QUAERITUR: What if someone walks away with a Host?

From a reader:

Father, what is proper procedure when someone walks up, receives the Eucharist in the hand (BTW, this is the best reason for forcing receiving it by the mouth) and tries to walk out with It? Twice I have seen this happen, and both times the person was apprehended at the door and ‘held’ till they put it in their mouth. I was wondering if It should have been taken back. A person who tries to walk out is most likely not taking it home for someone who could not make it to Mass.

Is their any procedure or document regarding this?

The first thing that jumped into my mind was Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

Thus, it is good for parish ushers, not to mention the EMHC’s and the clergy themselves,  to be trained to be vigilant in regard to what people are doing with Hosts.

Some well-motivated but ignorant people think they can take a Host home to someone who is ill.  They don’t realize that they are not permitted to do this.  Some are simply ignorant or, perhaps being non-Catholics, don’t know what to do at Communion time.  Others, however, are not well-intentioned.  They want Hosts to profane them or sell them.

We all have an obligation to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament.  Let priests catechize and train up their helpers.

Otherwise, we have to use common sense, no?  If you see someone walking around with a Host, obviously not intending to consume it, approach the person and find out what’s up or tell someone.  Be careful not to do anything that could result in prosecution, but don’t do nothing.  Certainly make sure the priest knows about it after Mass.  And if it is happening often, make sure the bishop and/or the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith is informed.

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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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27 Responses to QUAERITUR: What if someone walks away with a Host?

  1. B.C.M. says:

    Not a bad answer, Father… But I think the writer was more interested in a practical answer… I know I am. As a layman in the pews, should we get up and stop the person and ask them to consume the Sacred Species? Should we butt out? Should we alert an usher?

  2. sekman says:

    Yes Father what is the proper protocol for addressing one who is walking away with the host? I have stopped a young child one time who walked away with a host telling him he needed to consume it, another time while serving as Master of Ceremonies at a very large funeral liturgy I had to follow someone back to the pew and also instructed them to consume the host. Is this the proper way to go about it?

  3. Phil_NL says:

    I’ve seen the EMHC / acolyte go after a person who did this, and our parish priest as well on another occasion. In both instances the ‘perpetrator’ didn’t make it far enough to get to the pews…

    And I think that an attentive priest is the best remedy against this. Afterall, he has a clear view of what’s happening, and the people in the pews often have not. The priest has a natural authority, which laymen in this setting may lack.
    If the priest misses it, yes, then you have a dilemma. While a person walking away with the Host is a bad thing, falsely ‘accusing’ someone of doing that isn’t going to promote peace and concord in the parish either, especially if done with a ‘mob’ of half a dozen people.

    PS: Alert a usher? I’ve yet to see a church that needs an usher. ‘Ushers’ delenda est.

  4. FrCharles says:

    As an OMHC I always watch to make sure a communicant consumes the host before I encounter the next one. Over time this discourages the consume-while-I-spin-around business. When I was a parish priest I used to teach EMHCs to do the same thing. Little things like that, done with love and a smile, can build up a greater culture of reverence.

    Giving chase is sometimes necessary, but it’s best to be friendly about it. As Fr. Z says, most of the time it’s misunderstanding. I once followed a marine in uniform back to the pew where he explained to me that marines were not allowed to eat standing up! A system for alerting ushers can also work well. Ushers are more likely than priests to have the sort of personality that can do confrontation readily.

  5. Paul says:

    @FrCharles,

    Please give that Marine a firm whack upside his high and tight haircut. Unless he is in a mess hall or has been given some odd order from a superior, he is not prohibited from eating while standing. Not to mention, this situation is no more eating than is taking a malaria pill. If he is really concerned, let him kneel.

    This is why DI’s have gray hair.

    Paul

  6. Ralph says:

    “Others, however, are not well-intentioned. They want Hosts to profane them or sell them.”

    Sad, but true. We had this terriable problem out our parish about two years ago. A satanic cult targeted our little rural parish for several attacks. They broke into our classrooms and spray painted occult images and statements. They disrupted a mass and overturned the podium. Then our pastor found a “stockpile’ of hosts hidden in the vestibule. We figure they had been left for someone to pick up at a later date.
    Our very wise and prudent pastor delt with this quickly. He simply began making an announcment before each mass stating that due to the probelms with the cult, we would only be able to receive on the tounge. This was in effect for about 6 months until things blew over.
    It seemed to work well and, as an added benefit, now two years later I think 60% or more still receive on the tounge!

