QUAERITUR: Host became stuck in my throat. Did I commit sacrilege?

hostsFrom a reader:

I went to Mass and Benediction this evening and at Communion time, and I under-estimated how small the pieces of host were in my mouth before swallowing, and there was a really large sharp chunk that got stuck in my throat.

I tried going into the washroom to wash it down with water from the sink, but I could still feel it in there stabbing my throat. (I think our priest uses the hosts used for intinction because they’re rather crispy and don’t dissolve in the mouth.)

Father was busy in the Adoration Chapel, so I couldn’t get his assistance on what to do. The only other thing I could think of was to wait until I got home and eat a ball of bread and a glass of milk to force it down like I was taught in my first aid course.

Now I’m wondering if I committed a sacrilege?

No.  To my mind you did not commit a sacrilege.

These things happen.

I commend you for your concern and your obvious reverence for the Eucharist and your desire to receive Communion properly.  Also, I remind you that we are human beings.  While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic lives, it is at the same time “for us”, and we are human beings.  When you consume the Host and, because of some problem, start thinking in terms of first aid, you should do something so that you are not any longer in discomfort.

We believe that the Host and all small particles, the Precious Blood and small droplets, are the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  This is the perfect and infallible teaching of the Church and every Catholic is bound to believe this. Those who deny it are heretics.  However, we don’t really know how small is “small”, in the sense of our ability to recognize the accidents of bread and wine which remain after transubstantiation. We also would have this difficulty when it comes to a Host which is already being broken down after consumption, even it something gets “stuck” somewhere.

Because we can’t recognize precisely when the accidents of bread or wine cease and the Real Presence of Christ in what remains has ceased, it is entirely reasonable to be cautious and conservative rather than casual and careless about what is a great Mystery.

That said, I can’t see how it is wrong to have a drink of water in order to solve the problem.  And if that doesn’t work, move to a more aggressive “first aid” type of solution.

I think you were cautious and I cannot find any fault in what you did.

Your question does raise the old question of whether or not people should chew or not chew.

Some people prefer, and were taught, never to chew the Host they receive in Communion.  They prefer to allow the Host to dissolve to an extent before swallowing.  Others will chew to an extent, as they would food.  Sometimes, something of a Host will stick to dental work, which requires the communicant to be very careful.

For the sake of the conversation, in John 6 one of the words the Lord uses about “eating” his flesh actually means “chew, gnaw”.  He also uses a simpler word “eat”, but that “chew” is there.  Furthermore, to satisfy our need to be Unreconstructed Osssified Manualists, in a manual by Heribert Jone, OFM, we find the opinion that if one only allows the Host the dissolve in the mouth, one does not receive the Sacrament.   (Remember that there is the Sacrament itself and the effects of the Sacrament.)

I once did a WDTPRS POLL on this issue and here are the results:

How do you consume the Host?

Generally avoid chewing and allow It to dissolve or soften before swallowing (63%, 1,374 Votes)
Generally chew to some degree and then swallow (37%, 815 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,189

The parameters of the POLL question change when “substantial bread” is used.  Sometimes the “substantial bread” is so tough and the pieces so large that it can be hard to swallow it.

ANECDOTE: In my seminary in the USA – a horrible place filled with heresy and the black grief of the world – we had “substantial bread” that was so hard, so impossible to get down that even the liberals (the majority) complained about it.  We receive back the answer that “the longer you chew, the more of a sacrament it is.”  To this day that remark remains one of the stupidest things I have ever heard in a Catholic context.

So, without suggesting that there is a direct proportion between how long you chew and how much the Lord is present or the graces efficacious, I will suggest that if the Hosts used are quite resistant or large, it isn’t wrong to chew so as to break them down enough to be able to swallow them easily.  If there isn’t “more Jesus”, neither do you “hurt Jesus” by chewing a Host.

At this point I will recreate that POLL.   Please “chews” your answer and give your reasons in the combox. I admonish you to be respectful to each other.  It isn’t hard to lock someone out of the combox for good.

How do you consume the Host?

