Why are you cleaning the communion vessels in the sanctuary after communion?
You may have noticed that we no longer bring the vessels (patens and chalices) directly
to the sacristy after Communion. Rather, all Ordinary Eucharistic ministers (Bishops,
priests and deacons) and Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (installed acolytes or
others of the Faithful that are deputized by the pastor) bring their respective vessels to
the credence table that is behind the presider’s chair. From this credence table, the
vessels are purified, according to the Church’s norms and rituals.
PURIFYING VERSUS WASHING
Ritual purification of the vessels that contained the Blessed Sacrament is not the same
as the final washing and storing of the vessels in the sacristy. Purifying is a specific
ritual that involves rinsing the vessels with water and consuming, with the water, any
traces of the Blessed Sacrament that remain in the patens and chalices. The priest
does this with a silent prayer. Then the vessels are dried with a linen purificator. Later,
the purificators are themselves ritually rinsed and the rinse-water is poured into the
sacrarium and then they are laundered.
WHY ALL THE EXTRA FUSS?
The reason for all of this is to conform to the Church’s “Instruction on the Liturgy” (see
the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 163) but also, and most importantly,
out of appropriate respect for the Lord Jesus, present in the Eucharist. Distinct from
washing the vessels (with soap and water) later in the sacristy by our Sacristy Ministers,
purification is done by the priest or deacon to ensure that not a single particle of Christ’s
Body nor a single drop of Precious Blood is treated with less than the respect and
veneration that is due to the Resurrected Lord Jesus, truly and always present in the
Eucharist (no less so in even of the smallest particles or drops of consecrated hosts or
IF I AM A EUCHARISTIC MINISTER, WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Because we are a large community that needs to use many sacred vessels for
communion, I have asked all the Extraordinary Ministers of the Cup to consume the
remaining Precious Blood from their respective chalices at the credence table. All other
Extraordinary Ministers are to assist in the event that there is too much Precious Blood
left in a chalice for one person to consume. After, they simply leave their vessels at the
credence table, covered with purificators. Then the priest and deacon purify them.
SO WHAT ABOUT ALL THE EXTRA TIME THIS TAKES?
Well, it doesn’t much more than a few extra minutes immediately after everyone has
received the Eucharist. And, in any case, we are all expected to spend some quiet time
in silence and personal prayer after receiving the Eucharist. So it’s a terrific opportunity
for everyone to spend some time in a personal prayer of thanksgiving for Jesus in the
Eucharist before the final prayer and dismissal.
Some Helpful Terms
Purificator: a linen cloth used to wipe the chalice after celebration of the Eucharist
Corporal: a larger linen cloth on which the eucharistic elements are placed on the Altar
Sacristy: a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept and where
the clergy vests
Credence Table: a small side table in the sanctuary of a Christian church which is used
in the celebration of the Eucharist. (Latin credens, -entis, believer). After Communion,
when the ministers of the Eucharist consume the remaining elements in the patens and
chalices, they are rinsed out and wiped by the priest and deacon, then replaced on the
credence table and recovered.
Paten: (or diskos) a small plate, usually made of silver or gold, used to hold Eucharistic
bread which is to be consecrated. It is generally used during the service itself, while the
reserved sacrament are stored in the tabernacle in a ciborium.
Sacrarium: a bowl or sink used to dispose of water used sacramentally or to clean
sacred vessels by returning the water directly to the earth. For this reason, its drain is
connected to a pipe that leads directly to the ground (not the city’s sewage system).
Note that pouring consecrated wine, the Blood of Christ, or a consecrated Host down a
sacrarium is almost never permitted. Doing so knowingly is considered sacrilegious and
automatically incurs a very serious penalty (‘latae sententiae’ excommunication). Only
extremely rarely, if the Eucharistic species spoils or becomes contaminated such that it
cannot be consumed, the host is dissolved in water until it disappears (under the
supervision of the priest), then that water is poured down into the sacrarium.
Ordinary Minister (of the Eucharist): all clergy (bishops, priests, including deacons)
who are authorized to distribute the Eucharist to the Faithful by virtue of their office.
Extraordinary Minister (of the Eucharist): someone other than an ordinary minister
(when not enough or no clergy or instituted acolytes are available), that is temporarily
deputized by the pastor of a parish to distribute the Eucharist to the Faithful during the
Communion Procession and/or to bring the Eucharist to the sick or shut-ins.