When a Host Isn't Swallowed

And More on Bishops' Blessings

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ROME, JUNE 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: How should one dispose of a consecrated host which was placed in the mouth of an ill person who, in the end, was unable to swallow it? -- L.M., Kennesaw, Georgia

Q: In Canada most parishes use several types of missal booklets for either English or French Masses. Once these have expired they are thrown out. The question is, since the majority of people now take Communion in the hand instead of directly by the mouth, particles of the host are bound to become attached to these missals when the communicant returns to their pew. How then should these missals be disposed of? It just doesn't seem right, if they have particles of host on them, to throw them in the garbage. Could you please give us some advice on this problem? -- R.H., Otterburn Park, Quebec

A: A host which has been partially consumed in some way may be disposed of by placing it in water until it has dissolved, and then pouring the water into the sacrarium or into the ground.

If the mishap has occurred outside of a parish -- for example, in a nursing home or hospital with no chapel -- then it should be carefully wrapped in a purificator and brought to the parish for proper disposal.

Some courageous ministers might be willing to consume such a host themselves out of respect, but this is usually not advisable and is unnecessary.

Regarding the second question, I do not think there is really much danger of fragments of hosts remaining on the booklets.

If such were the case, then they would also remain in other places such as the pews, the clothes worn by the faithful and all over the floor. If the Church had considered that there was a serious danger of fragments being deposited in various places as a result of the practice of receiving Communion in the hand, then it would never have contemplated permitting the practice.

This is, of course, presuming that the hosts used are properly produced and not subject to easy fragmentation.

Also, as dealt with in more detail in the follow-up published on July 5, 2005, according to traditional Catholic theology, above all, that of St. Thomas Aquinas, a microscopic fragment is no longer an integral part of the host and may therefore be considered as equivalent to a corrupt host in which Christ's presence would no longer subsist.

Therefore, I believe that the booklets may be disposed of without scruple as regards the possibility of the Eucharistic presence. They still contain God's Word, however, and, while strictly speaking they are not sacred objects like the missal or lectionary, many people have scruples about mixing these booklets with the common trash.

While it is not necessary to go to great lengths to dispose of them, if feasible, it may be better to take them directly to an incinerator or paper recycler rather than mixing them with the common garbage.

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Follow-up: Benediction by a Bishop

After our piece on a bishop giving Benediction (May 29), a reader from Malmö, Sweden, asked: "I've noticed that a bishop may also give a blessing with the Book of the Gospels. Does he do this on more solemn occasions? Is there any difference when giving the blessing with the Book of the Gospels and when giving it with the monstrance and Blessed Sacrament?"

The practice of the bishop imparting a blessing with the Book of the Gospels on certain solemn occasions is a relative novelty in the liturgy.

It may have been introduced by Pope John Paul II. For some time it was considered as a prerogative exclusive to the Holy Father, even though some bishops also began to impart this blessing, probably influenced by televised papal Masses.

Although the norm legitimizing the custom is not mentioned in the Ceremonial of Bishops, it has been incorporated into some recent publications such as the introduction to the Book of the Gospels.

The norm does not specify how this blessing is to be carried out. The general practice seems to be that, after proclaiming the Gospel, the priest or deacon brings the open book to the bishop to be kissed. The priest or deacon then closes the Book of the Gospels and gives it to the bishop who makes a simple sign of the cross with the volume in a manner similar to that of Benediction with the monstrance. In other cases the book is brought, already closed, to the bishop, who takes it, kisses it and then imparts the blessing.

The rubric does not indicate on what solemn occasions this blessing is imparted and apparently leaves the decision to the bishop himself.

The rubric does indicate, however, that only the bishop imparts this blessing and this rite is never carried out by a priest.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.