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Inigo says:

    I voted for letting it dissolve. If I’m sitting in the pews, I always let it dissolve, becouse this is the closest I can get to God in this life, so I’m using every second to talk to Him. But when I’m assisting at mass, I rather chew. Walking around doing altar boy stuff, with the Lord of the universe in your mouth seems a bit odd for me.

  2. dans0622 says:

    “…in a manual by Heribert Jone, OFM, we find the opinion that if one only allows the Host the dissolve in the mouth, one does not receive the Sacrament.” — Father, what was Fr. Jone’s rationale behind that conclusion? My guess is he would have said that if the Host “dissolves” in the mouth then the accidents are gone and so is the substantial presence of the Lord. Therefore, what is consumed/swallowed is not the Lord.

  3. I generally chew to some degree, but I try to avoid it as much as possible. Many parishes in my area use the “substantial bread” as well, which is why I am forced to do this.

  4. teomatteo says:

    I voted that i chew slightly before eating. I thought I read somewhere that the greek word used in scripture for eating was ‘to gnaw’. But i keep the act as respectful as i can.

  5. APX says:

    We use pretty large hosts that seems quite resistant to any type of dissolving, so I break it in half with my tongue as soon as it gets into my mouth and flood it with saliva to soften it somewhat before swallowing. I used to chew the host, but I noticed it kept getting stuck in my teeth and then I’d be paranoid after Mass.

  6. pfreddys says:

    I generally go to a eastern rite liturgy where they use leavened bread so some chewing is necessary.

  7. danivdp says:

    I’m with APX…..I like to think of it as “folding” the Host, rather than breaking though…I fold It in my mouth twice, let it soften, then swallow.

  8. Ana says:

    I chew the host or break it with my tongue several times while allowing it to soften before swallowing. Generally, I find the host too hard to allow it to dissolve before swallowing and I want to avoid the very situation mentioned in this post. Personally, provided one is not attempting to eat the host as one does a cookie — and I have seen someone literally nibbling the host on the way to their seat after receiving — I do not see anything wrong with gently chewing on the host to ensure nothing goes wrong with the “digestion” (for lack of a better word) process.

  9. akp1 says:

    Ever since I read that the word translates as ‘chew or gnaw’ I chew gently a few times then let the rest soften and swallow. Doing what is meant as respectfully as possible!

  10. Incaelo says:

    Like others above, I chew ‘respectfully’. Not as if I’m eating a cookie, but I do find I need to at least ‘fold’ the Host or softly chew it once or twice before being able to swallow it. It’s not as if we use enormously large or thick Hosts (they’re perfectly fine), but I do chew it.

    But, since our Lord has said that His Body is true food and His blood true drink, I don’t see much of a problem in accepting it as such. With the proper respect due to our Saviour, of course.

  11. Kathy C says:

    Oops. Having heard that Jesus said “gnaw”, I chew the host thoroughly. It’s actually a theological comment about the reality of the Eucharist – Jesus said we had to eat (gnaw) his physical body to be saved. Pieces must remain on my teeth, but I try to get them all. I haven’t worried about anything I don’t get because I read that once inside your digestive system you could account for it remaining discrete as the Body of christ for about 15 minutes. Fr. Z, am I being disrespectful or careless?

  12. MargaretC says:

    I usually do as APX does…When I was first received into the Church, I would chew the Host. After a while, I became uncomfortable with the idea of Our Lord getting stuck in my teeth. Now I follow the soften, then swallow method.

    Since this takes a couple of minutes, I usually can’t finish in time to receive the Precious Blood. I have decided not to fret about this.

  13. CatholicDRE says:

    I chew. The Eucharist is the source of summit of our faith and unlike anything else in all the universe, but it IS also “true food.” I chew when I eat food, so I chew when I consume the Eucharist. Also, I enjoy communion under both species, but if I wait for the host to dissolve I inevitably get to the chalice without finishing and face a very awkward moment.

  14. Dr. Eric says:

    I usually let the Host dissolve. But if one receives from the Chalice right after the Host, the Host dissolves almost immediately. So, that might be a way to prevent incidents like the one in Father’s post.

  15. racjax says:

    This brought back the memory of my first communion. One of the sisters stood nearby with a glass of water in case anyone got the host caught in their throat.

