QUAERITUR: What to do if a bug gets into the chalice?

A young priest writes:

Last weekend after a somewhat fiery homily of exposition of evil and the devil I had a run in with a menacing fly (assuming not Beelzebub himself). At the epiclesis a very large fly dive bombed into the chalice (it may be helpful to mention I NOW use a pall, and it’s the middle of winter where I preside, flies aren’t common.. just sayin’.) The question then is what is the “completion”, if you will, of transubstantiation, and what is the proper course of action to take if interrupted (by a menacing insect) during the epiclesis and before the words of institution?? I have my own thoughts (ie. theology between East and West) and input from fellow priests (which vary) so will let the expert reply to clarify confusion.. Thank you!!
A baby priest (7 mos.) seeking nothing but the Truth

There is a lot of blather out there about the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer being consecratory. But we have been taught for years that the decisive words are “Hoc est corpus meum… Hic est sanguinis mei…”. So, I would go with that.

Your question with the fly was handled deftly in the past in the section of the pre-Conciliar Roman Missal called De defectibus. There were instructions about what to do if a fly or spider or other uninvited critter made its way into the chalice either before or after the consecration of the Precious Blood. I have written in more detail about that HERE, but here are a few pointers.

If a fly, or a spider, perhaps chatting with the aggressive fly, should with devilish cunning – as you suggest – jump into the chalice after the consecration, and you can’t bring yourself to drink it down, the intruder is to be fished out with a pin, set aside for the moment, burned, and put down the sacrarium.

I used to think all the directions in De defectibus were rather amusing until in my little 700-year old church in Velletri one day I had the very same scenario.  I uncovered the chalice just as Itsybitsy lowered itself into the chalice from on high.  I used the pin holding my maniple on to spear it and, the rest is flaming history.

Yet another reason to use a maniple!

Solutions to many scenarios are spelled out in the front part of the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum.

Once you get the basic principles (with just about everything wound up burned and going down the sacrarium), you can extrapolate all sorts of solutions to scenarios not covered in the Missal.  At a very clerical supper one night we mused about the possibility of a mouse dashing across the altar after the consecration and making off with a Host. Our solution was to bless a cat, put a white stole on it, send it after the mouse, and when the cat came back, burn the cat and put the ashes down the sacrarium.

In any event, you know understand the wisdom of the pall over the cup of the chalice.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. off2 says:

    I should have thought a purple stole on the cat would have been more appropriate. The puss would not be an EMHC, but a mitigator of a sacrilege. Penitential purple?

    Enuf! Off to DL.

  2. FrCharles says:

    Having known various cats, my guess is that the most impracticable part of this procedure would be getting it to put on the stole. Even if you could do it, I think it would be wise to omit the vesting prayer, as the cat never had any immortality to lose.

  3. Andy Milam says:

    The two most important things to take out of this soliloquy and there is no burning….

    1) Always, always pin your maniple, even if there is elastic. (BTW, never go without your maniple; it’s like going to a baseball game without a glove)

    2) Always, always use a pall. (BTW, it’s like going to a knife fight with a banana)

    God loves both maniples and palls. Just sayin’….

  4. irishgirl says:

    I’ve always wondered what the ‘procedure’ was for this very situation (bugs falling into the chalice).
    Well, now I know!
    Thanks for the ‘solution’, Father Z! ; )

  5. Pingback: What to Do if a Bug Gets into the Chalice? « Fr Stephen Smuts

  6. mibethda says:

    Would not the color of the stole be dependent upon whether the Mass in which the errant mouse worked his mischief was OF or EF? In the case of the latter, since the cat would be charged with presiding over the obsequies of the mouse, black would seem to be appropriate.

  7. Pingback: THURSDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | ThePulp.it

  8. acardnal says:

    As you mentioned Fr. Z, it is one reason to use the Pall on top of the chalice.

