach is to, always and in everywhere, in his presence, in every word and action, show great reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

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20 Responses to QUAERITUR: priest drops Host, does nothing, what do I do?

  1. TNCath says:

    Fr. Z: “It is a little tough for someone to tell a priest what he has to do. If a priest doesn’t know what to do, and I think there are many today who don’t because these practical things were not part of their formal training, the best approach is simply and matter of factly to get everything ready for him to do what he needs to do, and present them with a measure of calm expectation.”

    I have found that most younger priests who “don’t know they don’t know” are open to learning what is proper. But, what does one do about those who DO know what to do and basically ignore it? Opinions about attitudes are one thing, but abuses are another. In my experience, I have found that even well-written letters about abuses fall on dead ears or are explained away as being “overly scrupulous” or “grateful for your concern.” This is where I can see the laity justly feeling that they are victims of “clericalism.”

  2. Roger says:

    I have been to a Mass where the priest (a good priest by all accounts) was taking Holy Communion to an elderly parishioner. He reached in to get a Host and he dropped two on the floor. He didn’t skip a beat he leaned over grabbed them and tossed them back in. He then proceeded to step on the exact same spot where the Hosts were. He gave the elderly parishioner Communion and then went back to the altar.

    I only know that he stepped in the exact same spot because I was shocked at what I was witnessing. I am a relatively new Catholic (only 4 years) and I had never seen a Host dropped before.

    It was sad indeed.

  3. RBrown says:

    Roger,

    I think that incident is another indication that what is needed today is the Recovery of the Sense of the Sacred.

  4. Ottaviani says:

    I believe there was once a saint (I think St. Francis Xavier, but I maybe wrong), who dropped the host by accident. Mortified by the accident he proscribed weeks of fasts and mortification in reparation and couldn’t bring himself to say mass ever again until his confessor convinced him otherwise.

  5. TNCath: In that case, once you have something in writing, and it is about something as important as care of the Blessed Sacrament, then you are within your rights to make everything known to the local bishop or the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.

  6. Teresa says:

    In our parish, the priest was taking Holy Communion to a parishioner, when the Host dropped on the ground. Immediately the priest kneeled down, picked up the Host and kissed the place and purified it with the purificator. I can’t remember exactly, what he was then doing with the Host, as far as I remember, he communicated.

  7. Ray from MN says:

    Father Z: “then do the purification immediately after Mass.”

    Father, is there a GIRM or canon law provision that would describe the purification process in such an instance?

  8. GOR says:

    Back when I was an altar boy (1950s Ireland…) extreme care was taken if a Host fell to the ground during distribution. Father would stop distributing and dispatch an altar boy to get a purificator to cover the spot. Then after Mass, Father would go and wash the spot with water and a purificator.

    Upon asking my mother about this the first time I saw it, she replied that priests had to do “many penances” for such occurrences. Perhaps she was thinking of that saint Ottaviani mentioned…?

  9. TNCath says:

    Fr. Z: “In that case, once you have something in writing, and it is about something as important as care of the Blessed Sacrament, then you are within your rights to make everything known to the local bishop or the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.”

    Oh, yes, this was indeed brought to the Congregation for Divine Worship. I never heard a word back from them, which I didn’t expect, but I do know that the Nuncio was informed and the bishop contacted. What saddened me was the fact that it had to go that far for it to get the bishop’s attention.

  10. Resonare Christum says:

    I was at an early morning holy day mass several years ago when the elderly priest missed my mouth and the Host dropped to the floor. I don’t think he was aware what happened. I didn’t know what to do so I picked up the Host and consumed it and returned to my pew in tears. A server with a paten might have prevented this situation. Why have most preists/parishes abandoned this practice?

    Worse still was the time I saw an EEM trip on the carpet and spill some of the Precious Blood at a wedding. She stopped briefly to blot up some of the spill using the cloth that is used to wipe the rim of the chalice after each communicant. The priest never saw any of this because he was already distributing communion.

    It breaks my heart whenever I see or hear of these situations.

  11. Michael says:

    What does one do if the intincted Body and Blood was picked up by the BISHOP and communicated and there was no spot or stain or crumb on the ground?
    What is the proper procedure for purifying the area?

  12. “I have been to a Mass where the priest (a good priest by all accounts) was taking Holy Communion to an elderly parishioner. He reached in to get a Host and he dropped two on the floor. He didn’t skip a beat he leaned over grabbed them and tossed them back in. He then proceeded to step on the exact same spot where the Hosts were. He gave the elderly parishioner Communion and then went back to the altar.”

    This happened to me too, only once as far as I remember. I behaved exactly as the priest in question did.

    If the Eucharist is a meal-event we cannot distort it with fetishistic practices.

  13. I also well remember the holy horror about dropping the host in 1950s Ireland.

    I doubt if it is a charter for an enlightened, biblical eucharistic theology.

    Reverence, yes, denaturing fetishism, no.

  14. I also well remember the holy horror about dropping the host in 1950s Ireland.

    I doubt if it is a charter for an enlightened, biblical eucharistic theology.

    Reverence, yes, denaturing fetishism, no.

  15. Simon Platt says:

    Crikey! “Spirit of Vatican II” rumbled!

    On a serious note, I know that the validity of the sacrifice and of the eucharistic confection does not depend on a priest’s virtue, but does it depend on his beliefs? Surely a right intention comes in here? I should be appalled at the thought that a priest ministering to me might consider the mass a “meal-event” and eucharistic reverence “fetishistic”.

  16. Spirit: fetishistic practices

    A shameful thing to say.

  17. Scott Smith says:

    Even if it were just a meal-event, I can assure you that if people were dropping caviar on the floor, the hostess may well have her share of horror. I mean, after all, some people would seriously freak out if someone spilled wine on their white carpet, and it’s just carpet! There should be a horror, not at the dropping of a particle of the Eucharist, but at the scandal wherein it appears as though the Teaching of the Council of Trent is not held with regard to the Eucharist.

    While scrupulosity may need to be avoided, scandal caused by carelessness is far more damaging to the Faith.

  18. S in Severn says:

    While in training for the duties of EXTRAORDINARY Lay Eucharistic Minister, at a remote AFB, my priest made sure we knew what to do.

    If it was the Blood of Our Lord that was spilled… Stop! Place the cloth OVER the spot and return the Chalice to the Altar. Same if it was the Body of our Lord, to stop distribution, retrive the Body and place gently on the Altar, and cover the spot with a cloth.

    Then in either case, go back with water and several purifiers. I was told rinse the area 7 times and mop up the water gently.

    The used cloths are then washed in the usual manner for the Altar linens, cloths and items touched by the Presence.

    Dear Fathers, was this the correct instruction? I never had to follow these, nor have I seen drops or spills. But since this subject was addressed I wonder were we properly instucted?

  19. Occasus says:

    Last summer, a few months after finishing RCIA and entering the Church, I was attending a weekday Mass at noon and the elderly priest spilled an entire Chalice of the Blood of our Lord. I thought my heart would stop and I’m still amazed his didn’t. He covered the area behind the altar the best he could with purificators and very shakily finished the Mass.

  20. Occasus: This sort of thing happens. We are only human and the burden of years does not make some things easier, even when you have been doing them for decades. The important thing is that everything was properly purified afterwards.