  16. irishgirl says:

    I let the Host dissolve in my mouth before swallowing. I have never chewed on it.

  17. I let It soften enough to swallow, so I don’t get pieces of It stuck in my teeth. This is not always easy, because the use of the tougher, whole-wheat-looking hosts is prevalent in my diocese.

    (Never understood whole-wheat hosts. Isn’t there some significance to the host being white?)

  18. TopSully says:

    I remember being taught in First Communion class to NEVER chew.

  19. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I receive on the tongue but put the host in my cheek until I get back to my seat (usually front row end). Reason: When I get up and down I can have sudden excruciating nerve pain that makes me gasp and if I had the host on my tongue I could choke to death right there in church. Appropriate maybe and maybe even poetic but when I get back to my seat and I am comfortable that I won’t be gasping, I chew. Another disability complication… I think if this as sort of humorous. I think God has a sense of humor, especially if we do too.

  20. Aquinas says:

    To quote Dr. Eric,
    I usually let the Host dissolve. But if one receives from the Chalice right after the Host, the Host dissolves almost immediately. So, that might be a way to prevent incidents like the one in Father’s post.

    Thanks Dr. Eric. this is exactly what I do.

    I did once receive two Hosts stuck together, I hope that was not wrong Fr. Z ? [Not at all. It happens sometimes that Hosts stick together. Just consume both at the same time with no qualms.]

  21. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Oops, I think OF this as sort of humorous.

  22. Banjo pickin girl: Oops, I think OF this as sort of humorous.

    Careful. OF (in capitals) customarily refers to one of the two valid forms of the Roman rite, doesn’t it. In which case, one might wonder precisely wherein the humor lies. [I think she was just correcting her grammatical error.]

  23. Margaret says:

    I always chew. I was never taught otherwise growing up. I find it difficult not to encompass the action of “chewing” under Our Lord’s command to “eat,” or more evocatively in the Latin, “manducate.”

    My only exception to this is the rare occasion that I attend an EF Mass. Then I will typically (if I can overcome lifelong practice to the contrary) refrain from chewing, to avoid giving needless scandal to others in attendance.

  24. Banjo pickin girl says:

    And that’s the attitude that keeps me far away from the church down the street that has the old Mass. [And I mentioned respect for other positions at the top entry, also.]

  25. I usually try not to chew, I think just because I want it to last as long as possible. This sometimes does not happen when I have to redirect a little one back to their seat! However, if doable, I like to return to my seat and kneel and let Him envelope me completely for however many moments I can enjoy the tangible experience.

  26. everett says:

    I usually chew a couple of times, and/or use my tongue.

  27. chcrix says:

    My practice is similar to APX.
    Quick split then immediate swallow.
    No problem for me, but OTOH I have been known to swallow aspirin without water at need.

    I NEVER chew nowadays – still can’t bring myself to it.
    I do admit that in years gone by with some of the ‘whole grain’ hosts one had to chew.

  28. Martial Artist says:

    I receive on the tongue, and have acquired a walking stick to use in getting my aging body down to a position of genuflection to receive and back up without tottering and thereby causing a delay. I always chew a few times, discreetly, before swallowing the host. I had never been taught otherwise, and this is the second occasion since entering the Church that I have heard related that the untranslated word from Scripture translates to English as “gnaw.”

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  29. p2rp says:

    I receive on the tongue and gently adhere the Host to the back of the roof of my mouth where He lingers undisturbed as long as He will. A portion usually remains Present even after dismissal while I’m offering thanksgiving prayers of a Pater, Ave and Gloria for our Church and Holy Father plus three Ave’s; one for Mary the daughter of God the Father (the Immaculate Conception), one for Mary the well beloved Spouse of the Holy Spirit (the Annunciation) and one for Mary the Mother of God the Son (the Nativity) all in honor of the Blessed Trinity.

  30. Jayna says:

    I generally let it dissolve and swallow, part of which is purely practical because it gets stuck in my teeth. I also find seeing people chaw on it as if it were a piece of gum pretty distasteful (not saying everyone does it like that, but I’ve seen it enough to think it rather prevalent).

  31. Hidden One says:

    Having received on the tongue, I typically break the Host as need be with my tongue, sometimes chewing a little bit (so that is what I voted).