  9. Charles E Flynn says:

    This discussion reminds me of a remark made by one of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary at the St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center, Boston:

    “Jesus knew the risks he was taking when he instituted the Eucharist.”

  10. i think if I were Scottish I would grab the fly by the wings and then command it “Ok now spit it up.”

  11. pfreddys says:

    Oh no! You couldn’t do that to a putty tat!

  12. Philangelus says:

    I asked a priest once, and he grinned and said, “Bottom’s up!” Apparently it had happened to him once and that was his decision.

    On a related note, my very first blog post was written after I found a spider drowned in the Holy Water font. My entry was a Deep Theological Question: did that make the spider a martyr?

    (I removed the spider from the font. I didn’t bury it or burn it.)

  13. Cool Catholic says:

    “… send it after the mouse, and when the cat came back, burn the cat…”
    Errr… Burn the mouse, not the cat.

  14. Pingback: To swallow a fly… « The Anchoress

  15. Dr. K says:

    “I asked a priest once, and he grinned and said, “Bottom’s up!” Apparently it had happened to him once and that was his decision.”

    I wouldn’t recommend that course of action if we were to substitute fly for bee! :-)

  16. edm says:

    In my Episcopal parish we have a beautiful tiny spoon for cases such as this. It was donated in the 1890s and is very delicate. It has a bowl section which is totally made up of a grapes and leaves motif and also completely pierced. The work is so fine that if one were to just look at the spoon it would not look like open-work. However, it would be pretty easy to fish out anything from the chalice if it fell in. Then…fire and piscina time! We also have a second spoon for the same purpose, also nineteenth century, but not as fine workmanship. In the many years that I have served at mass I have never seen them used. They are always put on the credence table and then removed, but never have we had to bring them to the celebrant. I wish I knew how to get a picture of them on here. They are interesting!

  17. SimpleCatholic says:

    I remember hearing a suspiciously similar anecdote from a certain “Signaturial” Cardinal back when he was just a (not eminent but still super excellent) bishop. We could tell by the twinkle of his eye and his mischievous grin as he said “burn the cat” that he was loving the response. What a great sense of humor he has.

    One might want to be careful about laughing too loudly at this now, as I understand our beloved Papa Benedict is quite the cat lover!

  18. tioedong says:

    when I worked in Africa, a poisonous snake fell from the Christmas decorations onto the altar. The priest took it in stride, but the people all fled, and blamed the snake on witchcraft, since a common practice for witches to kill someone is to put a snake into your house.

  19. EucharistLove says:

    After a long work day, I sit down to see what Fr. Z has to say and I read about a flaming cat. Absolutely hilarious!

  20. kallman says:

    Since an insect such as a fly carries viruses of disease if it infects the sacred species should it be reserved to go down the sacrarium and a new chalice prepared so as to not give the celebrant an infection? When de Defectibus was written would the spread of viral disease by flies have been known?

  21. Margaret says:

    Follow the pingback to The Anchoress’ website above— Fr. Longenecker tells a great story about an exorcist in a similar situation…

  22. kat says:

    Thanks for pointing out the pingback; that was great! Such faith that priest had! I hope it’s a true story. I sent it on to priests I know!

  23. skull kid says:

    This was the funniest thing I read all day.

  24. Eric says:

    Any plan that involves burning cats sounds good to me.

  25. Supertradmum says:


    Oh dear, you need to immediately repent, go to my blog, and adopt a cat from the link at the bottom. Cats are sublime…

  26. NoTambourines says:

    Reason #732 I love this combox: No humor-impaired person said “Well, I never, Father!”

    As for me, don’t tell my 2 cats I laughed at this.

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    Sounds like an old, old joke about a Southern preacher who was going to preach on the Holy Spirit, and stationed his young son in the attic to release a white dove on cue.
    Well, he gave the cue . . . nothing happened, he gave it louder . . . nothing happened . . .
    Finally, his son stuck his head through the attic hatch and called, “Cat done ate the bird, should I t’row down the cat?”

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