ASK FATHER: Priest doesn’t purify vessels, leaves them overnight

Mass_1st ablutionFrom a reader…

I am a university student who attends daily mass at the college parish. Every day, the priest does not purify the vessels, leaving them with the Sacred Species out for sometimes hours or all night after mass. The pastor insists that the sacristan is permitted to purify vessels, though it’s clear that one must be at least an acolyte to do so. I’ve petitioned the bishop to institute me so that I can purify them licitly, since the sacristan does a sloppy job in doing so, all to no avail. Should I purify them to avoid sacrilege?

There’s a scene in the movie The Mission in which the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament in procession, followed by women and children, while they are under assault by the Spanish military, sent to suppress the Reducciones.  The soldier hesitate at first, but then, goaded by their officers, they shoot priest who falls to the ground. A young woman picks up the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and continues the procession as the gunfire continues.

Of course, some readers out there might at this point suggest that a layperson should never carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession. Yet, (and recognizing that this film is, while quasi-historical, a work of fiction) one cannot fault the young fictional woman for showing respect and honor to Our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar, attempting to avoid sacrilege, and giving witness to her faith.

History abounds with stories of circumstances which excuse what would be in normal circumstances violations of liturgical discipline.

Sticking to movies for a moment, in that classic The Cardinal – which has great liturgical moments – we vicariously relive the horrific riot in October 1938 when a Nazi mob of 5000 stormed the palace of the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.  In a rush, the clerics seek to protect the Blessed Sacrament from desecration.  In an entirely un-liturgical way they consume the Hosts, not without reverence.  They were clerics, of course.  But you get the point.

They purified the vessel, too! How apt.

Firstly, we should all stop and say a prayer for this priest. The disrespect he shows to the Blessed Sacrament and the neglect he demonstrates for his priestly duties may indicate deeper problems. Priests are, every day, under assault from Satan. God’s grace sustains and strengthens us, but temptations are real. Priests are weak human beings. Whether this priest struggles with doubts of faith, laziness, pride – or he was appallingly poorly trained – does not matter: pray for him.

Next, it sounds you have done what should be done.  You asked the priest and found out that he, wrongly, believes the sacristan can purify the sacred vessels. You asked the bishop to institute your as an acolyte, so that you can licitly purify the vessels, and the bishop has not acquiesced. It seems to me that – given the extraordinary circumstances – you can in good conscience care for the sacred vessels and the Blessed Sacrament quietly, unobtrusively, and without fanfare.  Don’t to go about telling everyone that “Father’s not doing his job so I have to step in and do it for him”.  That would be bad for many reasons.

Meanwhile, were you to write a brief, respectful, factual, wholly objective letter to the bishop to explain the situation with a copy of the letter to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, it is possible that there could be down the line some movement in this regard.  Be sure of the facts before you write.

And don’t forget to pray for the priest.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    As a vicar, I am compelled not to purify the vessels (in Mass or out). It truly bothers me, and I have shared my concern, but my pastor is totally convinced that he can personally depute the sacristans to do the ablutions. In a previous parish, I was instructed to purify only after Mass (irritating, but technically legal). It seems to me that the ablutions, aside from the core purpose of safeguarding even the tiniest fraction of the Blessed Sacrament, when done during Mass highlight, underscore, and solidify the reality of the Real Presence.

    Were I Pope (quod deus avertat), I would mandate the ablutions be done in Mass at the altar, maybe even with both wine and water.

    Incidentally, It would also carry the extra bonus of discouraging overuse of EHMCs, as Father or Deacon or Mr Acolyte might tire of cleansing large numbers vessels if he had to do it himself.

  2. Amante de los Manuales says:

    Prudent advice like this is one reason why I visit your blog so much, Father.

    You could just as well call the site “Fr. Z’s Manual.”

    [I am also deeply grateful to the priests whom I consult when I make some of my answers. Do us the kindness of saying a prayer for us.]