  7. Jack Regan says:

    I run a lot of Masses for school groups. In spite of our best efforts at explaining who should be taking communion, and how, the occasional teen will walk away with a host. I think it’s nervousness that prompts this much of the time rather than anything else, but it’s something we are very keen to be attentive to.
    For large Masses, we have one ‘watcher’ for every pair of Ministers of Holy Communion who is ready to pounce. When a teen walks off with a host, we explain to them why it’s wrong to do so and have a little chat to make sure that they should be receiving communion in the first place. Whether we make them consume the host or have a minister do it is a judgment call based on he circumstances.
    It’s so important to be vigilant though. Especially with children and young people.

  8. jbosco88 says:

    This happened when I was assisting the Priest by holding the communion plate. A member of the congregation took the Host in their hands, and walked away.

    I swiftly followed them back to their seat and demanded they put the Host onto the plate – they were so shocked they complied. Father consumed It when I returned to the Altar.

    Typical event at First Communion I feel. So sad.

  9. digdigby says:

    FrCharles-
    My Uncle Ted, the barroom clown who pulled nickels out of his nose could palm a host while you could swear you saw him consume it. Not that he would, of course, ( and he’s long gone). I’m a convert but ‘in the hand’ is repulsive and horrible to me. Also, that little ‘dip of the head’ is just…so pitiful. Especially when teenagers in play clothes do it (barely) with a condescending smirk.

  10. danphunter1 says:

    Is communion in the hand still an indult or is it the norm in Church law?

  11. BLB Oregon says:

    This is also something that teachers at parish school Masses do well to watch for, too, particularly if there are a lot of non-Catholics at the school. The correction ought to be gentle, but eyes need to be on the communicants.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    I would chase after the person. Sadly, as one very large, Catholic high school in Canada, where I was helping the priest, we had to have “communion police” as students took the Host away frequently. Horrible. Because of Black Masses and other occult activity, we must stop the person immediately.

    We must protect the Vulnerable God, who made Himself poor and suffering for us.

  13. mike cliffson says:

    Ralph has an important point: You, and that Parish, wouldn’t expect St Whoevers’s Parish in Nowheresville, near Sticks, to be targeted by satanists and their suppliers – which is precisely why they go for that soft target, inter alia. I know of a case,thankfully frustrated at the porch by a alert parishioner,( who probably did risk legal action if the person had lied) 7 hours from anywhere much, except by plane.
    Communicants Messrs muddled and misguided are a different problem.
    It does NOT suit me personally, but I continually echo the idea of a general rule of priests only giving communion only to people whose faces they know from recent confession, which will probably be on the tongue and only one kind.
    Innocent as Doves, and Wise as Snakes.

  14. Random Friar says:

    Do it as forcefully as needed, but aim for quietly, so as to not attract unnecessary attention and scandal on the head of one who might simply not know better.

    If they are a jerk about it, and/or intend to desecrate it in any way or mishandle it, then employ other methods, but try not to let “that guy” be the focus.

  15. Warren says:

    On a few occasions at our urban parish when I have witnessed someone who did not consume the Host immediately, I have eye-balled the individual and either: 1) informed an usher who then counselled an individual regarding Catholic practice; or 2) after realizing no one else was going to do or say anything, personally spoken with an individual with these or similar words – “Are you Catholic?” If yes, I then continue with “You should know it is proper to consume the Sacred Body of Christ immediately when you receive the Host.” They have always consumed the Host immediately. If the person is not Catholic, I simply inform them that Holy Communion is reserved for Catholics in good standing (yes, I know it’s more properly “in a state of grace”, but non-Catholics may not understand what that means and so I keep the catechesis brief and to the point.). They have always given the Host to me and I consume it.

    Please bear in mind that the situations I have described involve an individual sitting nearby. One time, given the person’s odd behaviour, I strongly suspect the individual was up to no good. Furthermore, I always send a deferential email to the pastor describing an event and have always received a thoughtful email in return.

