ASK FATHER: What happens to the Eucharist if the priest does not communicate during Mass?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I’ve learned through your blog that if a priest does not receive Holy Communion at the Mass he is celebrating, the Mass is invalid. But what happens to the bread and wine that were consecrated moments before? Were they really changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord? Do the people who receive Holy Communion at that particular Mass receive Our Lord or just bread?

If a priest has consecrated the Eucharist in the proper way, with the proper intention and then, for whatever reason, does not consume the Eucharist just consecrated, the Eucharistic species continue to be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ until such time as they are consumed by someone or their species “broken”.   They do NOT revert to being bread and wine.   Catholics do not believe what some Protestants think: that Christ is present only insofar as their “eucharistic bread” etc. is being consumed and then, after it is no longer to be consumed reverts to what it was.

If, for whatever reason, the priest does not receive his own Communion of what he has there and then consecrated, then Mass has not truly been celebrated.   People given Communion would technically be receiving outside of Mass.

There are legitimate reasons for a priest not to receive one or both of the Eucharistic species.  For example: the priest dies or faints, thus prohibiting his reception.

Various scenarios of interruption of the consecration or prevention of receiving Communion by the priest are covered in the “De defectibus” of the traditional Missale Romanum.   I warmly recommend that all seminarians and priests read it and become intimately familiar with it.  It doesn’t provide practical rules merely.  It imparts an inner logic about the connection of the priest and Eucharist.

For example:

33. If before the Consecration the priest becomes seriously ill, or faints, or dies, the Mass is discontinued[That was the situation described.]  If this happens after the consecration of the Body only and before the consecration of the Blood, or after both have been consecrated, the Mass is to be completed by another priest from the place where the first priest stopped, and in case of necessity even by a priest who is not fasting. If the first priest has not died but has become ill and is still able to receive Communion, and there is no other consecrated host at hand, the priest who is completing the Mass should divide the host, give one part to the sick priest and consume the other part himself. [Do you see the intimate unity of priest and Host?] If the priest has died after half-saying the formula for the consecration of the Body, then there is no Consecration and no need for another priest to complete the Mass. If, on the other hand, the priest has died after half- saying the formula for the consecration of the Blood, then another priest is to complete the Mass, repeating the whole formula over the same chalice from the words Simili modo, postquam cenatum est; or he may say the whole formula over another chalice which has been prepared, and consume the first priest’s host and the Blood consecrated by himself, and then the chalice which was left half-consecrated.
34. If anyone fails to consume the whole Sacrament aside from cases of necessity of this kind, he is guilty of very grave sin.

Reading De defectibus especially through the lens of Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis (which presents us with a reflection on the priest’s ars celebrandi) could be of enormous practical use to seminarians and younger priests today.

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8 Responses to ASK FATHER: What happens to the Eucharist if the priest does not communicate during Mass?

  1. surritter says:

    Interesting post. The answer points out that there can be a consecration without having a Mass (for a very strange reason, such as that posed by the questioner).
    I didn’t think that was possible.

  2. APX says:

    I’ve started giving out De Defectibus with ordination gifts. As a person who is often criticized for trying to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and come up with a solution for it in case it happens, I have a great appreciation for this document and the type of person who came up with it.

  3. Father,

    What if, for some odd reason, the priest were to consume a different Host than the One consecrated at that particular Mass (say, one from the tabernacle)?

    Initially, I can’t think of much of a reason this would happen. But, the more I ponder it, I feel like the Novus Ordo’s near-merging of the priest’s communion and the rest of the communion rite makes it likely that this “mistake” has probably occurred before. At the TLM, the priest’s communion is significantly separated from the communion rite, but not so much in the NO. I could definitely imagine a priest taking the ciborium from the tabernacle “ahead of time,” and then either accidentally or purposefully communing from one of those Hosts, and then giving the Pieces of the newly-consecrated host to others during the communion rite. Would this have any impact on validity of the Mass?

  4. SimpleCatholic says:

    I’ve always wondered about the concelebration of a priest during an EF ordination. The new priest receives under the species of bread alone. I understand that in the EF consecration of a bishop the new bishop receives both species. I’ve tried to look for the video of Cardinal Hoyos consecrating the bishop of the campos AA, but I can’t seem to find it.
    In the case of the priest, does he truly concelebrate if he receives only one species? In light of the de defectibus, does the new priest complete the sacrifice together with the celebrant or is it just the celebrant who completes it? More academically, what gave rise to the single vs dual species reception in the EF ordination and consecration rites? if the new priest is not completing the sacrifice, how can he take a stipend?

  5. SimpleCatholic says:

    I’ve always wondered about the concelebration of a priest during an EF ordination. The new priest receives under the species of bread alone. I understand that in the EF consecration of a bishop the new bishop receives both species. I’ve tried to look for the video of Cardinal Hoyos consecrating the bishop of the campos AA, but I can’t seem to find it.
    In the case of the priest, does he truly concelebrate if he receives only one species? In light of the de defectibus, does the new priest complete the sacrifice together with the celebrant or is it just the celebrant who completes it? More academically, what gave rise to the single vs dual species reception in the EF ordination and consecration rites? if the new priest is not completing the sacrifice, how can he take a stipend?

  6. robtbrown says:

    APX says:

    I’ve started giving out De Defectibus with ordination gifts. As a person who is often criticized for trying to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and come up with a solution for it in case it happens, I have a great appreciation for this document and the type of person who came up with

    When I left IT in 1986, 25% of the code of every computer program was for error routines.

  7. robtbrown says:

    SimpleCatholic,

    Nb: There is the principal celebrant and the concelebrants. The latter participate in the principal’s celebration.

    The custom of daily concelebration, often found in seminaries and religious houses “is a plague and a bore”.

  8. SimpleCatholic says:

    Of course I agree with you – as Father Z says, keep it “safe, legal, and rare”.

    But the question still stands. Perhaps I am too much an ossified manualist. There is one sacrifice, of course, but does the communication of the concelebrants under one species truly allow them to offer the sacrifice if, under a sole celebration, the requirement to complete the sacrifice is the communication under both species?

    If one really wants to get into it, in the case of the situation described in the de defectibus, to whom should the stipend go – the priest who started the sacrifice or the one who completes it? It may seem pedantic and even pharisaical, but surely it must have been answered in some manual somewhere…

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