ASK FATHER: Eucharist carried into space for astronaut on the ISS. Self-communication? – UPDATE

UPDATE 5 May 2016:

Since today is seems appropriate to talk about “going up”…

From a priest:

This authorization for receiving the Holy Eucharist in space is pretty long-standing at this point. Astronaut Tom Jones mentions the Eucharistic service conducted by the three Catholic astronauts on board STS-59 in 1994. You can read about it on page 125 in his book “Skywalking,” an Astronaut’s Memoir.” Shuttle Pilot Kevin Chilton was the deputed EME, he and Commander Sydney Gutierrez and Mission Specialist Jones were the three Catholics of that crew.

Original  Published on: Apr 19, 2016

From a reader…


I’d be interested to know your thoughts from the liturgical side. Does this amount to self communicating?  I’ve never heard of this before and assume perhaps a first(Jesus first time in space since you know, creating it??)  HERE

With the help of his pastor, Fr. James H. Kaczynski of the St. Mary Church in Texas, he got special permission from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to carry 6 consecrated hosts (which can be split into 4 pieces each) in a pyx into space to consume once a week while on the International Space Station.

Well, I’ll be.

The best solution is to bring me into the space program and I will say Mass for them and conduct zero-g spiritual exercises.

This is clearly beyond the stratospheric musings of canonists and liturgists, but it could be reasonable to give permission for it.  Yes, of course, it is self-communication, unless there was an Extraterrestrial Minister of Communion about the place to distribute.  I imagine that the archdiocese laid out protocols for this, including how to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in as dignified a place as possible.  I’ll bet they dispensed from having a candle burning in the place of reservation.

It is unclear from the news articles about this whether the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston was able, himself, to grant all the necessary dispensations, or if any additional permissions were required from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  I suspect there was communication between Houston and Rome about this matter, considering the novelty of it.

I can just see the letter from the Congregation asking for clarifications: “Houston, we have a problem…”.

On the other hand, it used to be the case that men set out to voyages at sea for months at a time and then went to ports where there were no Catholic Churches.  They didn’t bring the Sacrament with them, to self-communicate.  So, was this a good idea to do?  I don’t know. It brings up the issue of what Communion is.  These days, some people have it in mind that they have to receive all the time.  I’m not judging them, but we are not obliged to receive bu once a year. Is what was done licit?  I suppose it could be, under today’s laws, etc.  That said, clearly the Catholic astronauts are not obliged to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation given that they are travelling and that access to a church is difficult.  Their pastors can commute their obligation, as per law.

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  1. Binker67 says:

    Surely not the first time in space Father!

  2. “carry 6 consecrated hosts (which can be split into 4 pieces each) in a pyx”

    To split the Sanctissimum in zero-gravity? What shape would be necessary for the communion patene to prevent parts of the Sanctissimum to drop elsewhere? How many deacons are necessary to purify a ISS?

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Marcus- If one cracked each Host inside a sealed Zip-Loc, no crumbs would be able to escape. (And they may have been packed already fractioned.) Heck, you could even have a pyx packed with a Zip-Loc lined with gold Mylar film, and that would take care of the precious metal requirement.

  4. iamlucky13 says:

    Buzz Aldrin, an Episcopalian, took communion on the moon during Apollo 11, just prior to their moonwalk. He had to keep it a secret at the time, because NASA was currently facing a lawsuit from an atheist upset that the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit (but not land) on the moon, on their own private initiative had chosen to read a Bible passage over the radio on Christmas.

    That said, according to a question and answer posted on by Fr. Edward McNamara, although Episcopalians at the time had at least similar beliefs as Catholics about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, Pope Leo XIII had previously initiated a detailed study of Anglican ordination and concluded that they did not have a valid priesthood. Therefore, it is not possible for them to perform actual consecration. I still find Aldrin’s devotion at the time admirable.

    More on the topic of Episcopalian communion:

    ” I’ll bet they dispensed from having a candle burning in the place of reservation.”

    There’s a mildly interesting scientific tangent on this. In the absence of gravity, flame acts very differently.