  3. Fr_Sotelo says:

    The laity should step in and do the ablutions when priests refuse to, I think. As for a pastor forbidding a vicar from purifying, the vicar is in his right to completely ignore such a ridiculous order. If my pastors had dared to issue me such an order, I would have said, “I purify, or you can offer the Masses by yourself.” We don’t live in 1930, and pastors have long since ceased to be able to treat a vicar like a child, unless the vicar allows it to happen.

  4. Gerhard says:

    The ablutions are deliberately included in the Mass, and must have been for a good theological reason (and one that liberal progressives hate so much). Without knowing the official reason, in my imagination I see that mournful, quiet, respectful but hasty part of Calvary where our Lord was taken down from the Cross and washed for burial by His Blessed Mother, St John, and the holy women, and then dressed and laid in the tomb. In contrast, it cannot be because it is a good habit to do the dishes promptly after dinner.

    [… washed for burial by His Blessed Mother, St John, and the holy women, and then dressed and laid in the tomb…]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star AwardFr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. konken says:

    I can verify to the truth that a faithful and reverent purification can communicate much to the congregation about the reality of the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Before making our current parish our home, I would on occasion attend daily Mass there. I couldn’t help but notice that the priest would purify the vessels with great care and reverence– never have I seen such precision and care to make sure the job was done thoroughly. And as I watched him, I found myself reflecting on why he was taking such care, and that of course led me to more deeply reflect on Who I had just received. Indeed, I can safely say that it was this care and precision, and the reverence and faith it demonstrated, which carried over into every other aspect of the way Father celebrated Mass, was a big part of why we joined this parish.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    One of the churches I attend is a Newman Center on a university campus and years back under a former pastor they had a practice of having college student sacristans purify the vessels. I think the pastor had been told (by the bishop?) that this is not right and so he desisted, but he wanted to resume the practice and wrote to Rome for permission to let the students purify the vessels. They got a letter back confirming that no one but a priest, deacon or instituted acolyte may do so.

  7. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Articles like this are very sad. There are many outstanding priests at work in our parishes but the pedophiles and time servers seem to get all the publicity. Pope Francis is no help nor is the majority of our bishops.
    Years ago, after VII, I read that a woman lector made an unkind remark about the Blessed Mother, William F. Buckley’s sister (I forget which one) got up from her seat in the pew, walked over to the woman and slapped her in the face. I feel sure that this really happened, and maybe some of our commenters could put some details on this tragic event.

  8. Poor Yorek says:

    Not to obscure the poetic beauty of Gerhard’s post which our host acknowledges (or of the seriousness of the matter of purification of the Sacred Vessels), but the issue of the “washing” of our Lord’s body upon being taken down from the Cross is actually a critical point of some scriptural and reliquary interest, specifically vis-a-vis the Shroud of Turin. There is debate over whether Jewish custom (of the time) would have prohibited washing a bloodstained body under the circumstances of the Crucifixion which, clearly, the Shroud (if authentic) would support given the copious bloodstains on the linen: 0r, conversely, had Jesus’ body been “washed” (not annointed) then the authenticity of the Shroud is in question. The linguistic debate centers on the noun entaphiasmos and verb entaphiatzo (not sure of my phonetics here) and whether “prepare for burial” implies “washing.”

    If anyone is interested and wishes to read more, see The Resurrection of the Shroud by Mark Antonacci, Evans & Co, 2000, pp. 114-119; Appendix B; and the references cited therein.

  9. otsowalo says:

    The young woman raising the monstrance in The Mission is an image of what a patriot should do when the flag-bearer has fallen. We, as Catholics, must raise the standard of Christ when our clergy falls to the temptation of satan.

  10. Felipe says:

    Does one need special permission by the Bishop to be an Acolyte who is allowed to do this? Is this common?

  11. Nicholas says:

    This reminds me of those occurrences when a Host falls and a layperson without consecrated hands picks It up.

