ASK FATHER: “Disposing” of the Eucharist and the Sacrarium

Typical sacrarium in an American sacristy with a sign warning never to pour away the Precious Blood.

Typical sacrarium in an American sacristy with a sign warning never to pour away the Precious Blood.

From a reader…

It is my understanding that if a Communion host or the precious blood has to be disposed, it is to be poured into water to dissolve/mix with the water, then poured into a sacrarium or into the earth. My question is, what if there is an underground perforated pipe (such as for water drainage) that leads to a sewer? The contents poured into the ground could get into a perforated pipe and drain to an unwanted area. I’m not sure of any cases were this occurs, but i suppose it is a possibility. Thanks.

For those of you in Columbia Heights, the sacrarium is a special sink in a sacristy whose pipe drain goes down into the earth rather than into a septic or sewage system.   Anything that has to do with the Eucharist or other blessed objects shouldn’t be put into the sewage system.  Rather, it should be put onto or into the ground.  Hence, priests would themselves rinse sacred linens for Mass (because their hands are consecrated).  After they are rinsed then others can take care of them.  The water for the first rinsing would go down the sacrarium or, sacrarium lacking, onto the ground.

There are a couple things to consider.

First and foremost, the Eucharist must never never never be “thrown away”, simply disposed of.  That crime incurs an automatic excommunication, the lifting of which is reserved to the Holy See or those confessors to whom the Holy See grants the faculty.

In the Latin Code of Canon Law we find:

can. 1367: Qui species consecratas abicit aut in sacrilegum finem abducit vel retinet in excommunicationem latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae reservatam incurrit; clericus praeterea alia poena, non exclusa dimissione e statu clericali, puniri potest … A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; moreover, a cleric can be punished with another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state..

The word abicit, abicere, means here “throw away”, and this was clarified by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, at their plenary session on 4 June 1999, as not … not… being restricted to “throw away” in a spirit of contempt, or intent to do dishonor.  It really does mean “throw away”, which is what happens when you put a consecrated Host or the Precious Blood down a sacrarium without first making sure that the substance of the same is first broken down (by dissolving).  Precious Blood, of course, should be consumed.

That said, in the case of any objectively sinful act which incurs an excommunication (e.g. throwing away the Eucharist), there are always the circumstances to be considered (e.g., the person’s will and knowledge, external compulsion, fear, etc.).

Redemptionis Sacramentum distinguished different levels of liturgical abuses.  The worst are in the category graviora delicata (graver crimes).  Among the graviora delicta is throwing away the Eucharist (cf. RS 172).   This grave crime is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

To the question.

You have to trust that the sacrarium was made properly and that it is functioning in the intended way.

We are not obliged to tear the church building apart and excavate to verify that the sacrarium pipe is doing its job.  Nor do we have to send optics down the pipe.  If there is a sacrarium, we can be morally certain that it is doing its work.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Brendan says:

    There is an excellent book on the subject, “The Horror of the Profanation of the Most Holy Eucharist (Rebel Priests who have the Blood of Christ on their Hands)” by Fr. Mark Kreis, OSPPE, PhD. It’s readily available on Amazon.

  2. kolbe1019 says:

    Partially related… couldn’t that same canon and line of reasoning be used to restrict communion in the hand? If it is known that the humanly perceptible particles are left on the hands of communicants and that communicant knowingly or unknowingly will be discarding the consecrated species by rubbing their hands on their pants or allowing them to fall to the floor…

  3. Titus says:

    The (nineteenth-century) parish across the street long had a sink in the sacristy, which I assumed was the sacrarium. The place received a new pastor for the first time in several decades, and he had the drain scoped, yielding the discovery that the sink was not, in fact, a sacrarium: the sacrarium had been lost in a prior renovation, and the new pastor had to get an engineer to hunt under the church and find it (or maybe they wound up sinking a new one; I forget). Now there’s a proper one with a cover and all.

    I assume that everyone for whom it really mattered knew the old sink wasn’t a sacrarium the whole time . . .

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The beauty of a simple system like a sacrarium is that it really is simple. Nothing to go wrong, really.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Dear Kolbe1019,

    well, but if the communicant inspects his hands after Communion, and if necessary, purifies them with his tongue?

    (It should be noted, thought, that with the usual hosts being used, this usually does not happen, unless they have been broken in parts, in which case there often are particles.)

  6. arga says:

    In Mass in the ordinary form, a quantity of the Precious Blood is sometimes not consumed entirely. Question: Is the priest obligated to consume it all? Or is it permissible to pour it into the Sacracium?