  5. William says:

    Even “Eucharistic Ministers” must receive the Sacred Species from another minister. A pious exercise but it’s hardly lawful for a lay person to carry about a ready supply of consecrated hosts for the purpose of self-administering. In allowing this, his pastors have cause grave scandal.

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    Does the article mention whether the astronaut will have access to a televised Mass on the Sundays he is in space? If that were the case, then he would part of the community’s worship, making him in a sense an anchorite.

    Regarding his reception of Communion, the reserved Species is analogous to the reserved Species that congregants regularly receive at Mass. It is very rare in most American parishes to consecrate the congregation’s hosts ad hoc.

  7. APX says:

    Fwiw: In the very early years of consecrated virginity, following their consecration, the newly consecrated virgin was given a 7 day supply of the Blessed Sacrament to self-communicate. Kind of like a type of a more personal consummation of the consecration.

  8. anilwang says:

    It’s unclear that self-communication happened. It’s rare that only one astronaut is in space, so it could be that one of the other astronauts were deputized as Extraordinary Astronaut of Communion.

    As for “To split the Sanctissimum in zero-gravity?”, never. Crumbs aren’t allowed so the Eucharist would have to be consumed whole.

    I don’t see how consecrated wine would ever by allowed since droplets are even worse to catch and placing them in some sort of a “juice box” wouldn’t work for both because of sacrilege and because wine would still exist within the “juice box” and it would have to be disposed of properly by a priest. Leaven bread would be even worse due to crumbs.

    So Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox have no recourse to communion in space without a priest.

    But space definitely carries it’s host of issues WRT the mass. Consecration presents problems (e.g. crumbs in zero gravity), as do weekly obligations (e.g. when is Sunday?) as does the liturgical calendar (e.g. different planets have different length of days and different lengths for their years).

    Thankfully it seems extremely unlikely that these are issues we have to worry about for the next half century. As a culture we’ve lost interest in going to space since robots are more cost effective. We also can’t stay in space more than a few weeks at a time (e.g. lose of bone density among other reasons), plants and animals don’t grow well in zero G and even if we could grow plants we haven’t yet find a way to have a completely self enclosed ecosystem. And even if we could, anyone trying to get to our nearest neighbour Mars would be fried by the radiation given off by our Sun since we don’t have shields as good as the Earth’s magnetic field.

    But eventually, it will be an issue and by that time, I’m sure there would be no shortage of astronaut priests as there are many priests in the sciences and military chaplains aren’t scarce today. The liturgy and practical aspects of consecration just need to be worked out.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    If the hosts are to be in space for six weeks, there is danger of corruption of the accidents (from mold, etc.). i don’t see how they can be properly stored.

    The Chicken

  10. Crazy off-the-wall question… inspired, if that’s the word I want, by Marcus’ eminently sensible concerns…

    Would it be permissible to infuse the matter to be consecrated with an edible ductile binding agent? I have beeswax most in mind… beeswax blessed, perhaps, with an adaptation of a blessing for candles … it would obviously be an extraordinary measure, only for extraordinary circumstances. One is naturally doubtful…

  11. Geoffrey says:

    I hope they brought an ablution cup.

  12. Mike says:

    i don’t see how they can be properly stored.

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider tells in his book Dominus Est! of Catholics in the Soviet empire who were able to preserve Hosts fbetween infrequent clandestine visits by priests. Evidently the risk of spoilage is not an insoluble problem.

  13. Tristan says:

    So presumably this did not require dispensation from the D. Orlando bishop because it’s the space station, not the moon?


  14. pelerin says:

    ‘Access to a church is difficult (in space)’ – definitely a truism!
    My husband was once in the British Merchant Navy and often had to endure many months at sea with no access to a church or Priest. His father was actually shocked to learn this and had thought that the merchant ships carried Priests! Even if many of the crew happened to be Catholic there was no spiritual provision for them while at sea. I have no idea what it is like today.

  15. medievalist says:

    Really, this question should be referred to the Holy Father who alone has “universal” jurisdiction.

  16. iamlucky13 says:

    “So presumably this did not require dispensation from the D. Orlando bishop because it’s the space station, not the moon?”

