ASK FATHER: Who should cleanse vessels during Mass?

first ablutionFrom a reader…


My priest barely pours water into one chalice and swishes it in all four to cleanse. He consumes it and doesn’t wipe them out but passes them over to the Eucharistic Ministers to wipe out after Mass. Is this acceptable?

Purification, or cleansing of a vessel includes the addition of water (and, necessarily wine in the Extraordinary Form), the consumption of that water, and the careful wiping out of the chalice or ciborium. If the priest has other Eucharistic Ministers to assist him with the purification, no problem: Eucharistic Ministers, by definition, are bishops and priests with deacons as Ordinary Ministers of Communion. If, on the other hand, he is having Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) assist him with the purification of the vessels at the altar or at the credence table, that would be an abuse. If he has an instituted Acolyte assist him with in the sacristy after Mass, that would be acceptable.

Under normal circumstances it is neither hard nor time consuming to purify a chalice and ciborium. This is done all the time. Father should do it on the spot, at the altar, after Communion. Alas, the often unnecessary multiplication of lay distributors of Communion also multiplies the hardware to be cleansed. Reduction or elimination of unnecessary of EMHCs would reduce the number of vessels to be purified, which could, in turn, help to reduce the temptation of committing other liturgical abuses in regard to their purification.

Also, Fathers, please do be careful and diligent in the purification of vessels! I occasionally find particles on patens and in ciboria and chalices that were clearly cleansed in a sloppy, inattentive manner.

Moreover, priests and sacristans alike should ensure that purificators are made of good and absorbent material, such as linen. Once in a while I am confronted with a purificator which seems to be made of Gortex or some other water repellent fabric. All they seem to do is push the droplets around.

Don’t skimp on altar linens. Get the good stuff.

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  1. Rellis says:

    While what’s discussed here is the bigger problem and absolutely must come first, I would throw in the opposite problem seen from time to time: purification OCD.

    This happens when a priest purifies a vessel (usually a chalice) WAY more than is apparently necessary to get the job done. As a layman, I’m obviously no expert here. But some priests seem to do two or three times the work needed (likely as a corrective to the sloppiness they see in brother priests).

    As a parent with squirmy young kids, purification OCD is a minor irritant. Obviously, it pales in comparison to sloppy purification/desecration.

    [Sorry, but unless you are up there at the altar, looking into the chalice, you really can’t know what the priest has to do.]

  2. Matt Robare says:

    One of the things I’ve always wondered is “How do they clean the purificators?”

  3. JBS says:

    “Redemptionis Sacramentum” (154) seems to restrict the term “Eucharistic minister” to priests, and denies its use in referring to both deacons and laymen: “As has already been recalled, the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest. Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the Priest alone.”

  4. Matt Robare says: How do they clean the purificators?

    Traditionally, the priest does the first rinsing of these linens, usually in a large bowl or similar. That water then is poured down the sacrarium or poured onto the ground. It doesn’t go down a common drain and into a sewer or septic system. After the linens have been rinsed the first time, they can then be laundered as usual.

    The idea here is similar to why only the ordained handle sacred vessels. The hands of the priest have been consecrated to handle sacred things. Deacons do so, because of their ministry. Therefore, it was customary for altar servers and sacristans who were not ordained to put on gloves when handling sacred vessels.

  5. Frank H says:

    Matt, at my parish the used purifactors are put in a bowl of water next to the sacrarium to soak for a good few hours. Then that water is poured into the sacrarium and the purificators are washed, dried and ironed by a sacristan volunteer.

  6. JBS says:

    Are we still allowed to add wine in purifying the chalice? I know the previous missal explicitly permitted this, but I haven’t found it in the 2002 edition. Alcohol is a purifying agent, so it makes sense to use it.

  7. JBS says: add wine in purifying the chalice? I know the previous missal explicitly permitted this

    Not quite. The 1962 Missale Romanum explicitly requires this. Both wine and water must be used in the Extraordinary Form, in a two-fold ablution: first, a small amount of wine, which is consumed, and then wine and water over the fingers into the chalice, which is consumed.

    In the Ordinary Form, I don’t see any reason why both can’t be used. As a matter of fact, I purify in the traditional manner, with the double ablution.

  8. Johnny Domer says:

    It was a source of consternation to me when, as an altar boy, I would see priests (including good, devout priests who offered Mass in the older form) “purify” ciboria without using any water–i.e., just by wiping the inside of the “cup” of the ciborium with a finger. Is this/was this permitted? It just seems obvious that you’d miss a lot of Eucharistic particles that way (and, to be frank, they did). I could understand doing this for the server’s paten (which almost never actually touches a Host) and maybe even the priest’s paten (which only touches one, and is flat and fairly easy to wipe off), but there are so many small fragments that stick to the inside of the cup of the ciborium, it just seems silly not to use water.

