QUAERITUR: Priest brushes his hands off over floor after handling Hosts

From a reader:

This morning we got the double whammy. After subjecting us to the “We are the Eucharist” homily, the priest, after moving the Hosts from one ciborium to another, brushed his hands off over the floor (carpeted.) Is there any measure that should be taken in respect to fallen particles?


Perhaps the great care inherent in the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form will help over time by a gravitational pull to reshape the ars celebrandi of the Ordinary Form.

Without have the slightest idea what sort of fellow this priest is, I suspect your best approach would be to drop him a note to tell him how watching him brush his hands off like that made you feel.

You might want to stick to the feelings approach, rather than toss theology or law at him.

Perhaps something along the lines of:

When I saw you brush your hands off after handling Hosts from the ciborium my heart fell. It made me profoundly sad to think that particles of Hosts fell to the carpeted floor.

Perhaps start with that.  After that you could perhaps seek an explanation from the local bishop about the propriety of brushing particles of Hosts off one’s hands and onto the floor.

Some people will want to debate whether or not very small particles of Host are still recognizable as having the accidents of bread and are still, therefore, the Eucharistic Lord.  However, the sensibilities of the people in the pews count for a great deal in these matters.  We have to be very careful not to bruise people’s sensibilities and beliefs and reverence for the Eucharist.

It is so easy for priests (deacons) to take a little more care so as to communicate the deep reverence we have for our Eucharistic Lord.  We have to communicate our Faith also be our gestures.

Acting in a haphazard way signals to people that what is being handled isn’t that important.

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  1. Frank H says:

    One of the wonderful things I am noticing with our younger priests is the care with which they purify the sacred vessels after Holy Communion. It really seems part of the ritual, not just “clearing the dishes” as it sometimes appears with certain celebrants of a different age/mindset.

  2. ContraMundum says:

    To paraphrase Prof. Diggory Kirk, “What DO they teach at these seminaries?”

  3. polycarped says:

    I have a similar concern about one of the priests where I sometimes go to Mass – he clearly feels the need to emphasise the symobolism of the breaking of the bread by holding the host high above his head and breaking it in a manner so hard that it gives an audible crack – presumably for the audience?! It feels somehow so ‘1970s’ (if you know what I mean…) in terms of the apparent attitude behind it – but sadly he’s actually quite young (which is all the more disturbing…). The result is obvious and distressing – at times visible crumbs flying as he breaks the host. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of people quietly to see if people share my worry but it seems not (am I surprised? of course not…). However in the spirit of your advice here and especially in the light of this Sunday’s Gospel) I think that the right approach will be to address it with him personally and sensitively, as a first step at least.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    I would certainly wonder what the priest was thinking if indeed he was conscious of consecrated particles being on his hands and he was consciously brushing them onto the floor. Not having been there it’s hard to know what really happened except for this one report. Certainly while scrupulosity should be avoided with respect to such things it would seem that purposely brushing consecrated particles onto the floor is a problem not only with respect to any possible issues of desecration but also with respect to what it might indicate about what the priest in questions believes or does not believe.

    I would be the first to agree with the correspondent that all manner of activity around the handling of the sacred species, particularly during the fraction and after the procession, can be extremely distracting to the liturgical action.

  5. ContraMundum: “What DO they teach at these seminaries?”

    I recall a comment by a young priest several years ago here at WDTPRS, who said his only liturgy preparation in seminary was a one-term course taught by a bitter ex-nun, their only textbook a slim paperback written by a Methodist laywoman.

    I’ve personally heard remarks by other young priests, suggesting that their seminary liturgy experience was probably worse than that–not merely that they were taught essentially nothing, but worse, were systematically inculcated with false and pernicious views.

    Longtime readers here know my own devotion to the EF, but I also respect the OF, certainly more than many traditionally inclined Catholics, realizing that the real problem is not with our normative Mass, but with our priests, most of a couple of generations of whom have no clue about reverent and proper ars celebranda, and apparently were never taught any reason to care about it.

