ASK FATHER: A Host was dropped, the minister did nothing, and neither did I!

12_08_08_San_Leocadio_Christ_with_the_HostFrom a reader…

I recently started reading your inspiring blog and would like to pose a question regarding what is the appropriate response to a liturgical abuse during Holy Communion. I have been plagued with guilt since the incident.

Last December, I attended a 0700 Sunday Mass at my parish. Communion was being distributed by two female Eucharistic ministers. I was in the left line about 8-9 people back from the minister when I saw the Euchariatic minister in the right line drop a sacred Host to the ground. She did not immediately stop and pick up the Host to consume it. She saw it drop to the ground and repositioned herself over the Sacred Body. One by one people processed forward walking over The Lord. I was appalled and wanted to break through my line and pick up the Host. But I did not — mostly out of fear it would disrupt the flow of Communion and bring confusion to the people and anger to the Eucharistic ministers.

While I stood in judgment of the Eucharistic ministers, who clearly violated their roles, or who were outright ignorant of what to do in a situation like this, my question is: do I need to go to Confession for timidity? Did I sin by not honoring The Lord in breaking through my line to consume the Host and ensure all broken pieces were removed from the ground and consumed? Did I perpetuate the sacrilege committed that Sunday morning?

Please advise. My heart is very much consumed with guilt even four months after the incident.

Ah… these ministers…. So many of them are, in addition to being unnecessary, unprepared and clueless though not through their own fault.  Sadly, too few pastors spend adequate time with their legions of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to explain to them how to handle situations like this (perhaps because few pastors were ever themselves taught in seminary what to do).

We all must be vigilant about abuses and sacrileges against the Blessed Sacrament. It is… or rather He is Our Lord and Savior, worthy of all praise and worship. One can hardly think of a situation wherein one could show too much deference or too much respect towards the Blessed Sacrament. Paul Comtois, the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, died in 1966, when a fire engulfed his residence. He had been privileged by the Archbishop of Quebec to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in his residence. After being reassured that his family and all guests had been evacuated, Comtois re-entered the inferno to rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel. As he was descending the stairs, they collapsed under him and he was burned alive. HERE  He wouldn’t be a martyr, in this case, by the way.  This is where the Orthodox category of Passion-Bearer would come in handy.

Polish President HostAnd do you remember the story, and video, of President of Poland, Andrej Duda who pounced protectively on a Host that had fallen and was being blown by the wind, lest it be lost or desecrated?  HERE (video)

Should he have waited for a priest to catch the Host?

In the traditional, pre-Conciliar Roman Missal there is a section dedicated to problems, things which goes awry during Mass: De defectibus.  It is useful today for the Novus Ordo, even though the Novus Ordo editions of the Missal lack such a clear section.  O tempora! O mores!   In De defectibus  – though addressed particularly to clerics, of course – we learn how to handle the situation of a dropped host. It happens, and not always because of irreverence or laziness.  Accidents can happen.

On an amusing side note, in better seminaries with good classes for the men to be ordained, there was usually discussion of how to handle situations of spiders winding up in chalices (Consume it or fish it out with your maniple pin? – Another reason to wear a maniple!), mice grabbing Hosts (What to do if you can catch the mouse? Burn it and put the ashes in the sacrarium?), Hosts accidentally dropped into an ample décolletage (Go in after It, to the amusement of all – perhaps except her husband? Let her, a layperson, fish It out, thereby touching it with unconsecrated hands? Quod Deus avertat!  Ladies, for pity’s sake, cover up.)



To your situation.  The logistics of what you described are a bit unclear. The EMHC positioned herself OVER the Host? Then how did others approaching step on, walk over the Host?

Hard to say without having been there.

To the more pressing problem.

You’ve stewed about this situation for four months?

Folks, the sacrament of penance is, even in this day and age, pretty widely available in the civilized world.

I don’t know you so I can’t say if you sinned or not.  You need to discuss this with a confessor.  However, remember that for a sin to be mortal it must concern grave matter (this did, because it concerned the Blessed Sacrament), it must be done with full knowledge (you don’t seem to have known what to do), and it must be done with full free will (you seem to have been afraid for various reasons).  I suspect you did not commit a mortal sin.  Furthermore, while we all have responsibilities to the Lord in the Eucharist you didn’t have a specific role in that moment as the priest or the EMHC did.  But … go talk to a confessor about this where you might give more details.  (That’s not a request for more from me, by the way.)

Folks, do not let your hearts be troubled by situations, or worries, or concerns for long periods of time.  GO TO CONFESSION!  Go this weekend! Let a good confessor help you untangle these situations and your particular roles in them.  Without going into long rambling detail, say what happened and express your concern.  If you think it’ll take a while, make an appointment.  Take the confessor’s advice, do the penance he assigns, pray for him, and move on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    This happened to me once, about a decade ago. I was receiving, the priest was about to place the host on my tongue, what happened I am not certain, but it fell to the floor. I immediately went over, picked it up (the only time I have ever touched the consecrated host), and consumed it. This was a novus ordo Mass, no communion rails, and no altar boy with communion-plate. I refuse to receive in the hand.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    In my time as an instituted acolyte / extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I have only ever dropped a Host once or twice, and it was always caused by the carelessness of the one receiving.