    I figure the “intervention” is worth the risk of appearing Godsquad-ish. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission sometimes. After all, we are talking about the treatment of the Holy Eucharist. I pray for wisdom in such moments and although the adrenaline is pumping when I notice these situations (which are, thankfully, few and far between), God always seems to give me the grace to speak calmly, charitably but firmly and matters are resolved with everyone’s dignity intact.

    A card is now in each pew which confirms Catholic teaching on the proper reception of Holy Communion, and we have “spotters” on hand now who do a great job of intervening when someone doesn’t immediate consume the Body of Christ.

    Now, if only we could persuade everyone that Holy Communion should be received in a reverential manner befitting the solemnity of the occasion… .

  16. Brad says:

    Rome’s exorcist, Father Amorth’s, memoirs, detail this activity as often being the host spirited away for a black mass. Wake up people! One example he used was a satanic priestess who also handily played the organ at real Masses. At night she did something quite the contrary.

  17. tealady24 says:

    This does not happen in a parish I frequent in northeast PA. The pastor will come down off the altar and stop you in your tracks and take the host away! Bravo!
    He has refused communion to some, he has told others, right out, to comsume what they have just put in their mouths, he has taken the host away. I’ve seen him do all these things.
    He’s had people YELL at him right there during communion, and he turns a deaf ear.
    You will not walk away with a host; not in this church.

  18. SK Bill says:

    I serve as an EMoHC in my parish. All the EMoHCs and all of the ushers have been trained in what to do if someone walks away with the Blessed Sacrament. I have personally twice “gone after” someone who did this and required them to consume the Blessed Sacrament in front of me. Once it was a kid, the other time it was an adult who surely should have known better. I know of other EMoHCs in our parish who have also followed communicants who did not consume the Blessed Sacrament immediately. I don’t know of any cases where the person refused.

    Father has also addressed proper reception of communion several times in homilies, including the necessity of telling an usher or an EMoHC if someone is observed trying to walk away with the Blessed Sacrament. The key is removed from the tabernacle after Mass, and locked away in the sacristy. Visiting priests have sometimes expressed amusement at our precautions, so maybe our pastor is the exception, but we take this very seriously.

    I also usher. On one occasion, a parishioner came up to me immediately after communion and said he had seen a woman place a host in her purse. I stopped the woman as she was leaving the church and confronted her. It turned out she was an EMoHC from another parish who said she was taking the host to a homebound person. I took her to Father — he required her to consume the host, and re-instructed her about what she had done wrong (Where was her burse? Why did she not go to her own church to get the Blessed Sacrament? Why did she not identify herself to Father before Mass? And so on.) Afterward, Father called her pastor up and I gather they had a little “discussion” about this situation. The same woman has been back to Mass at our church since, and you can bet I watch her like a hawk. So does Father.

    It takes vigilance, and it takes training, and it takes reminding people, to prevent terrible abuses.

  19. albinus1 says:

    I don’t know anything about Satanic rituals, but I have seen postings by someone on the internet, who claims to be an academic, who wants consecrated Hosts specifically so that he can desecrate them and post photographs and film footage of this online, specifically to mock and attempt to destroy people’s faith in the Real Presence. I don’t have a link handy. But in general, there is, sadly, no shortage of people willing to mock and desecrate the Real Presence.

    Maybe watching to ensure proper consumption of Communion would be a good task to assign to ushers at Communion time, rather than their usual useless job of standing next to each pew as people file out, as if people can’t figure out how to do that themselves. There are countries, such as Italy, where, in my experience, people don’t seem to understand the concept of “forming a line” and might need some guidance. But North Americans seem to understand it pretty well on their own.

  20. Gail F says:

    I have never seen this, although I have heard of people coming up for hosts at our parish so they can take them home to sick people. As Fr. Z said, they are generally unaware that they aren’t allowed to do this, and that a specially trained and “deputized” person needs to come to their home or hospital room.

    That said… I used to think that stories about people doing nefarious things with hosts were mostly just stories. And perhaps they are — mostly. But two years ago someone I know who has a priest relative told me that he had called her, upset, about his rural church being broken into. Nothing was taken except the consecrated hosts. The valuable tabernacle had been thrown on the floor and left there. She had brought up this story to talk about the things that have to be done in such a situation to reconsecrate (?? is that the word ??) the church. So now I know. “Mostly” doesn’t mean “always.”