  6. catholicmom says:

    we had a similar issue several years back. In the communion line, an 11 year old boy dropped the communion out of his mouth while returning to his pew. My young son (8yrs old) pointed out to me what was happening — people were walking over the top of it. Something caused me to fly out of my pew, run over to the host, kneel down and pray. The Lord said, “consume it.” By then, my son was near me and he too began to consume the bits and pieces from the ground. People never stopped walking to communion but just walked around us. We then returned to our pew and I was shaking like a leaf. A little over a week later after a daily Mass, I trepidly approached the liberal priest who had said the Mass. I used the “feelings” method of trying to tell him that parents in the parish needed to be educated so that they could teach their children reverence for the Holy Eucharist. His response was terrible, he scolded me for “judging” people. I wasn’t gonna let them stop me, I told him it is your responsiblity to Teach the parents, at the pulpit, or however, they need to know. He got all the madder and chased me away. I was forced to write the bishop. I’d never done that before and sent an email to the diocesan office, where I got NO response. Two months later, an associate bishop was sent to the parish to ‘review’ this 40 year old priest. I took that as my response and dropped it. It left me feeling though that no one cared all that much. Didn’t even receive acknowledgement back from the diocese that they got my email. Things need to change.

  7. wchoag says:

    I hear you, Father, about some persons seeking to debate if minute particles of host possess the accidents of bread and are therefore capable of maintaining a transubstantial presence.

    Yet entering into this argument is akin to arguing that a tiny human embryo lacks what is necessary to sustains humanness.

    Wait! Now that I think about it, most of the persons who argue against the Real Presence in tiny particles are often the same who argue that human embryos and fetuses are human persons.

  8. wchoag says:

    Wait! Now that I think about it, most of the persons who argue against the Real Presence in tiny particles are often the same who argue that human embryos and fetuses are human persons.

    …That should be “who argue that human embryoas and festuses are NOT human persons.” DOH!

  9. Ben Trovato says:

    Way back in the 70s, I was a teenage altar boy at a Benedictine Abbey, and suddenly, without any explanation, patens were removed (when I rummaged in a draw at the credence table, and found one, the priest (and monk) celebrating the Mass told me, just before communion: ‘We don’t need that: don’t be such a fool!’).

    I raised the lack of patens and the risk of crumbs falling to the ground at school and another Benedictine monk (also an ordained priest) in charge of our religious education mocked me in front of the class. He asked (rhetorically) what I thought had happened after the Last Supper? The crumbs were probably thrown out for the birds, he opined. It seems to me not to be coincidental that he has abandoned his vows and the active ministry and married an ex-nun, and together they promulgate alternative ‘liberal’ views of Christianity.

    And thus, the Benedictines, despite their best intent, made a traditionalist out of me…

    Pray for them all.

  10. Centristian says:

    I once witnessed a celebrant pick up the corporal during Mass, which he then shook over the carpeting to rid it of particles! What did he suppose the corporal was for, I wonder?

  11. Philangelus says:

    I think in this case speaking the priest’s own language might make a better impression than just pointing out that parts of the consecrated hosts fell onto the carpet. If he just got through with a “we are the Eucharist” homily, I would probably go to him and sadly point out that if anyone was there who was new to our community, he or she might feel that we felt the parish family was only something to dust off your hands. I would suggest that since the priest values the community so much, we all should reflect that in the way we treat the Eucharist.

    It’s utterly backward, and I only suggest it as a possible means to make more headway. I’m sad when I hear the Eucharist treated as only a symbol, but if someone is going to treat it as a symbol, we can start from where that person is. We can at the same time pray that God will reach out to that person and bring him to a better understanding at some point.

  12. As an antidote, an experience recounted by an FSSP priest I know:

    So being faced with a few hundred communicants and not having another priest to help with the distribution of Holy Communion, I was trying to find the balance between a steady pace and the reverence that Our Lord deserves.

    There were only 5 people left when it happened. I am not sure how it happened, but the host slipped out of my fingers, and sooner than I could gasp He had bounced off the corner of the ciborium, helplessly bounced off my fingers again as I reached for Him, and there the Sacred Host went, tumbling, tossing and floating down at the mercy of gravity, all in slow motion, until He came to rest on the floor.

    The world had been paralyzed around me. I no longer heard the music of the choir. From the corner of my eyes I noticed the look on the altar boy’s face as he missed catching Our Lord on his paten. The communicant knelt struck with shock, and then the altar boy looked at me with a question of what to do.

    I quickly lifted Our Lord from where He had come to rest. The server went to fetch a purificator, and another altar boy brought over a lit candle to mark the place. Once the spot had been covered with the white purificator I finished distributing Holy Communion, my hands shaking all the while.

