QUAERITUR: people putting hosts in ciborium before Mass

From a  reader:

I travel a lot for work, so have obviously been to Mass at several parishes, both EF and OF, very reverent to not-so-much.  I’m currently in NW Missouri and experienced a new variation today for the Immaculate Conception.  When I walked in, I noticed every entrance had a glass bowl with unconsecrated hosts and a set of tongs as well a ciborium.  I was confused by this so kept walking to a pew.  As more people walked in I heard clinking behind me and noticed that each person was putting a host into the ciborium.  I can’t imagine that this practice is specified anywhere, but is it allowable?  I am however thankful for the lady sitting in front of me who I can only imagine attends the EF that is 40 minutes away on Sundays because she veiled her head, bringing me back to my senses.  Thank you Father.


Yes…. this sort of thing is allowed.

Of course, before Mass, those hosts are not consecrated, right?

This is done in some places where it is desired to consecrate the right number of hosts for distribution at Holy Communion.  So, if people who intend to communicate put a host in as they enter the church, and that ciborium is taken up at the offertory, then there is a good chance that the number will be about right.  For Masses with a small number of people, where the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved, this could be a good practice.

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  1. Flambeaux says:

    I’ve encountered this in several instances around the US, but usually only at daily Mass.

  2. Father Totton says:

    Funny thing. I grew up in “Northwest Missouri” and I always noticed the glass bowl, tongues [Yuck!] and a ciborium (which was later replaced by another glass bowl) at the entrance to the nave of the church. All through my youth, I never got it. Very few people would add hosts, then, before the offertory an usher or a sacristan would come along and empty one glass dish of hosts into the other, so Father would have hosts to consecrate.

    I think this could work for a daily Mass (not a Sunday or Holy Day) if the people are given sufficient information ahead of time – and perhaps have a note for visitors (if you intend to receive Communion, please add a host to the ciborium).

  3. Simon-Peter says:

    It is quite common in the UK, most places I have been do this during during the week, sometimes on Sundays too. It is quite sad, however, when people are not aware of parish practices, and there are insufficient Hosts to go around at Holy Communion – I have often seen people being given tiny crumbs because the larger Hosts have had to be broken up. This is not good for reducing profanation. If this practice is to be observed, it seems sensible to make it obvious, and clear, respectful notices placed at all entrances with instructions.

  4. KK says:

    We used to have this at our previous parish. Aside from the practical counting aspect, we were told it was “symbolic of each family bringing their intentions and sacrifices to be offered before the Lord” or something to that effect.

  5. Petrus says:

    At the old Abbey I used to go to they did this on Sunday mass. I havent been there is years so I do not know if they still do.

  6. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    We do this at our university chaplaincy where, because it’s a secular university, we do not have a permanent room or tabernacle. This helps to prevent profanation because there are not large numbers of consecrated Hosts remaining after Communion for the priest to consume.

  7. A Random Friar says:

    Another point, and I can’t find the source right now, is that ideally the hosts consecrated at the Mass are ideally the ones that the people consume, as well as use in Adoration and Benediction immediately following Mass, tying the action of the Holy Sacrifice that they have participated in to their worship, communing and adoration.

    I remember an Eastern priest writing on another blog that they considered it odd to serve reserved hosts at Divine Liturgy, since it would be the equivalent of serving “leftovers” at the Heavenly Banquet (he added, and I believe him, that he said it with utmost respect for the Sacred Body, but that the liturgical action is divorced from the Sacrifice that the people are present for). The Meal (I prefer Banquet) aspect, while overemphasized to the detriment of Sacrifice post-conciliarly, is nevertheless worthy, and ideally there should be a connection between the Sacrifice and the Banquet that the people participate in. It also seems better to me to send the hosts to the infirm from the same Mass the extraordinary/ordinary ministers just participated in, connecting the Mass to their own communion.

    Just my 2 cents…

  8. Tina in Ashburn says:

    This was done in my youth before daily Mass in our small parish…gosh, late 60s, early 70s? So this practice has been around awhile. Haven’t seen it since.

  9. crankycon says:

    I have seen this at a couple of different parishes in my travels down south.

  10. hurdy gurdy says:

    The only time I’ve seen this practice was at Mass at the chapel in Fort Dix during Junior ROTC Summer Camp. However, even though the celebrant instructed the people before Mass to place the unconsecrated hosts in the ciborium, some may have not heard it, so come Communion time, he ran out of hosts and without hesitation walked to the back of the church to get some more from the unconsecrated pile! I heard some murmuring, but most probably had not witnessed it as they were deep in prayer with eyes closed.

  11. Victor says:

    This practise is VERY widespread in Germany, and I cannot imagine a German Catholic not knowing it. I therefore see no problem in the practise – except, perhaps, some guests from other countries…

  12. Mark M says:

    I remember this well from before I became a Catholic. Amongst “High Church” Anglicans this is very common practice, with the ciborium and a silver spoon/knife thing that looks like a fishslice….!

  13. Originally hailing from the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama I am quite familiar with this nearly ubiquitous practice in the South. Very evident was the “translation” from the profane to the sacred as each parishioner would lift “his” unconsecrated host from the Tupperware bowl into the bronze plate with the matching bronze tongs. Usually the paterfamilias himself would place the appropriate number of breads for his family into the bowl.

    All levity aside, where did this practice originate? It does not seem to be that bad of an idea, especially in those places where there is no tabernacle to reserve unconsumed Particles.

  14. I do not recall the last OF Mass I attended where this was not done. It may be based on the following current norms:

    From the current GIRM:

    85. It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass … .

    From Redemptionis Sacramentum:

    [89.] “So that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the Sacrifice being celebrated”, it is preferable that the faithful be able to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass.

  15. Liam says:

    I first encountered this in college in Virginia 30 years. Eminently sensible practice. Preferable to either consecrating without any regard to actual attendance, or forcing the sacristan to do head counts during the homily and apply a factor to the total to estimate.

  16. David Andrew says:

    They do this at the daily Masses at the Oratory in South Kensington (The “Brompton” Oratory). The only difference is that the bowls were both silver, as were the tongs.

    I can’t say that I recall this being done before the Sunday Mass, but then again, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the building, etc., that I wasn’t likely to remember a little detail like that.

  17. Maureen says:

    Seems very odd to me. Not to mention that it must mean a lot of clinkety clink and crunchety crunch coming from the back of church.

    Of course, most people are more coordinated than me, but if I were around it would turn into clinkety crunch sploosh racketyshwooshity rattlerattlerattle crash AAAAA! (Sorry!) sweepsweepsweep crunch, followed by me slinking out of church in disgrace.

  18. I’ve never really understood GIRM 85 and RS 89. It seems to be making too big a deal out
    of the symbolism (with a small s) and seem to insinuate that you are getting less of the
    Eucharist if you receive “leftovers” from a previous Mass. It almost seems that some will
    get neurotic about it to the point that we have the “holy tongs” and the confusion (given
    that some places do this practice and others don’t) that arises from this and the
    potential for profanation of the bread before Mass (I’ve seen hosts slip out of the tongs
    and fall on the floor, just to be picked back up and put back in the bowl).

    There never seemed to be a problem with receiving hosts that were consecrated at another
    Mass until lately. It doesn’t really make sense to me, and only seems to cause problems
    more than give a clearer sign of participation.

    Just my 2 cents.

  19. Rob says:

    I think this is actually a terrible practice because of the risk of profanation of the Communion bread prior to consecration. I’ve seen churches that do this were people would not use the tongs, but instead pick one up with their hands and transfer the wafer from one bowl to another.

  20. Brian Day says:

    It almost seems that some will get neurotic about it to the point that we have the “holy tongs” and the confusion (given that some places do this practice and others don’t) that arises from this and the potential for profanation of the bread before Mass (I’ve seen hosts slip out of the tongs and fall on the floor, just to be picked back up and put back in the bowl).

    The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch will take care of that!

  21. Charivari Rob says:

    I’ve seen this occasionally.

    It could be used to advantage, if it is used to get the people thinking about whether or not they’re properly disposed to receive, or about the difference between the common bread and the consecrated host. Like so many things discussed here, it’s a matter of catechesis.

    As someone else said above, it might guard against abuse and profanation.

  22. Johnny Domer says:

    Well…I think people did this at my old, incredibly insane parish (as in, “A female Protestant minister one time gave the homily and received Communion at Mass”-levels of insanity). I have this feeling that there’s some stupid “community” idea behind the practice, but I can’t think what exactly it would be. A general principle I have for the Liturgy is just to do the exact opposite of whatever it was we did at that church, but I guess there’s nothing strictly wrong with this practice.

  23. A Random Friar says:

    Roman Sacristan: I think the spirit (and I mean that sincerely, as in the spirit of that code) is that it would be optimal to keep the symbolism, much as receiving under both species has a fuller meaning, according to the GIRM. However, practicality and risk of profanation trump many optimal situations. For example, at a large Jubilee Mass for 2000 (actually, two), that I went to, the amount of Precious Blood consecrated was faaaaar too much, and the lines for the Precious Blood were a nightmare for people to work around. Lines for the Body only would’ve made things much easier, and greatly reduced the risk of profanation (I don’t know what they did with the barrelfuls… well, there were at least 50 liters of Precious Blood left over at these Masses — no kidding. I don’t know how they consumed it all, or even transported it, since the Masses were done at stadiums).

    Part of the problem with large Masses is that there is NO way to tell how many people are going to receive, and I always stunk at guessing how many jelly beans are in the jar or how many bodies in the pews, so I guess-timate. In that case, it is better to have reserve. The situation about putting in a host if you are to receive seems the most practical for small places, especially those where you can’t reserve the consecrated Host.

  24. Karen Russell says:

    I’ve only encountered this once, at a daily Mass in a neighbouring parish.

    That Mass itself was thick with abuses so I was dubious about this practice– the guilt-by-association principle.

    Thank you for the clarification!

  25. Martin says:

    I grew up with this practice in TN and grow mistyeyed thinging of it. As a yourng child I felt quiet special.

    Nowdays I’d be concernd with some nut grabbing a handful and selling it on the internet as concecrated hosts.

  26. Federico says:

    This was the praxis, and a good one, when my parish had just been erected but we had no church building (and therefore, no tabernacle) yet. The pastor offered the Mass in other worthy places, but all the Eucharist had to be consumed at that Mass (a small amount was reserved for the sick and shut-ins).

    Good thing in this and similar situation.

  27. Tracie says:

    This is a very common practice at multi-use military chapels.

  28. Jeff M says:

    I saw this at the West Point chapel. I had no idea what was going on, so I too walked by it and didn’t move a host. Luckily, I figured it out during Mass and didn’t take communion–I wasn’t sure if the priest would break the hosts or if someone would not be able to receive. Regarding Tracie’s comment, the West Point chapel is not a multi-use chapel–it is only for Catholic services. I can’t remember if they have a tabernacle though. Maybe if it lacks one they don’t want to have extra consecrated hosts.

  29. Joshua says:

    Yes, I’ve seen it done in some churches in Tasmania.

    Remember that as early as the eighteenth century Rome* was making it plain that it is best to consecrate the hosts for communion at the same Mass at which they will be received – not to in any way disparage giving communion from the Reserved Sacrament, but to try and stop the species of liturgical minimalism that makes some priests only ever consecrate a ciborium of people’s hosts once a week, and then dole them out on the other days, while solely consecrating his own priest’s host at all other Masses.

    *This graded into connected controversies at the time about whether it were permissible to distribute communion at High Mass (generally people only communicated at the early morning Low Mass), and whether communion ought ever be given at Requiem Masses (it being thought by some that only the priest should receive at such, as formerly on Good Friday, since the Mass is for the dead, and seemingly not so much for the living).

