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
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,
Answer to Question 81.
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
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