    I finished Mass with a different tone of voice. I could not believe what I had just done. After Mass I removed the chasuble and went back to purify the spot, getting down on my hands and knees and washing the location three times as I prayed the Miserere.

    For the rest of the day all I could see was the sight of the Sacred Host tumbling hopelessly to the ground while I could do nothing about it, and knowing that it was all my fault. I cancelled an appointment or two because I wasn’t up to speaking to people. I couldn’t believe that Our Lord had entrusted Himself to me in the Blessed Sacrament to give Him to souls, and I had failed Him. And when I celebrated Mass again in the evening, as I raised the Host for the Ecce Agnus Dei, I had to fight with all my strength to stop my eyes welling up, all the while seeing that Holy Host falling… falling.. falling.

  13. Mdepie says:

    I would wonder if the Priest even realized he was doing this. I think it is increasingly easy to think of the Eucharist as a symbol, rather than Jesus body, blood, soul and divinity. This is wrong, but it is a trap of our time nonetheless. I have 3 children ( all teenagers now) but what I recall over the years from participation in the First Communion Prep, is how down played the real presence is. In fact the whole notion can be made so vague and opaque as to be meaningless. The notion of the mass as a sacrifice is neglected all together ( its a community meal) and some aspects of overt heresy creeep in ( The “community” not the priest, consecrates the host, was one example) Couple this with the overall lack of mystery or sense of “holiness” of the new mass, relative to the Old, and lact of preaching on this subject, and we have the case were I do not think that most people truly believe that what the recieve during Mass is God. ( that is Creator of the universe etc, etc..) Most people think of it as largely symbolic, at least they certainly seem to practice this way. I would bet if questioned the priest would acknowledge the real presence, but when all about us we agree to act and behave otherwise, than it becomes easier to forget.

    I do not mean this as an indictment of a priest I do not know, I am really aiming at another point. Many things we believe by faith are to some extent incomprehensible. Certainly the Real Presence is such. Most of us at some point probably have difficulties with this belief. That is not to say we deny it or doubt it, but rather that we are sort of in the situation of the blind man in the Bible, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”. We need the helps the Church used to offer, the ritual and symbolism of the old mass, regular preaching, etc etc to help us stay focused on what is going on. Post Vatican II, the Church provides these helps less, as such belief is made harder, and it is easier to forget what it is the Eucharist “is”.. We began to focus more on what it “represents, or signifies, or means”. People can show a lot of concern for a representation of something, like a photo of a loved one, but it will be a lot less than the concern they show for the loved one themselves.

    So we get individuals both priest and layman being less than rigorous about how they behave in regards the Eucharist.

  14. Re: the “feelings approach” —

    Speaking as a perpetually overemotional person… I can tell you that, yes, sometimes people are going to be struck to the heart if you’re struck to the heart. A chivalrous or kindly priest may be deeply affected by it.

    But on the other hand, people should be fully aware that this will backfire on other equally chivalrous and kindly ones. A lot of people in the Fifties and Sixties and even earlier learned to fear that any devotional teaching would bring parishioners into scruples and neurotic religiosity, or holy-go-pious holier-than-thou hypocrisy. Thus the many speeches about how X and Y don’t matter, from kindly and pious priests who are sure that you are going to go home and flog yourself unconscious about these things. (And of course, there were apparently a good few pre-Vatican II folks who today go to New Age seminars and hunger-strike ostentatiously, who back then would be ostentatiously pious with weird fasts and mortifications, instead.)

    The trick is to balance valid concern for the Host with absolute faith in the Lord’s loving mercy. Some people have gone too far into confidence that “in the end it really doesn’t matter”, to the point of not remembering to treat Him with respect.

  15. Paul says:

    @Henry Edwards, thank you for sharing that. It moved me to tears to think of that degree of devotion.

  16. anncouper-johnston says:

    @ Henry Edwards – what a beautful story! I hope the priest concerned realized Our Lord loved him even while he made that mistake, which he obviously didn’t intend.

    @Henry Edwards – what a beautiful story! I feel for that priest in his distress at the accident he had. I hope Our Lord brought him consolation,, just enough that he didn’t worry too much. His parish are very fortunate to have a priest with such beautiful devotion to Our Lord, present under the appearance of bread. Our Lord is as truly present in the Sacred Host as he was in the Holy Land in time; when I see the Sacred Host I am seeing Our Lord as truly as I would were he walking across the Church to meet me.

