ASK FATHER: Deacon consumed unconsecrated Hosts which dropped to the floor

deacon_dalmatic_02From a reader…


At Mass on the Assumption, the lady carrying the hosts for the offertory was unable to carry the container level (appeared to have Parkinson’s and was shaking) and dropped several on the floor. The deacon noticed, and picked up the dropped hosts (unconsecrated) and consumed them. Did this not break his fast?

First, if her hands shook to that extent, it might have been kinder not to make her carry something.  Getting people involved often involves a lot of sentimentality.  But that’s not the primary point here.

If, at the offertory, the deacon consumed unconsecrated hosts that had fallen, then, YES, he broke his Eucharistic fast.

It might have been a simple, thoughtless reflex action.  See host on floor. Pick up. Consume!

Of course it should have been obvious that they weren’t yet consecrated.

Also, remember that the law requires a fast of one hour before Communion.  I doubt that an hour would then pass between that moment and the time of Communion.   It might have seemed like an hour, depending on what they did in that church.  But if an hour did pass, then he was alright to receive at that Mass.

Perhaps the deacon then did not receive Communion at that Mass.  But he probably did.   It seems these days that there is a kind of maniacal need to receive Communion at every Mass, such that people who know they shouldn’t go, go to Communion anyway.  However, sadly for many in many places, Communion time has become that moment when they put the white thing in your hand and then you sing the song.  But I digress.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says in can 919 §1:

“One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion”

Moreover, §3 says that elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast.   Of course, in the case of danger of death, the fast obviously doesn’t apply.

However, those don’t apply to this deacon.

Additionally, can. 89 says that priests and deacons cannot dispense someone’s obligation for the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop has expressly granted them to do so.   Of course even if they did have that faculty, they can’t dispense themselves.

Yes, he broke his Eucharistic fast.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. pelerin says:

    Strange. On reading the headline my first thought was actually not about breaking the fast although perhaps it should have been. My first thought was WHY the deacon thought it necessary to eat the UNconsecrated hosts. Surely this was not necessary?

  2. TonyO says:

    On the optimistic side, perhaps the deacon qualifies as “elderly” and therefore qualifies for the exception to the hour fast.

  3. Your answers are sound, of course, but this deacon needs a sit-down. Consuming these hosts at all was utterly unnecessary, and even they had been consecrated, would have been quite unwise. Consumption of the Species, outside of liturgical reception, is called for only to prevent sacrilege, which was not a risk here. The better response in such cases is dissolution in water, and pouring into clean earth. Unconsecrated hosts can be tossed in the trash (although maybe in such a way as to not confuse passer-bys.) I advise folks never, outside of emergency, to consume even particles of h/Hosts found here or there. The risk of dirtiness, and even of tampering, is too high.

  4. wised says:

    On a related observation, does chewing gum during mass break the Eucharistic fast, and if so, why has this habit become accepted in some parishes?

  5. Ecce dubium novum, Pater. Consumptio Eucharistiae, frangit ipsamet jejunium Eucharistiae? Tibi gratias, ego Eduardus.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I guess the moral of the story is that reflexive piety is a good habit; but occasionally your reflex will backfire. So we have to remember why we do things, and pick out exceptions to the rule.

    But overly reflexive piety is not the worst problem to have!

  7. EC says:

    I was faced with a similar situation once (right before distribution was to occur) and made the same decision… I did not see an easy way to prevent scandal while “in the moment,” as I guess I was unsure where I could place the host without shocking communicants. Then, on the altar before distributing, I received because… “WHY do you think that guy didn’t receive!? I wonder what sin he did, it must have been baaaaaad. And he is giving out Communion!!!?” Etc. It all happened very quickly, and there were no attending canonists serving Mass!

    In the future… Into the pocket it goes.

  8. yatzer says:

    At Mass one time a grandchild of about 6 somehow received the host at communion time and came to me looking confused about what to do with it. I didn’t know either and I’d already received communion. The safest thing to do seemed to be to consume the host myself. I hope it was OK.

  9. Paul says:

    In this case firstly we don’t know if the deacon received Holy Communion so no one is in a position to criticise nor should we. As our Lord says, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Have none of us ever done something instinctively when a situation arises that doesn’t grant us time to reflect on the best course of action??

  10. Dafyd says:

    Based on can 919 §1, the deacon in question broke a fast. That conclusion raises an immediate question: What response is warranted?

    I’d imagine based on the intent and various mitigating circumstances, it would require at most a moment of gentle, collegial mentoring by a / the priest in private. Is that what is meant by “a sit down,” for example, or does the occasion demand a firmer response?

  11. Gabriel Syme says:

    sadly for many in many places, Communion time has become that moment when they put the white thing in your hand and then you sing the song.

    That’s sadly true, Father.

    Pope Francis is always banging on about how the Eucharist isn’t “a prize for the perfect”.

    But instead many in the modern Church treat the Eucharist as “a prize for mass attendance”. This is exactly in the same manner as how the dentist gives my infant daughter a sticker as a reward, at the end of her check-up.

    there is a kind of maniacal need to receive Communion at every Mass

    Indeed. When I moved from the modern Church to tradition, I was at first shocked to learn that: (i) there are conditions to receiving the Eucharist properly and (ii) we might choose not to receive, having discerned what state our soul is in.

    Prior to this my experience was that everyone just trooped up for communion (in the hand, naturally) without thought. This was so ingrained in me, that I actually found it quite difficult the first time I chose not to receive at mass.

    At Catholic school (1980s) what we were taught in preparation for 1st Communion was only that receiving in the hand was “just the same” as receiving in the proper manner and that “no-one can stop you” receiving in the hand. My own experience of Catholic school makes me wonder if it would not be better to send my daughter to a secular school.

  12. frjim4321 says:

    I remember a situation at a parish (where I was not assigned) and during which there was some confusion after a mass as to whether a particular ciborium had been consecrated. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that such a thing should have never occurred, there was some kind of explanation for the fast that there there were a few hundred hosts that might have been consecrated, or might not have been. So what do you do? It seems the only reasonable thing would be to include those hosts at an immediately subsequent mass and “conditionally consecrate” or “reconsecrate” them. [No. You don’t conditionally consecrate or, quod Deus avertat, reconsecrate.] So, if possibly consecrated hosts were somehow being prepared or brought to the altar at the appropriate time and some of them fell, consuming them would be the prudent course of action.

  13. Fr. John says:

    Question from an observer:

    In the Catholic Church, are celebrating clergy obligated to commune?

    In the Orthodox Church, laity have no obligation to commune, but serving clergy do. We’re strictly forbidden from serving and not communing.

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