    Interesting point. On the principle that the bishop from whose diocese the voyage originates has ordinary jurisdiction, this could be a somewhat complicated question.

    With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft became the only way to get humans to the space station, including Colonel Hopkins. He would have been launched from Kazhakstan, so perhaps he should be under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Tomasz Peta of Astana?

    However, he then left that vessel. The largest proportion of the pieces of the vessel he was aboard at the time of receiving Communion, including all of the US portion of the station, were launched by the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center, so maybe it makes more sense that he would be under the jurisdiction of Bishop John Noonan of Orlando?

    Then again, with the US portion of the station under continuous control and communication from Houston for well over a decade, can this really continue to be treated as a voyage, rather than a more permanent condition of the station, and could a case be made for being under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston?

    So confused.

  17. Aquinas Gal says:

    If I were going into space, I would want to receive Holy Communion. I admire this astronaut’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; most would not have even thought of it. I’m glad he got permission.

  18. tioedong says:

    are there any other Catholic astronauts that might want to take the sacrament?

    And what about Eastern Orthodox astronauts? Would they have permission?

    The Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno carrried consecrated hosts with him when he wento to Antarctica to collecct meteorites. So there are recent precedents for this.

  19. This may be a case of technology outstripping the ability of the lawgiver to account for the expansion of the human race beyond the shackles of the earth.

    Absent demonstrated intention to the contrary, can we give this astronaut, his pastor, and Ordinary that they tried to do the right thing to accommodate a situation that was not foreseen up to this point?

  20. tioedong says:

    The comment about Anglican/Episcopal ministers not being validly priests according to Leo XIII might need updating. In recent times, some Anglicans recognized this as a problem, so many Anglican ordinations now include schismatic but valid Catholic bishops co ordaining them by laying on hands, so they could indeed trace their ordination to the early apostles.

  21. Mike C says:

    Is there any prayers during a rocket taking off with the Blessed Sacrament?

    What about:
    V: Ascendit Deus in jubilo
    R: Et Dominus in voce tubae.

    then recite Psalm 46

  22. kurtmasur says:

    Very interesting, and very interesting questions that arise from this situation…. What I wonder is if taking such a “large” supply of consecrated Hosts is even necessary… I don’t know how long the astronaut plans to spend up there in the space station, but I would assume that sooner or later (more sooner than later) he will eventually not be in a state of grace in order to properly (auto) communicate, i.e. he would eventually be in need of going to confession while still up there. Assuming the astronaut will not be willing to communicate while not being in a state of grace, would he get a dispensation from confessing in person (for obvious reasons) so that he could confess via satellite? Or would he get a dispensation from having to confess at all while he’s up there? (a deferred obligation to confess, if you will, whereas he’d be obligated to confess immediately upon returning to Earth?)

  23. I once read somewhere — cannot of course remember where — that during the Church’s earliest days, under the persecutions of the Roman emperors, Christians were allowed to carry the consecrated Species to consume as Viaticum in case they were arrested. If this is true — and I don’t doubt that the exigencies of the time gave rise to practices that would not ordinarily be permitted today — it would at least show that self-communication could be permitted in certain rare circumstances.

  24. Maltese says:

    There is no such thing as bad publicity–at least this story highlights the astronaut’s devotion to the Eucharist. We should be happy we have Catholics in space, which the Russians never had.

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Vacuum-packing the Hosts in separate little gold Mylar bags would resist spoilage and save packing space. Then you could separate out the unpacked one and keep it in the gold Mylar-lined Zip-Loc. (You could even imprint appropriate art designs on the gold Mylar exterior sides.)

    And with zero-gee and a bunch of baggies, you definitely would not need to touch the Host in order to receive.

  26. Volanges says:

    The problem of self-communication is taken care of by celebrating a “Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest”. In that celebration the EMHC self-communicates before distributing Communion to the faithful. In this case there may not be any other faithful in attendance.

  27. kurtmasur says:

    @Anita, If true, that would indeed be a good precedent for auto-communication. However, maybe I’m missing something, but how does confession figure into this if one is “exiled” away and thus unable to go to confession? Does canon law allow for a dispensation for communicating without going to confession on the condition that one confesses immediately as soon as they are no longer “exiled”? This is what came through my mind and the basis for my comment above. It would be my wild guess that such a conditional dispensation for communicating doesn’t exist. Fr. Z, any thoughts on this?

  28. Sonshine135 says:

    Were NASA to make you the Orbiting Priest, we would need to outfit your portable altar with some Velcro, otherwise, your altar cards would float all over the sanctuary. I quite imagine that there would have to be some changes to the procession, the chalice, and the ablutions as well.

  29. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Isn’t reception of Holy Communion in the hand, whether on earth or in the heavens, an act of self-communication? (assuming the communicant then consumes the Host)

  30. FrJohnDowney says:

    It’s my tiny opinion that this is a good thing. This reminds me of a story in which a Church was on fire and the Firefighters grabbed the Tabernacle, used a steel wedge and a hammer to pry it from the marble altar and carry it out of the Church. They didn’t have time to get permission from a Bishop, but asked the Pastor what to do. He said “Get the Tabernacle out!” and they did. Sometimes even Protestant firefighter can carry the Blessed Sacrament. I know this is a bit different, but it’s an extreme situation that calls for “out of the ordinary” responses. I am glad that the Astronaut thought of this. And though it is true that we are not obligated to receive Holy Communion every day or every week, Im not much of one for just doing the minimum when it comes to what Jesus tells us to do.

  31. The Masked Chicken says:

    Why not spiritual communion?

    As for the vacuum-packed Baggie thing – does the Church have a set of tweezers-like devices for use when hands cannot touch the Eucharist, because transferring it to the baggie thing with hands would contaminate it.

    Of course, there would be no danger of self-communication if at least two of the astronauts were Catholic, eh? How many Catholic astronauts are there? Is the astronaut corps a fertile ground for evangelization :)

    The Chicken

  32. Andrew says:

    The Eucharist is not a toy. It is not a vitamin. It belongs to the Church. It cannot be privatized. It cannot be unattended and un-adored. It cannot be endangered. This is wrong on so many levels.

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You wrote:

    “The Eucharist is not a toy. It is not a vitamin. It belongs to the Church. It cannot be privatized. It cannot be unattended and un-adored. It cannot be endangered. This is wrong on so many levels.”

    Of course, you are right and this is a sober warning. Permit, me, however, to lighten the mood with a little Chicken teasing:

    Hey, I’m all for having a perpetual adoration chapel in space. Why doesn’t the Vatican become the true trend-setter it was meant to be? We’ve got an observatory. Why not a launch pad? Are priests forbidden from applying for the space program? I suppose retired astronauts are allowed to become priests. That would be an interesting religious Order to start. Their motto: become a priest-astronaut. You might never become Pope, but you will rise higher than you ever thought you could…


    “Become a priest astronaut and discover Heaven in the heavens.”


    Do you have the Righteous Stuff to become a priest-astronaut?

    I wonder what the name of the Order would be?

    The Order of the Holy Blast-off?

    The Space Stations of the Cross?

    [Tongue-out of-beak]

    The Chicken

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  34. jhayes says:

    Volanges, the original article mentions that a communion service was celebrated in space back in 1994:

    Such practices of faith, especially among Catholics in the astronaut corps, is hardly unusual. In 1994, astronauts Sid Gutierrez, Thomas Jones and Kevin Chilton, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, celebrated a Communion service on the shuttle flight deck 125 miles above the Pacific Ocean


    Regarding Hopkins more recent trip (2013), it seems to say that the hosts were broken into four pieces before the trip.

    the rookie astronaut carried a pyx with six consecrated hosts broken into four pieces. It was enough so that he could take Communion once a week for the 24 weeks he was aboard the ISS.

  35. norancor says:

    I have to agree with Andrew. This is an UNIMAGINABLY bad idea on a dozen different levels. My head is spinning with all the ways this is just an UN-BELIEVABLY BAD idea.

    Mal. Mal. Muy, muy mal.

  36. tzabiega says:

    I have a related question: I understand confession over the phone, Skype, etc. is considered invalid. But could a dispensation be given to an astronaut who, for example, is at the Space Station for several months, or if there is imminent danger of death because of something going wrong during a space flight?