  32. Lori Pieper says:

    Back when I was preparing for my First Communion (early 60’s), we were definitely told never to chew the host, and I never have – I quickly became very good at the folding with my tongue then swallowing thing. It is also easier to swallow nowadays since I generally drink the Precious Blood right after receiving while the host is still in my mouth.

    Interesting how the opposite is evidently now taught. I agree that chewing can be considered Christ’s command and it’s certainly very natural if we are to regard the Eucharist as “real food.” As yet, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it though. I don’t know whether it’s because of fear of particles remaining between my teeth or what. On the other hand, that would mean that Our Lord would remain with me longer, wouldn’t it?

  33. Dcn Larry says:

    The good Dominicans in my grade school taught us to be very respectful of the Holy Eucharist and not to chew It. To this day, I cannot chew the Host. In our diocese lay ministry training we were told that “Jesus said, take and eat, not take and disolve.” Needless to say I (we) ignored him.

  34. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Unless I concelebrate, I am consuming the larger host that I’ve lifted up to the people. Letting it dissolve does not seem a practical solution, even though I’m going to drink from the chalice in a moment.

    A point on the original question; it has been my understanding, and practice, that there is nothing wrong with someone taking a sip of water before, or after, receiving the host. After all, water does not break the fast. This is very helpful, and often necessary, for people to consume the host in a hospital or nursing home, and the only practical measure in such circumstances.

  35. Felicia says:

    I let it dissolve for quite awhile then chew once or twice, if necessary, to get it down.

  36. susanleeann says:

    as a first communicant 58 years ago we were taught never ever chew. this was quite a problem for me. even allowing it to soften was a problem for me. something in me makes swallowing without a liquid difficult. the problem lessened with the offering of His Blood because the presence of the liquid made the mechanics of swallowing easier. then i figured a bit of chewing was okay but even so sometimes it remains a problem. now i am on medication that leaves me with a very dry mouth sometimes. of all the crosses i bear for sometimes i think this difficulty with swallowing my Lord and Savior the most bothersome. in writing out this little bit of my personal history, i realize i am starting to tear up. this is a small barrier in allowing Jesus to come into my self has affected more than i had realized.

  37. James Joseph says:

    I’m a chewer.

    I like to consider the ‘gnaw on His Flesh’ thing from Scripture.

  38. Laura R. says:

    I let the Host soften and dissolve in my mouth as much as possible before swallowing; it’s as though I am treating Him as gently and tenderly as possible.

    I never thought of the Greek verb meaning “gnaw” (or even”chomp”?) as indicating that I ought to chew the Host; rather, it seems to me to be a theological statement that the Host that we physically eat is actually the flesh of Jesus. And it is the eating that is the point. Not all the food I eat is of the same consistency: the ice cream I have had in my mouth and swallowed is no less eaten than the steak.

  39. Dr. Eric says:

    It also depends on how the Hosts were made. The ones at the diocesan churches that I attend are much different from the Hosts at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis. The diocesan Hosts are thicker while the Hosts at the oratory are not only smaller in diameter but very thin and dissolve almost instantly the second they touch the tongue.

  40. A very good and holy priest I know took a very good approach to questions like this. He would say, “Jesus knows when it’s time to go.” In other words, while on the one hand it is very good and devout of us to be concerned about proper care for the Eucharistic Body of Christ, knowing as we do Whom it actually is that we receive, on the other hand, we need to remember that He Whom we receive became man, and like us in all things but sin, which means among other things that He totally knows what it’s like to get something stuck in the back of your throat, and so He isn’t going to allow a very natural human experience like that to in any way impede your relationship with Him. Certainly we have to maintain a proper care and reverence for the Eucharist, but at the same time, we need to trust in a merciful and loving God who isn’t going to accuse us or judge us guilty of sacrilege because we got food stuck in our throats.

  41. MGarner says:

    I usually try break the Host a few times against my hard palate using my tongue. Sometimes I just swallow whole if my mouth isn’t too dry to soften the accidents .