  21. biberin says:

    At my parish, anyone receiving the Host must then walk past at least one, if not two, OMHC/EMHC chalicebearers to get to an aisle. I’ve seen people seriously delay consumption (why do they need to walk away first?), but It is always consumed by the time they get to me. I did once have a non-communicant child take a dive for my chalice, and the Sister principal had a very firm and detailed word with the whole student body.

  22. eulogos says:

    When I was trained as an EMHC (who are called EM’s by POLICY in this diocese…) the priest told us to make sure people consumed the host, and that we should follow them and insist that they do so if they didn’t. I once saw him do this himself. And he is a *liberal* priest. But liberal did not mean unbeliever!

    However when I moved to a different “worship site” in the cluster, and when we had a different parish, I started to have more and more difficulty. One woman I went after said she always took the host back to her seat and broke it into little pieces ! because she had swallowing problems. I told her she should ask the priests-only 3 possible ones she could run into at mass here so that wouldn’t be so difficult-to give her only a small piece in the first place. She rolled her eyes and in general made “What EVER” gestures. Another time, I followed a woman back to her seat, an older woman who was a new Catholic, someone who had always been friendly and kind as a clerk at the local thrift store, and told her she had to consume the host up in the presence of the minister of communion. She said she had new dentures and was afraid to open her mouth up there. I thought they must be pretty poor dentures, as I had a new upper and no issues at all. I just said she could open it just a bit, enough to get the host in, but she had to consume it in front of the EMHC. She burst into tears and she and her husband left the church early. Another time I followed a teenager back and told him to consume the host. His father confronted me afterwards saying “We are just glad if they come to church, why do you want to harrass them about little things?”

    Then, in the first church, there was a case where a girl of about ten had come to mass with the Catholic friend whose house she was staying overnight at. I had the cup, and she came up to me with the host in her hand and said ” What do I do with this?” I asked her if she were Catholic, and she said no. I told her she should give it back to the priest. She did that, and appeared relieved. But the friend’s mother went up one side of me and down the other after mass. I was “unwelcoming.” Jesus wouldn’t have excluded this little girl. And so on. The priest there said I did the right thing. But it made me an enemy in the small parish.

    I am relieved now to be attending a Byzantine parish where only the priest or the deacon administers communion, in the mouth, and no one can go anywhere with it. No need for EMHC’s.

    Susan Peterson

  23. FrCharles says:

    @Paul: Thanks! I knew something about that couldn’t be quite right.
    @digdigby: I’m a convert, and I too have sometimes wished we didn’t practice Communion-in-the-hand. But I’m not a pastor or anything, and as long as people have that option I’m nobody to deny it to them.

  24. thoscole says:

    I saw a fellow receive on the tongue once, and happened to be watching as he took the Host back out of his mouth immediately after he turned away from Father. This fellow headed straight for the door, but I was able to cut him off and confront him in the vestibule. I never thought to demand that he consume the Host — he seemed to panic anyway and as much as handed Our Lord to me and fled when I firmly told him: “You can’t leave with that.” I was able to take the host back to Father. If someone would try that where communion is frequently on the tongue, it is scary to think about the ease of theft where reception is on the hand!

  25. GOR says:

    In one parish I attended it was the practice to have an usher stand next to each EMHC and the Celebrant during the distribution of Holy Communion. I thought this was a good idea – and a good use of the ushers. I’m not too comfortable with Father, or an EMHC – with Ciborium still in hand – chasing after people around the church.

  26. Brother Juniper says:

    One Easter in the 1990′s, I attended an Easter Morning Mass, seated at the narthex of a large church in a Southern California diocese. Being that it was Easter, the crowd was unusually large and I watched with fascination as the stream of communicants came to the station at the narthex. I noticed at least three people walking away with Hosts. After Mass, I approached the celebrant, waiting until most of the handshakers were done with him, and told him what I had witnessed. He seemed more concerned about the fact that I had noticed it. He asked me what parish I normally attended. When I told him, he gave me a sort of “Oh, so that explains your reactionary conservative view” nod. He was friendly and thanked me for telling him ,but I suspect he would be far more concerned about a ketchup stain on his pants than he apparently was at Hosts being taken away at his Masses. Saddest thing of all, he was the Chancellor of that diocese. At least he doesn’t hold that spot any more.