  37. Supertradmum says:

    I think this is cool…Jesus Incarnate in the Presence of the Host as King not only of Earth, but of the Universe. As to Inter-communion, rare cases are approved by Rome. Perhaps Rome did approve.

    If I were in space, I would want Communion.

    Father Z, btw, one of my brothers and I were interviewed right after Sputnik, at the library, for our kid-views. We were very young, but so precocious, the journalist of our local newspaper came to our home and took our photos there. I said I wanted to be a airline hostess on a space ship.

    Well, that did not happen…..

  38. frjim4321 says:

    Fascinating about communion in space and lunar orbit. I’m thankful for this link since it’s the only place I saw it … this would be a good homily piece.

  39. Anthony says:

    Well, it seems that the Eucharist is boldly going where it has not gone before…

  40. Gilbert Fritz says:

    In the early days of the Church, it seems that Catholics could even take the Sacrament with them on travels; I guess a trip to space is the ultimate trip.

  41. Geoffrey says:

    I think this is fascinating and a good thing, so long as all of the norms were observed or necessary dispensations obtained. I do think that the “splitting” of Hosts should have been avoided, due to sacred particles floating about in zero gravity.

  42. jacobi says:

    I agree Father, the Church requires us to receive Holy Communion once a year and that at Easter or hereabouts. Mariners and others such have always been excused. There was no need for any special arrangements to be made for this spaceman. A Spiritual Communion would in my humble opinion have sufficed if he was that keen.

    As it is the Hosts must have been carried in un-blessed vessels and handled by un-annointed hands.

    Not at all satisfactory and he could easily have waited until he got back down. Strikes me as a bit of an unfortunate stunt!

    And one thing more Father, before you volunteer to become a space-priest, do you have a good head for heights?

  43. Phil_NL says:

    A couple of observations:

    – Doesn’t NASA normally irradiate food before sending it up? (as a precaution against germs etc.) On the one hand, that would take care of the mold issue (and similar), on the other hand, you wouldn’t want to have the irradiation after consacration, obviously. A quick check doesn’t say anything conclusive if the practice is still used on all food.

    – Comparisons with ships from the age of discovery are a bit off. Don’t forget we were talking about sailing ships, which had loads of rocking movement, and a very substantial chance of shipwreck – much higher than even early space missions. Not to mention that on such wooden ships, both rats and starvation were commonplace. It seems reasonable to say that the risk of profanation on a ship was substantially higher, and exceeding some vague threshold a modern space mission does not.

    – As for self-communicating: in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, if you’re the last Catholic standing, would you simply abstain from the Eucharist because of this? I very much doubt it. For all practical intents, a space mission gone sour will lead to the same situation (chance of something going wrong is small, but if – quod Deus avertat – there would be a severe loss of oxygen, or the ISS knocked out of orbit, there’s basically nothing one can do but wait and die). Therefore I see no fundamental problem with it. One has to weigh how one wants to balance the reverence of not self communicating with the alternative of not receiving for months, but frankly, that seems a highly personal choice which could go either way.

  44. Praynfast says:

    Many of you sound like you are guilty of scrupulosity.

    Fr. Z., I am glad you are not my pastor! You often subtly suggest not receiving the Eucharist as opposed to suggesting one stay in a state of grace and receive daily.

    God help us all – our Church is led by a bunch of liberal hippies on one side and a bunch of scrupulous irrational Eucharist removers on the other side.

    Scrupulosity and liberal Catholicism often have the same results! Anti-Christ results is what they are…but covered with “good” intentions! Remember, Luther spoke Latin!

    [You seem unhappy here. Best wishes!]

  45. Imrahil says:

    What Phil_NL said.

    Will the astronaut be able to acquire a plenary indulgence each time he self-communicates in the first three weeks of his journey?

    (Of course, he would have Confessed round-about last thing he did before take-off.)

  46. Giuseppe says:

    If there were Mass in Space, what direction is liturgical East? Probably would just face the sun (Son)?

  47. pseudomodo says:

    If the astronauts were both EMHC’s then the self communicating thing is taken care of.

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