  17. Brad says:

    We are the eucharist pablum: good luck redeeming yourselves. Pure pride, sin numero uno.

  18. BaedaBenedictus says:

    That’s the elephant in the room in AmChurch and like places: the denial of transubstantiation, of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Condemned as heretical at the Council of Trent, it is shockingly widespread today, and one should not be surprised at the effect it has on the treatment of hosts and chalices at Mass. Everyone I know has horrific stories to tell.

  19. Tom T says:

    Henry Edwards, I loved your story about the FSSP Priest. I so love that order. I belong to the
    FSSP Confraternity of St. Peter. I used to serve a daily Mass for a Msgr. who has long since passed on. He dropped a host one day, it happens to most priests somtime during their
    lifetime. He simply picked the Host up before I could and gave it to me. There is a process for a dropped Host, as describe to me by an old priest. You simply pick the Host up and reverantly
    take it to the sacristy where the Host can be dissolved in Holy water and poured down the Sacrarium into consecrated ground. Pax

  20. James Joseph says:

    I’ve seen the brushing the hands off thing before, more than a couple of times. Here I am thinking of a certain diocesean vocations director.

    You never know why things like this happen. For instance, why was the Creed skipped, or why didn’t we do that making-crosses-thingy before the Gospel, or why didn’t a single person in 200 at my local parish genuflect even once entering or leaving the Church… I digress that’s because the Tabernacle is in literally not present…. but back to the point (if I still even have one)… why is the tri-clavanist Crucifix ‘anatomically correct’ and how come everybody stands until the last person returns from the nice lady in short pants, and why are the RCIA canidates not allowed to stay through the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and why is the baptismal font a waterfall… I mean actual waterfall… and why doesn’t a celebrant show up for Mass, and how come the Mormon guy who longs to be Catholic says that he didn’t realise there was any difference between us and the Episcopalian Church?

    Furious ranting.

  21. vivaldi says:

    ContraMundum: in my experience as a Novus Ordo Seminarian, I can say that the Seminaries no longer teach the Catholic Faith, especially the Theology of the Mass. Sure there are a few remnants of truth that are transmitted but generally the situation in the NO Seminaries is depressing at best and evil at worst. I have since left to join the SSPX. I suggest people who are subjected to the ignorance and abuses common place in the NO abandon ship and find a TLM ASAP.

  22. paxchristi says:

    Witnessing an abuse of the Sacred Particles led to a most poignant scene:

    This was in the 90’s under a heterodox pastor and his pastoral team. A special weekday Mass had just been celebrated where, during the Mass, several EMHC’s had helped the priest to break about three dozen large consecrated hosts for distribution at Communion. After the Mass, the corporals (there were two to accommodate the EMHC “assistants”) were left on the altar. An altar server came up, picked up the corporals, shook them out briskly, folded them and took them to the sacristy. There were only a few of us left in the pews and we watched in stunned shock as the fragments cascaded all over the altar and the floor in front of it.

    When the altar servers left, an elderly deacon carefully made his way to the altar, and for the next 10 minutes or so painstakingly picked up and consumed every fragment, first from the altar, and then on his knees in front of the altar. It was a beautiful witness to faith in the Blessed Sacrament.

  23. Mouse says:

    I myself have had some horrendous experiences in this regard…that is to say, in witnessing Things That Should Not Be Done or Signs That a Person Cares Not…. and may I mention one thing I really hate to see is when priests lift the consecrated host up in the air (especially when it is one of those weird large hosts) at the fraction…because in one of my Horrifying Experiences I saw from my close vantage point that the result of this is that SIZEABLE particles go flying, even beyond the corporal. And I have seen others lift the host way up in the air and do this (do they think this is dramatic or something?)…

    All the abuses we see are absolutely outrageous. One who believes Christ is THERE would never do these things.

    With all due respect to whomever respect is due, personally I feel that the Magisterium should immediately outlaw EMEs, restore or enforce mandatory use of the communion paten, and make every bishop gather all his priests for re-training in the doctrine of transubstatiation, in eucharistic reverence and in appropriate handling of the sacred host, etc…. some priests may not even know that they should purify the spot.

    Not to mention restoration of communion on the tongue…

    However, I have seen an extraordinary abuse committed by a kid who received on the tongue, so even that is not a guarantee. Faith in the Real Presence is the closest thing to a guarantee.

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