    [NEVER pour the Precious Blood into the sacrarium. NEVER! It should be consumed by someone who is permitted to consume It: that is, after all, reception of Holy Communion! Of course it is important that priests do not consecrate more than is needed. That in itself is a good reason not to have Communion under both kinds. Or, if there is to be Communion under both kinds for some reason, not to consecrate too much: it is okay is there isn’t “enough”. However, to repeat, NEVER pour the Precious Blood down a sacrarium. NEVER.]

  7. majuscule says:

    I just downloaded the book that Brendan linked to in Kindle format.

    It starts right out with the problem of “disposing” of the Precious Blood. I did not realize that people were pouring the Priecious Blood down the sacrarium. Thank goodness that is not a problem at my church.

    Thank you Father for stressing this in bold and in red!

  8. scholastica says:

    Sadly, priests in our area do not rinse the linens after Mass. They are collected in a bag and then taken home weekly by sacristans who do the washing. Is there a tactful way to ask the priest to rinse them first?

  9. Father Z and “agra”:

    Many years ago, I was hired as a part-time sacristan in a large urban parish, one where Communion was offered under both species at every Mass. There was a considerable amount of the Precious Blood left over, and the priests would tell people to simply take it outside and pour it into the ground (when they weren’t pouring it directly into the sink).

    I knew this practice was wrong, but there had to be a remedy to protect the integrity of the Sacrament. So I took the matter under advisement with priests whose judgment in such matters were beyond reproach. When the leftover Precious Blood was brought back to the sacristy after each Mass, I would dilute each chalice to the point where the Sacred Species lost its accidental properties (in other words, to the point where most of it was water), and only then would I pour it down the sacrarium. I did this only after informing the pastor of what I was doing, and why, irrespective of what other sacristans in the rotation would do.

    No one at this allegedly progressive parish gave me any trouble over it, and eventually it became the normative practice.

    Now, if this were any other set of circumstances, I’d recommend avoiding the practice of Communion under both species altogether. There are practical reasons (to say the least) as to why it was discontinued centuries ago, and plenty of good reasons why drinking out of a common cup is a bad idea in the present century. Avoiding situations like this is one of them.

    [Once informed about this, if the priests continued, the bishop should have been immediately informed with a copy of the letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. If you ever want to see speed from Rome: inform the CDF of this kind of abuse of the Eucharist… WITH PROOF.]

  10. Filipino Catholic says:

    “…or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose…” Aha, so that fellow who stole more than a hundred Hosts for a notorious ‘sidewalk art piece’ that needs no naming has incurred the grievous sentence, or so it should go (if it hasn’t already and I’m merely behind the times). This canon is like a far more urgent and grave specific instance of canon 915, where instead of merely refusing Communion to one in a state of manifest grave sin, in this case it is latae sententiae excommunication for an actual outright sacrilege.

  11. Deacon Nicholas says:

    We Orthodox deacons consume all the Holy Gifts (or the priest does if there is no deacon).
    Our tradition is the ancient one: communion in both kinds. St. John Chrysostom is reputedly the origin of the “innovation” of using the communion spoon.
    And there is no documented case of anyone ever getting sick from communing. If anyone would get sick, it would be the deacons first of all and most of all. I consume the remaining Eucharist from two chalices every Sunday, and though I’m a great sinner, I’m a healthy one.

  12. frjim4321 says:

    Unfortunately the sacrium here no longer functions. I can get about a gallon of water down there before it backs up into the basin. Fortunately it rarely takes an entire gallon to rinse the vessels out before cleaning in the regular sink.

    I found that the old baptismal font here was also piped directly into the ground at the other end of the church. I guess that was like a sacrarium also.

    So I recently heard something quite strange. A priest friend (in another diocese, thankfully) found out that the “sacristan” for the annual parish picnic took the consecrated host home after the “picnic mass” in order to freeze them for the following year’s picnic.

    Which leads me to the conclusion that, although they are rare, incidents of mishandling the consecrated species do, in fact, occur.

  13. frjim4321 says:

    “So I recently heard something quite strange. A priest friend (in another diocese, thankfully) found out that the “sacristan” for the annual parish picnic took the consecrated hosts home after the “picnic mass” in order to freeze them for the following year’s picnic.”

    Which would tend to argue in favor of being very careful about consecrating the right number of hosts for every mass, so that reservation is restricted only to the number of hosts needed for the sick and homebound (and dying), and so that the symbolism of participating in the sacrifice that is being represented in the here and now is recognized clearly.

