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Question 81.

Your blessing, Father Christopher.

Last Sunday I attended the Divine Liturgy at one of the two churches I regularly visit. The parish priest was away on holiday overseas, and so we had a substitute, an elderly priest just ordained to the priesthood at the start of the year.
I assisted him during the administration of Holy Communion, by holding the red cloth, and must say that it was agonising, as he was hasty and careless.
A two- or three-year-old boy approached the chalice in his mother's arms. The boy was restless, moving his head constantly. Nonetheless, the priest proceeded. Of course, the boy moved his head and some of the precious Blood of Christ had clearly fallen onto his shirt.
I told the priest, in the hope that he would then consume the precious Blood, but he claimed that nothing had fallen, having not even bothered to take a closer look at the boy's shirt. 'It's fine,' he told me, while the boy's mother smiled it off as if there was no problem (obviously the Holy Gifts were nothing but 'bread and wine' to her).
Therefore, my question is:
What should a priest do in situations when the most precious Body and Blood of Christ is, in my opinion, misused? Is he not obliged to consume anything that has fallen off the spoon, even onto the floor? And when the Blood of Christ falls onto the red cloth, what becomes of the cloth? Is it washed in some specific way considering that it may contain the precious Blood of Christ?


With all due respect,
Evangelos.
 

Answer to Question 81.