  42. pm125 says:

    I miss the chalice. In RCIA, we were told to chew, receive in the hands formed as a throne, put into mouth with hand that was underneath. I’ve taken to waiting until I turn the corner after reception to bite, then chew. There’s always a moment of being startled when I have coffee at home and find something around my teeth. Now, I’ll probably watch others if I think of it. When I was Confirmed asLutheran in 8th grade, we knelt at Altar rail and received on tongue, and waited there for the distribution of individual little tiny glass from a round tray with each layer having around 50 glasses. (the Altar Guild ladies stayed to wash them) (they still do this, except that the glasses are disposable plastic which go into a container on the way back from Altar and there are many who receive on the hand)

  43. pinoytraddie says:

    I Swallow The Host Because I Receive Jesus Christ and I Am Unworthy to Chew Him.(although In Cases of “Big” Hosts,I Chew a Little)

  44. PaterAugustinus says:

    My primary rationale, positively stated, is that we Orthodox look to the fact that the Lord constituted this Mystery in the form of bread and wine. Any attitude that departs too far from approaching the Eucharist with reference to this edible form, and from full participation in this form, is rather foreign to our piety. In fact, the very human and physical process of eating the Lord, can strike us powerfully with compunction and gratitude for the Lord’s ineffable condescension. This also begins to explain why the Orthodox have never developed the trappings of Eucharist Adoration as they came to exist in the latter-day West.

    Past this, we would say that chewing is very Traditional, and should not be calumniated as impious or less reverent in any case. The option to dissolve a paper-thin wafer in the mouth, could only come to exist after the late introduction of unleavened bread; so chewing was long the only option, and must therefore not be inherently irreverent.

    Finally: we Orthodox would agree with the position that dissolving the form of bread, introduces a grave doubt as to whether one has received the Mystery. Since the Eucharist ceases to perdure after the form of bread has been lost, letting a very thin Host dissolve until the form is unrecognizeable, introduces obvious problems. This concern would largely be moot, if the Mystery is received under both species, since the form of wine is more resilient when mingled with a modicum of saliva.

  45. Agnes says:

    I hold Him on my tongue for a moment in thanksgiving, then chew. The Mass is both Sacrifice and Sacred Meal, the fulfillment of the Passover. We’re supposed to “take and eat”. In fact, Jesus tells us if we do not eat His Flesh and Blood, we have no life in us. So eat! How amazing that the God of Heaven and Earth would become something to be consumed.

  46. pledbet424 says:

    I was always taught by the good sisters to let the host soften, and then swallow. They seemed to discourage chewing. This was 45 years ago or so, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but this is what I do remember. I don’t think it matters either way.
    I recently went to an Eastern Catholic Liturgy, and they use a small spoon to place the body and blood in your mouth…the priest’s aim was a bit off, and the small cube of Our Lord made it in okay, but the Precious Blood was dripping off my chin…I was a bit horrified, didn’t know what to do, so I just reached up and stopped the dripping with my finger, and “licked” my finger to get the precious blood off of it. I don’t know what the right thing to do was, but I don’t think it was a sacrilege. I was always taught by the same good sisters that a sacrilege was “a deliberate abuse of a sacred object”.

  47. Grateful Catholic says:

    Fr Martin Fox at 9 September 2011 at 3:34 pm said:
    “A point on the original question; it has been my understanding, and practice, that there is nothing wrong with someone taking a sip of water before, or after, receiving the host. After all, water does not break the fast. This is very helpful, and often necessary, for people to consume the host in a hospital or nursing home, and the only practical measure in such circumstances.”

    It is helpful to me after Mass to stop at the water fountain, especially when the Host is thick and hard, necessitating some chewing, as I do not receive from the Cup. In *The Stripping of the Altars* Eamon Duffy tells us that in 15th- and 16th-century England a practice was to administer unconsecrated wine to the faithful after they received the Host for just such a reason (p. 110 of the 1992 Yale edition).

    I much prefer the small thin hosts that Dr. Eric described at 9 September 2011 at 7:14 pm. They dissolve quickly on the tongue and taste better, too. Not that I have a say in the matter anywhere. After reading Fr Z’s post, however, I admit to being a little troubled by the prospect that, at least in the opinion of Heribert Jone, OFM, one who does not chew the Host does not receive (the effects of) the Sacrament.

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