    That is technically allowed, but in the same vein.

  12. LeeF says:


    The position’s name is “Instituted Acolyte”, and someone, i.e. the bishop, has to do the instituting. As to whether it is common, it depends on the bishops. Lib bishops who cater to the radical feminist agenda don’t like it because only men can be candidates. Wouldn’t want to further offend all those who refuse to accept that women’s ordination is an impossibility, now would they?

  13. JamesF-J says:

    So what to say about the widespread (in the UK) abuse of EMHCs cleansing chalices after Communion at Mass (mostly women so they cannot be instituted acoloytes), and the also universal practice of them entering the sanctuary at the Agnus Dei, and not waiting until after the priest’s communion. The bishops must know about these abuses as they are so widespread?

  14. Mike says:

    There seems to be some question in this and another thread as to what laymen should do when priests don’t do their job.

    What we should do is, first, give humble thanks to Almighty God for the priests who do do their job, especially when they are persecuted for so doing; and second, put chanceries on notice, [How’s that working in Washington?] principally through support of the traditional Latin Mass, that enough is enough with the Novus Ordo lay-centered foolishness.

  15. un-ionized says:

    JamesF-J, I was surprised to see how common this is in my city, judging from parish bulletins that I examined while looking for a new parish. At one parish this is done even though the deacon there is the diocesan chancellor. I read somewhere that there is a “rule” that this is okay with a huge number of vessels but if they were serving Communion under one kind this would not be necessary, there would be at most two ciboria, one of which goes back in the tabernacle.

  16. Fr AJ says:

    This reminds me of a similar situation in our Diocese several years ago. A priest would not purify the chalices that the laity consumed the Precious Blood from due to possible germs so he instituted Holy Communion by intinction in the parish. Some parishioners complained to the Bishop who asked the priest to stop the practice of intinction. The priest asked our Bishop to institute Acoloytes to purify the chalices and he would return to offering the chalice to the laity. Our Bishop refused the request so the priest continued with intinction.

  17. The Masked Chicken says:

    If you want to see someone purify vessels in a hurry, just ask the pastor if they got rid of that dead fly in the chalice :)

    The Chicken

    [A situation covered in De defectibus. I’ve written about it HERE.]

  18. Michael in NoVA says:

    I still shudder at some of the abuses when I served as Sacristan at my campus Newman Center almost 20 years ago. A priest working on his graduate degree at the Chicago Theological would sometimes offer Mass, but he wouldn’t purify the vessels. When asked why, he flippantly responded, “I don’t do dishes.”

    While appalled at this response, I had no idea that only an instituted Acolyte or ordained minister could purify the vessels, and so I (or one of the other sacristans) would do our best to handle the vessels after Mass. May God have mercy on our ignorance and on this priest.

  19. FrPJ says:

    At the back of the missal there is a ritual for commissioning a EMHC for a single occasion due to no one else being available to assist with distributing Communion. This shows the Church has a mind to be generous with permissions to cover true cases of necessity. It seems that the inquirer in this case is dealing with a real case of necessity (avoidance of possible desecration). Why not go to a sympathetic priest and ask him to commission you as a EMHC if the bishop will not make you an acolyte? The priest could make it clear you are to function only in your own parish and only to purify vessels if he so thinks.

  20. James in Perth says:

    Father Mike Schmitz related a beautiful, sorrowful tale in his CD “True Worship” about when the Chinese Communists attacked a Catholic church and threw the contents in the tabernacle outside on the ground. The priest was under arrest but one of the young girls from the parish snuck onto the grounds ten consecutive nights.

    As she was taught – she knelt before the Eucharist making proper obeisance to the True Presence, said her prayers and took one host on her tongue without otherwise touching it as this was forbidden. On the night she consumed the last host, she was discovered and beaten to death by the soldiers. A beautiful example teaching us to know and respect what we receive at Mass on Sunday.

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