  14. Catharine in Aurora says:

    This sort of Eucharistic sacrilege is one of the few crimes which merit automatic excommunication for the perpetrator, with only a few exceptions. This sort of sacrilege is, alas, extremely common in the Archdiocese of Chicago where I formerly lived. I used to be a Eucharistic minister but did not renew after I was completely horrified by the kinds of sacrilegious communions which are all to common in Chicago (people coming up with chewing gum or candy in their mouths, so much for the one-hour fast!), etc.
    When they gave us training (in Archdiocese of Chicago) to become Eucharistic ministers, no mention whatsoever was made of any of this. So, I suspect, all too many Eucharistic ministers have no idea whatsoever. Also, many of the priests received extraordinarily poor formation, and sincerely believed that we no longer believe in the Real Presence, it’s just a commemorative thing. They pass along their misinformation and misunderstandings.
    Also, in the Diocese of Joliet, I have heard tell of priests telling the Eucharistic ministers to simply bury leftover consecrated Hosts (left over from visits to nursing homes, etc.) in the ground without any ado.
    I find that older, white adults are the very worst offenders in this regard. The developing trend seems to be, slowly but surely, that younger adults either take their Catholic faith more seriously than their elders, or they simply do not bother to show up at all.
    A very excellent priest named Father Mark Kreis wrote a book about the desecration of the Most Precious Blood and had to self-publish it; apparently the topic was too radioactive for any of the Catholic publishing houses to touch. It is called “The Horror of the Profanation of the Most Holy Eucharist: Rebel Priests who have the Blood of Christ on their Hands.” It was self-published in 2015 and I believe it is still available on Amazon.
    If this sort of sacrilege is taking place in your parish, perhaps one should buy up some copies and either hand them to the offenders, and/or mail them copies by certified mail return receipt requested (to prove receipt) with a copy also sent via certified mail to the diocesan chancery office and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as you suggested.
    I have found that confronting people about stopping Eucharistic abuses, of any kind, is likely to elicit a near-homicidal fury, no matter how tactful or gentle one tries to be. This is followed by denial that what you just saw occurred, just occurred; denial of the Real Presence, etc.
    The more common Eucharistic abuse which goes on all the time in Chicago is persons being handed the consecrated Host at communion time, usually by Eucharistic ministers, and instead of consuming it, shoving it into their pockets, wallets, or purses. I have personally witnessed this more times than I can count. I have asked several priests what we are supposed to do when we see this occur (in variably, I just received Holy Communion myself and was clambering back into my place in the pew when I witnessed it). Are we supposed to tackle the offender when we are supposed to be making our thanksgiving? Any help you can give on this point would be most appreciated.

  15. Spade says:

    A church near me doesn’t have one. It does have a rose garden with a statue of Mary.

    Since money is always an object, the priest uses the rose garden as a sacrarium. I’m told that is all that is ever done to the roses.

    The roses are incredible.

  16. Father Z, thou hast writ:

    “[Once informed about this, if the priests continued, the bishop should have been immediately informed with a copy of the letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. If you ever want to see speed from Rome: inform the CDF of this kind of abuse of the Eucharist… WITH PROOF.]”

    Leaving aside the difficulty of proving this, and navigating a contentious atmosphere in the parish at the time (the subject of which was chronicled in a book by Jim Naughton in 1996), I was also able to stop the practice of a rice host placed within the large ciborium used at the “family Mass” to accommodate a child with celiac disease. To wit, I informed the pastor that I would not actively impede the practice, but would inform every priest-celebrant of that Mass that invalid matter was being used for the occasion. That practice was also put to an end shortly thereafter.

    I am sure the good Father would concede that much progress has been made in the last twenty years in seeking redress from Rome in remedying grievances. Given the mixed results of an archdiocesan investigation into life in the parish at the time, so would anyone else who was there.

    Other than that, the money wasn’t too bad.

    [With something like this the “contentious atmosphere in the parish” is not a factor.]

  17. Father Z:

    “[With something like this the “contentious atmosphere in the parish” is not a factor.]”

    With all due respect, Father, one of us was there, and I believe it was me.

    Other abuses were reported at the time by others, which led to a formal investigation by the archdiocese. Meanwhile, I was able to stop two serious abuses against the Eucharist (in all humility) almost single-handedly, and without reprisal. Not bad for a young man whose wife had just left him.

  18. andia says:

    Thank you for this. I have been reduced to tears of rage at the parish I volunteer at — I am supposed to be Sacristan, “supposed” to be because I often have Extraordinary Minsters of the Eucharist (EM’s) doing the jobs a Sacristan is supposed to do and doing them badly. I pitched a fit when I saw EM’s washing the chalice in the regular sink –complete with dawn diswashing liquid- and then pouring it down the drain. Their reasoning was “there was still precious blood in it” There were actually granules in it that I wanted to ask the priest how to handle.
    I did not know about dissolving the crumbs of the Eucharist, when I get them they are too tiny to handle safely. My priest told me to put them in sacrarium and make sure they went down. I am not sure HE knew better. Sigh. I do try to do things as reverently as I can.

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