  9. Deacon Don says:

    A subtle change occurs when a Deacon is at Mass …. from the GIRM

    183. When the distribution of Communion is over, the Deacon returns to the altar
    with the Priest, collects the fragments, should any remain, and then carries the chalice
    and other sacred vessels to the credence table, where he purifies them and arranges them
    as usual, while the Priest returns to the chair. Nevertheless, it is also permitted to leave
    vessels needing to be purified on a corporal, suitably covered, on the credence table, and
    to purify them immediately after Mass, following the Dismissal of the people.

    247. The Deacon reverently drinks at the altar all of the Blood of Christ that remains,
    assisted, if the case requires, by some of the concelebrants. He then carries the chalice
    to the credence table and there he or a duly instituted acolyte purifies it, wipes it, and
    arranges it as usual (cf. no. 183).

    The instructions for “The Purification” are provided as well:

    279. The sacred vessels are purified by the Priest, the Deacon, or an instituted acolyte
    after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification
    of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then consumed
    by whoever does the purification. The paten is wiped clean as usual with the purificator. Care is to be taken that whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ after the
    distribution of Communion is consumed immediately and completely at the altar.

  10. JohnS says:

    At a funeral mass last week, the vessels were not cleaned during mass and left on a table off to the side. After Communion, the remaining hosts were left on the same table instead of placing them in the tabernacle, which at that church is quite a ways from the altar. Before the closing rites, though, the priest talked about a custom at that parish to have the name of the deceased put in a book and have the book kept by the tabernacle. The book was a glorified 3-ring binder and the altar server then slowly processed this book back to the tabernacle. I can’t understand showing this kind of reverence for a 3-ring binder over the actual presence of our Lord. I’ve thought about writing a letter to the parish, but I’m not sure if that’s the best approach.

  11. Michael says:

    I’m curious – what is the reasoning for the Extraordinary Form purification with wine? Is there some theological significance?

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It would seem that there was a sort of descent of nobleness of substances. First you purify the chalice and the priest’s/deacon’s mouth with regular wine when he consumes that bit, and then you introduce water into the process.

    Also, the regular wine was right there. It’s a lot easier to dilute the accidents that act like wine with regular wine, so that then you know for sure that you are dealing with regular wine and not the Precious Blood.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Substances as in “different kinds of stuff,” not as in the theological sense. Sorry.

  14. mrsmontoya says:

    I have observed more priests regularly cleansing the vessels themselves, at the alter. A happy change here in the SF Bay Area.

  15. frsimonpbex says:

    I recall the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments revoked (or did not renew) the temporary indult (permission) for EMHC purifiing the sacred vessels in 2006, so after 8 years there really isn’t any legitimate excuse that could be made for the practice continuing.

  16. majuscule says:

    Very timely post. But I don’t know how to pass this on to our priests in our Ordinary Form parish. One priest (who loves the EF) consumes any extra precious blood himself and is thorough in purifying the vessels at the altar. Another wants the EMHC to consume any precious blood, then he purifies the main chalice and the EMHC purifies the other chalice (only two at this church). And a third, newer priest once did not purify anything and we are still trying to figure out what he wants. We really need one consistent and correct procedure. The priest who appears to me to be doing it correctly is not the pastor.

    We have no sacrarium. (It’s a small church!) Someone takes the purificators home to launder, after first soaking and pouring the water out on the ground. At one point it was suspected that someone was putting purificators and lavabo cloths (not sure that’s the correct term) back in the drawer if they didn’t appear used!

    I recently bought new ones at the church supply. They were linen, nicely embroidered and hemmed and quite reasonable–made in India. I like the look and feel of linen! And yes, I am often the one who irons them.

  17. Gregorius says:

    Ah, purifying the vessels. Some of my contemporaries sometimes refer to it (half-jokingly) as ‘washing the dishes’. Me? I’d prefer to call it ‘getting the blood and body-parts off the implements of ritual sacrifice’. Sounds much cooler that way….

  18. Tantum Ergo says:

    As a sacristan for our parish’s TLM, it is common, but rather embarrassing, for me to have to point out to the priest particles remaining on the sacred vessels. Sometimes, these are not discovered before he leaves. I know it is not my “job” to cleanse the vessels, but it has to be done by someone. I would much rather a priest “OCD” in purifying than to not grasp the importance of caring for the Lord’s Body with due honor and respect.

  19. Nora says:

    Water resistant purificators can be created even from linen ones if a fabric softener is used. The dryer sheets are especially bad about interfering with absorption. The softener’s coating can be removed by soaking the linens in ammonia – about a cup to the gallon works without being overwhelmingly smelly.

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  21. frjamesomaha says:

    I don’t see where you prove that drying the vessels constitutes part of purification. The point in a clergy person purifying is to protect the Body and Blood of Christ. If the Blood has been diluted and consumed, along with particles, and they no longer remain, then what prevents and lay minister from drying the vessels? Please show where the Church refuses this.

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