Week 16: Purification of Sacred Vessels

Purification of Sacred Vessels

As already noted, pastors see confusion today in matters pertaining to Holy Communion.  Specifically there is a lack of clarity regarding roles in distribution, purification of vessels and the principle of concomitance.  Having already addressed distribution of Holy Communion, I will now speak to the purification of sacred vessels.

You may have noticed that considerable attention if afforded the purification (the cleaning) of the chalice and ciboria used to distribute Holy Communion.  You may have also wondered why the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are no longer purifying the vessels themselves in the sacristy behind the altar as had been done in the past. 

The answers to these questions have to do with a change in liturgical law that began in 2000 with Pope John Paul’s promulgation of a new edition of the Roman Missal.  According to the new Missal, the purification of sacred vessels at Mass must be carried out by the deacon or, in his absence, by an instituted acolyte or by the priest himself.  As the new Missal was translated from Latin to English so that it may also be celebrated in the vernacular, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops requested a special indult (permission) from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on March 22, 2002 that would allow Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to continue to assist with the purification of sacred vessels at Mass.  The permission was granted for a three-year period.

The document that granted the indult said, in part: "[F]or grave pastoral reasons, the faculty may be given by the diocesan bishop to the priest celebrant to use the assistance, when necessary, even of extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the distribution of Communion has been completed in the celebration of Mass. This faculty is conceded for a period of three years as a dispensation from the norm of the Institutio Generalis, edition typica tertia of the Roman Missal."  When the indult expired in March 2005, the U.S. bishops' conference requested an extension.  In 2006 the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship informed the U.S. bishops’ conference that the indult would not be extended.  Since then, it has been the responsibility of bishops and pastors to effect the necessary changes to be in accord with the norms. 

One may wonder, why the change?  In short, there were likely two reasons.  First, to avoid abuses.  No doubt the vast majority of lay faithful were well trained and reverent when purifying the remains of the Blessed Sacrament.  However, when handling the Most Holy Eucharist, even a small number of abuses are too many.  And there were abuses.  I’ve encountered them at nearly every parish assignment I’ve had in the past fifteen years.  Sometimes they were the result of ignorance; sometimes it was shockingly the result of disregard.  Second, to safeguard the faith of the Extraordinary Ministers.  At first this may sound a bit strange.  However, there is a common axiom that expresses it well.  “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  As one who regularly handles the sacred, this is no joke.  I regularly have to rely upon a well-informed faith to constantly remind myself of that which is entrusted to my hands.  People in the medical field can usually relate to this fairly well.  When dealing with peoples’ health it is all too easy to become desensitized to genuinely sensitive matters.  In short, it requires the vigilance of a professional.  The same holds true to dispensing the sacred.  Constant vigilance is required so that one may never forget that which has been entrusted to his care.

Catch up on previous posts from the past year with the links below!

Week #1 Week #2 Week #3 Week #4 Week #5
Week #6 Week #7 Week #8 Week #9 Week #10
Week #11 Week #12 Week #13 Week #14 Week #15



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