    People! Please! Either open your mouth and stick out your tongue or lay your right hand under your left hand which should be flat, not cupped. Do not attempt to grab the host like you’re a lobster, neither cup your hand as though you’re holding a baby frog. These are when bad things happen.

    Also, for EMHCs, keep the ciborium under the Host at all times. Follow the Host with it. That way, should anything happen, the Host will fall into the ciborium.

  3. Father P says:

    I do the Extraordinary Minister training in my diocese. I always make sure that the EMHCs know that the Blessed Sacrament is to be treated with the greatest care and reverence and tell them the traditional ways of dealing with a dropped Host, pick it up, consume it, cover the spot, wash the place with water and dry it with a purificator. Yet, at the same time, I assure them that Jesus from his human experience knew that bread crumbles and wine spills and in his divine knowledge knew every instance in human history in which a minister of Holy Communion would drop a host or spill the contents of the chalice AND STILL gave his Body and Blood to us under the forms of bread and wine.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    When I was an altar boy in the mid to late 1960s, the priest would place a clean cloth over the spot where the host landed. People understood that one was not to step there. The priest would return later to remove the host.

    At the other end of the spectrum of reverence, to be published on April 1:

    Manual for Eucharistic Adoration, by by The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (author), Paul Thigpen, Ph.D. (editor).

  5. Going to confession in a different parish from the one where this incident occurred is advisable; otherwise, one might well be confessing to a priest who is either directly or indirectly involved. I think of that possibility as next Monday in the New York City area, almost all parishes will have confessions from late afternoon to early evening, and this practice has been spreading.

  6. Gerhard says:

    Very good emphasis on the correct name: Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, as opposed to Ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Priests are the latter.

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z,

    Your saying, “In the traditional, pre-Conciliar Roman Missal there is a section dedicated to problems, things which goes awry during Mass: De defectibus. It is useful today for the Novus Ordo, even though the Novus Ordo editions of the Missal lack such a clear section”, got me wondering if it had ever been made available separately, with a facing English translation, and, if not, whether that would be a useful thing for someone to publish.

    Turning to Internet Archive for possible light on the subject, I was startled to discover an 1854 book, ‘One Hundred Defects of the Mass; From the Roman Missal’ which includes, on the ‘Contents’ page, the note that De defectibus is “uniformly omitted from all editions of ‘the English Missal, for the use of the Laity.’ […] We now, however, present them in the English tongue ‘for the use of the Laity!'” Since the title-page tells us that they are “Examined by the Rev. Robert Maguire, B.A. President of the Islington Protestant Institute”, I fear the book may not be very useful (though if he accurately translates the text, that might be useful, if the ‘examination’ in which the translated parts are embedded could be ignored, or somehow did not prove wildly annoying). A first unsatisfactory attempt at a general online search for a reliable English translation, does discover this 1854 book was reprinted in paperback in 2010: John McConnell has a Customer Review at Amazon “to make Roman Catholics aware of it so as to prevent its unwary purchase.”

  8. Gerhard says:

    If our Lord fell under his Cross in front of you, wouldn’t you rush to pick Him up?

  9. Reginald Pole says:

    There is a copy of Ritus Servandus & Defectibus in Latin and English available from Fraternity Publishing for $6.00 USD.

  10. I have only seen once, at my parish, our Priest’s actions when someone reported Jesus on the floor in the pews. He retrieved HIM in a very delicate manner and immediately started to cleanse the area. This did not take a few seconds either. He took his time to make sure that Our Lord, Who is every particle, was rescued. He seemed heartbroken that someone would just throw Jesus on the floor. Boy, did he teach on this for a long time.

    Patens are very important, which our Altar “boys” always use. I would say that 98% of the Communicants in our parish kneel and receive on the tongue. Those who don’t kneel are elderly or have a physical problem.

  11. HeatherPA says:

    We have a good priest and unfortunately we also have EMHCs, even though we have a relatively small parish.

    Once I observed an EMHC who was administering Eucharist drop a Host on the floor and then stoop, pick the Host up, and put the Host in his pocket.

    I asked Father about it after Mass (diplomatically, not indignantly, which is important) and he cringed and said he instructed the man after Communion about the proper protocol (the man was an old EMHC from way before Father came, and who knows what instruction-if any- he had prior).

    If you have a reverent, decent priest, you can kindly ask him directly about these matters and hopefully he will provide the proper instruction or schedule a refresher class to those who “have always been” EMHC’s
    or who received poor/little/no direction.