Dear Evangelos,
Certainly a priest must be extremely cautious when administering Holy Communion not to spill any of the precious Gifts. Having said this, accidents do happen especially with young children and the elderly, but with experience the priest should recognize the "danger groups" and be extra cautious as they approach. .
To avoid accidents like the one you described, the priest must take a few precautions. Most priests know their congregation and know which people might cause an accident when approaching the chalice, but when a priest is serving in a church other that his own parish, then he should be over cautious with everyone.
But how do we give Communion to young children who are brought to the chalice by their parents kicking and screaming? The first thing a priest should do is take a step backwards lest the child knocks the chalice with his hands or feet. He should only approach the child if someone has secured his hands and feet and then someone else should help to hold his head and pull his chin down to open his mouth. The priest, with the minimum of the Holy Gifts on the spoon, can then give him Communion. With some children even these measure are not enough to hold them tight and it truly is impossible for the priest to approach. There are priests that will insist on giving a restless child communion no matter how difficult the situation, but in these cases it is better not to forcibly give the child Communion against his will and thereby traumatize him. Many times I have refused to give such children Communion and advised the parents to bring the child more frequently until the child becomes familiarized with the Church and priests.
The truth is the child is not to blame, but the parents. If they had brought the child regularly for Communion from a young age, the child would have grown to trust priests, and knowing that no harm will befall him, he would come for Holy Communion willingly. Children that scream are those who are brought for communion once a year, and being in unfamiliar surroundings and not knowing what awaits them, they naturally rebel similarly as to when they are taken to the doctors for vaccination.
Elderly people are also inclined to cause accidents with Holy Communion. There are two main danger signs the priest should be aware of. The first is if they wear false teeth. This might sound laughable, but it is a real problem. Often the teeth are not secure enough so when the elderly person opens his/her mouth the top teeth begin to fall. The elderly person is aware of this and quickly jerks his/her head forward to reach the spoon without waiting for the priest to place it into his/her mouth. As a result the person can't keep his/her mouth open long enough before the teeth fall and instead of reaching the spoon in time they knock it with their closed mouth and spill it.
The second problem with the elderly is that they often need to support their weight by holding something. As they come up the chancel steps they lose their balance and lean over to grab the priest's arm for support not realizing that the same arm is holding the chalice and by such actions the priest could spill the chalice. For safety, the priest should teach his elderly not to come up the steps, but wait until others have communed and then for him to go down the steps to them.
There are many more occasions that can cause accidents e.g. when people cross themselves before communion and immediately after - when they are very close to the chalice: it is so easy for their arm to knock the chalice; when the red cloth (maktron) gets caught on something they are wearing and as they move away they pull the priest's hand with them. The priest should not hold the maktron around the chalice but hold the end loosely between his two fingers so that if the need arises he can let it go without disturbing the chalice. Some priests are also to blame by overfilling the spoon which will no doubt spill with any movement. Also some spoons that come as sets with the chalice and paten are awkward to hold or are not the ideal shape. The priest should obtain a spoon (silver) which has a large enough holding space and thin handle which will assist him greatly in controlling the amount he picks up.
So this brings us to your question of what happens if the Holy Gifts are spilt. In most places, the red cloth known as the "Maktron" is used to wipe the lips of the communicants after communion, but this is its secondary use and not always necessary. I have seen helpers wipe the lips of the communicants with such force that they actually pulled out the Gifts from their mouths. The priest places the Holy Gifts in the person's mouth and not on his/her lips so no wiping should be necessary unless the person is handicapped and drools. The main use of the maktron is to act as a net to catch the Holy Gifts if by chance they spill from the spoon. Preferably it should be held by the helper and the person communing making sure that it is placed under the chin and opened wide enough to be a net. Many people hold the maktron at a distance and only bring it to their mouth to wipe their lips after communion. The priest is obliged to teach his helpers and his congregation how to hold the maktron properly. If it is not held under their chin and opened as a net then he should wait until everything is in "safe-mode". If the priest accidentally spills the Gifts from the spoon then they should fall safely onto the maktron. From there he can pick up with the spoon or his mouth any parts of the Precious Body, but the Blood will have been absorbed by the cloth which as already said is its main purpose. If the Precious Blood should accidentally spill on someone's clothing, then there isn't much a priest can do. He can't insist the person undress himself and burn the clothing and he certainly can't suck at the person's clothing in the hope that the Blood will be removed. What he should do is instruct the person that when he returns home to wash the garment in a bowl until all the Blood has been removed and to dispose the water in a corner of his garden, in flower pots or on a wall similarly to as what many people do with the water after the baby's first bath after baptism to wash away the Holy Myron. The bowl should then be rinsed several times disposing of the water in the same way.
But what can a priest do if the Holy Gifts fall to the floor? Again he can pick up any parts of the Body, but I do not agree with the view held by some that he should get on his knees and lick up the floor with his tongue. The priest should remember that he is an image of Christ and act accordingly and not as a dog. As an immediate solution and not to disrupt the Liturgy, he should wipe the area with the maktron and place a chair over the area so that people don't walk over. After the service he can then take another clean maktron or sponge that can be destroyed and wash the area with soap many times. If the floor is of marble or something similar, he can then pour some alcohol on the spot and light it. The fire from the alcohol should not stain the floor. There are some who would say that the area where the Gifts fell should be removed and destroyed, but this is an extreme, costly and unnecessary option. The important thing is that we do everything possible to remove the Holy Gifts from the floor. If we are satisfied in our heart that we have done everything in our power then the rest we leave to God. Let us not also forget that when Christ was crucified and his side pieced with a spear, his blood poured forth onto the ground. Should we then not visit the site of Golgotha lest we should be stepping on Christ's Blood? Has not the whole earth been sanctified with the Blood of Christ?
As for the maktron it should be washed and pressed regularly. A dirty and stained maktron is very unsightly and reflects that the priest is unconcerned with cleanliness. If fact, a look to see how clean and tidy the Sanctuary is tells us a great deal about the priest and how devoted he is to his vocation. But where maktrons should be washed depends on the Church. In Greece and Cyprus and other Orthodox countries, the churches are built with a special pit under or beside the church where the drainage from the piscina (niptira) flows. The maktron and other things like the chalice are washed in the Sanctury's piscina. In the west many churches used by the Orthodox Church were old Church of England or Roman Catholic churches. The priest needs to know if the church where he serves has an isolated drainage pit. If the church does not have its own pit, but its drainage is linked to the main sewage system then the maktron should be washed in a bowl and the water poured as explained for the after baptism bath waters.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher