What happens if the Eucharist touches the floor?
— Maria Anna in Jacksonville
Whether through simple inattentiveness or by way of a genuine accident, it sometimes happens that a consecrated Host falls to the ground or that a chalice with the Precious Blood is dropped or spilled. In such a situation, what is one to do?
Of course, it goes without saying that every effort should be made to ensure that the Eucharist — either the Precious Body or the Precious Blood — never touches the ground. This is why the Bishops of the Diocese of the United States of America remind us that “all ministers of Holy Communion [whether ordinary or extraordinary] should show the greatest reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist by their demeanor, their attire, and the manner in which they handle the consecrated bread and wine” (Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, no. 29).
While the bishops give this admonition to those who distribute holy Communion, they also remind those who receive holy Communion that “we are to approach the altar for Holy Communion with reverence, love, and awe as part of the Eucharistic procession of the faithful. This includes making a reverent bow of the head just before receiving Holy Communion, which expresses both our individual and communal adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist as well as acknowledgement of our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion” (“Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper”: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist, Part 5).
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the text from the Holy See governing the celebration of the holy Mass, provides this brief direction: “If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently and if any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy” (no. 280). The sacrarium is a particular sink that has been set aside only for such a purpose, with pipes leading directly into the ground and not into the sewer system. They are often — unfortunately — absent in churches of more recent construction.
The most common way to wash the area where the Precious Body or the Precious Blood has fallen is to use purificators, the linen cloths used to wipe the chalice after each communicant has consumed the Blood of Christ. If the Precious Blood has been spilled, as many purificators as are needed should be used to gently soak up the Precious Blood. Once the Precious Blood has been absorbed into the purificators, fresh water and a clean cloth should be used to clean the area where the spill occurred, the now dirtied cloth being placed with the purificators to be washed in the usual manner. All of this should be done as soon as possible and with the greatest reverence and devotion.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and St. Peter Parish in Petersburg and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.