  30. Ben says:

    In ‘Mediator Dei’ 118, Pius XII reaffirmed the desirability of receiving hosts consecrated at the same Mass:

    ‘Moreover, our predecessor of immortal memory, Benedict XIV, wishing to emphasize and throw fuller light upon the truth that the faithful by receiving the Holy Eucharist become partakers of the divine sacrifice itself, praises the devotion of those who, when attending Mass, not only elicit a desire to receive holy communion but also want to be nourished by hosts consecrated during the Mass, even though, as he himself states, they really and truly take part in the sacrifice should they receive a host which has been duly consecrated at a previous Mass. He writes as follows: “And although in addition to those to whom the celebrant gives a portion of the Victim he himself has offered in the Mass, they also participate in the same sacrifice to whom a priest distributes the Blessed Sacrament that has been reserved; however, the Church has not for this reason ever forbidden, nor does she now forbid, a celebrant to satisfy the piety and just request of those who, when present at Mass, want to become partakers of the same sacrifice, because they likewise offer it after their own manner, nay more, she approves of it and desires that it should not be omitted and would reprehend those priests through whose fault and negligence this participation would be denied to the faithful.”‘

    (Internal quote is from Benedict XIV, ‘Certiores effecti’ 3)

  31. This is a most excellent practice: I wish it were instituted in more churches. The only thing better would be a competent server/usher, who could count the contragation and put the proper number of hosts in the ciborium by offertory time–an experience I set up last week for the first time.

    As it is, I end up stacking piles of hosts insets of 10, counting the number of possible communicants, and then moving the right set of piles into the ciborium. That is a real distraction to the celebrant.

    I might add that my research (see _Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes_, chapter 5), shows that communion from hosts consecrated at the Mass was the norm at least until the 1330s. I suspect that practice of using hosts from previous Masses is really quite recent, probably as late as the 1600. Like so many changes, it became popular because lazy priests found it easier. Pius XII and GIRM are both correct: the Sacrifice should not be separated from Communion by using left-overs.

  32. Phil (NL) says:

    I see this working for Masses with attendance by a crowd of regulars, and in case there isn’t a tabernacle it might even be the only good option. Yet as soon you have people at Mass who are not accustomed to this idea (and there are obviously plenty, there are entire countries where this is basically unheard of) things are likely to go wrong. Running out of consacrated hosts is a major distraction and brings risk of profanation if the remaining ones are broken up.
    My 2c would be that having too many is preferable over too few, and too much planning will only increase the risk of problems – usually exponentially. This sounds like a case of too much planning to me.

  33. chironomo says:

    Common practice in 4 of the 6 parishes I have served in, but always only for daily Mass. The “Sunday” variation of this was the sacristan standing up in the organ loft during the Opening Rites and Liturgy of the Word counting heads sitting in the pews to determine the number of hosts. It was a bit comical at times since everyone in the church could see him up there!

  34. Marcin says:

    Roman Sacristan: I’ve never really understood GIRM 85 and RS 89. It seems to be making too big a deal out of the symbolism (with a small s) and seem to insinuate that you are getting less of the Eucharist if you receive “leftovers” from a previous Mass.

    Yes, but then what’s that big deal about symbolism in EF? After all we don’t get less of Eucharist from OF, do we?

    (and speaking to another recent entry, I am writing this on Mac, because it’s the only one available at that time, and it drives me crazy: you know, keyboard shortcuts, single button mouse…)

  35. Fr Francis Coveney says:

    I think the reason why the General Instruction to the Roman Missal expresses the preference for the faithful to communicate with hosts consecrated at the same Mass is that each and every Mass is a reenactment of the words and actions of Our Lord at the Last Supper.

    Remember that before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, the tabernacle should be entirely empty – and sufficient hosts should be consecrated at this Mass for the communion of the clergy & the laity during this Mass and during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.

    This was also the practise of the Church in the Holy Week services of 1955 authorised by Pope Pius XII.

    Every other Mass is, in a sense, modelled on the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

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