  12. Christ_opher says:

    I refuse to receive communion from EMHC’s. I’m part of a large Parish and our Priest refuses to have them (Thank God).

    BTW – I’m not even sure that they wash their hands before handling the Body Of Christ.

  13. Tom T says:

    The Orthodox Church has a solution for this problem. Only the priest distributes the Body of Christ on a spoon dipped in the wine and put directly into the persons mouth where it is turned upside down and received very reverently with their arms crossed. So devout and wonderful to watch. Even the smallest children receive the body of Christ as that was the tradition of ancient Christians and they do so reverently from a very early age.

  14. germangreek says:

    I am told this by good friends of mine who are Orthodox: some of the precious blood spilled on the floor during communion (I wasn’t told how that happened), and the priest immediately got to his knees and licked it up. And then covered the area with a cloth. Which would be another good reason not to have carpeting in the church.

  15. It is even more upsetting to witness a priest dropping the Host and doing nothing to make reparation for the sacrilege. Around here, a couple of new-ish priests at various daily Masses at first routinely dropped the Host. They did pick It up but, although these are reverent serious new priests, these two had no clue that the spot needed to be protected. Those receiving Communion stepped right on that same spot. Not only are new priests clueless, but also the ‘devout’ laity at a daily Mass!

    I’m not sure why priests are not instructed today to place the Host FIRMLY on the tongue [or the hand if necessary], as is the case in these particular situations. Nor does it appear that they are taught how to react and to cleanse the spot on a floor – or even to protect the spot from feet of communicants or altar boys. I am convinced that if these priests had been told, they would be horrified at their omission.
    Yes, in our dear Diocese. We have it better than most – but there’s ignorance here too.

    I can’t much blame priests or my fellow Catholics. Communion touched by any hand that is not consecrated teaches everyone this disrespect. What is the difference between an unwashed unconsecrated hand [whether Eucharistic ‘minister’ or a receiving layman] and the floor? The particles are not captured by a communion paten [and if a paten is used, its often waved around, risking the particles], nor noticed in the hands of a receiver, nor apparently, on the floor either. Or what about the priest today that does not follow the ‘deleted’ old rubrics that keep closed the thumb and forefinger that touched the Host? These rubrics don’t exist in the O.F. Novus Ordo. These oblivious priests wipe and brush and touch, [might even blow their nose on a handkerchief!] the fingers that held the Jesus Himself. And why? This is what they are taught. Everyone is taught that its okay. Throughout the Church, we have the consistent example of sacrilege. As with rubrics, this desecration is the law, is ordered to be followed?

    Years ago in this same diocese, I did witness the agony of a devout priest who stopped the Communion distribution immediately, went to the altar and found a cloth, picked up the Host, and dropped the cloth over the spot. Then he resumed the distribution. After Mass, he approached the spot weeping and kneeling and leading us in reparative prayer.
    But without an example such as this, who would think?

    I don’t receive in the hand. I cringe at the practice, as I do consider this an abuse and sacrilege. The old rules stated that touching the Host, or even anything that touched the Body or Blood, like the Chalice, was a sin, forbidden, sacrilege…These practices are now ‘allowed’. But that doesn’t change the fact that the particles are still the Body of Christ. And still I do not have consecrated worthy hands.

    Is the laity to be held responsible when sacrilege is rampant in every practice throughout the Church? I admit to despair and backing off from this heartbreaking demoralizing dilemma. Where do we start?

  16. Christ_opher says:

    I would love to see an end to the use of EMHC. If our Priest offered the opportunity in his parish for people to become EMHC there would be a large number of people that would love to have this opportunity to be given to them because they can’t accept being a disciple they need to have more power.

    As a child and as an adult I do not like their stupid smiley superficial faces, or when I have seen these types of people allow someone to wrap the body of Christ in a handkerchief and put this in their pocket.

    I cannot recall anytime receiving communion from an EMHC and I hope that neither me or my young family ever receive the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ from one of them. For a start your hands are dirty!

    I’m guessing because I am a badly formed Catholic that this nonsense entered the faith after Vatican II and most of the time that I have ever seen an EMHC the impression that I have is that the parish Priest is being held to ransom by these certain individuals that seem to think that they need to be up the front. (Mass is not a concert…. people)

    The reality is though from my experience these types of people very rarely attend confession and group together to drive out others for their own gain.

    Anyway enough said……… Good night from France ( The eldest daughter of the church).

  17. Precentrix says:

    The spoon doesn’t solve all mishaps – one of my friends once had to burn his favourite shirt after the Ssm landed in his breast pocket. Not much else he could do under the circumstances!

  18. Peyton says:

    I am an Extraordinary Minister at the local Catholic hospital, bringing Communion to Catholic patients. A dropped Host is doubly problematical, as the Host is sacred AND the floor / bedclothes / patient’s skin AND anything touching them is assumed to be contaminated. What to do? (I know what we have been told to do, but I want to bring it up as an open-ended question.)

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