Sunday, February 6, 2011

Question on Consecration

Someone in the comments asked this question and I wrote up a response there, but thought it might be informative to post it here instead:
Supposedly one has to have consecrated hands to touch consecrated vessels, correct? Then how is it that EMC's are always touch the ciborium with their bare hands?
This question is putting the cart before the horse a bit, isn't it? LOL! The first question should really be: how are they allowed to touch the Host!? Because, if you can't even touch consecrated vessels, you certainly shouldn't be touching the Blessed Sacrament Itself. (Which is why letting EMHC's distribute communion but then asserting that they are not to purify the vessels is so absurd).

However, it is not true that you need consecrated hands to touch consecrated vessels, even in the Old Rite. The real principle was that any thing that was to come in direct contact with the sacred species was to be consecrated. Therefore, the vessels used (as well as the priests hands) were consecrated. But the consecrated things themselves could touch non-consecrated things (ie, there only has to be one "layer" of protection), though touching consecrated vessels was supposed to be limited to clerics in Major Orders.

Traditionally, the deacon is actually considered ordinary minister of the chalice only (see the Reply to Objection 1 in the Summa article here). He was only extraordinary minister of the host; by the most traditional thinking, the deacon's proper ministry was the cup. This makes sense because the Precious Blood is necessarily contained in a vessel, and therefore not handled directly; as a deacon's hands are actually not traditionally consecrated. It is also symbolically appropriate for a variety of reasons.

Deacons traditionally distributed communion to the sick, yes, in fact this is one of their main duties. But remember what a ciborium really is: it's a modified chalice. Think of the old practice on Holy Thursday whereby the priest would consecrate two large hosts and store one for Good Friday in a veiled chalice. Think also of Byzantine practice: the soaked host is put in the chalice and afterward is left to dry, the whole chalice being reserved. When bringing communion to the sick among the Byzantine churches, they have a tiny box with a little chalice, a gold vial (for a dried particle from the Lamb), and a vial of unconsecrated wine. The particle is dumped into the tiny chalice, re-wet with the unconsecrated wine, and then administered with a spoon like usual:

So there is still no direct contact even if a deacon is distributing, and he is still seen as primarily associated with the chalice rather than with the host directly. When a deacon distributes in the East, it is with the Spoon (or is supposed to be) even if some priests (in some traditions) intinct dry pieces of the Lamb directly into the chalice with their hands instead of using the spoon method. But the deacon uses an instrument rather than making direct contact.

In the West, perhaps, we might do well to imitate this to some degree by implementing consecrated golden Tongs or something when deacons must minister the host directly (such as to the sick). Having deacons, at least, bring the host in a small chalice (/little screw-top ciborium) as in the East might also thus be better than deacons using pxyes. Certainly, deacons distributing the host at Mass should always do so from a ciborium (which is really a form of chalice) rather than a paten (which is proper to the priest).


Now, as for touching sacred vessels that did not contain the consecrated Eucharist, one traditionally had to be at least a Subdeacon. In fact, this was the principle that made the subdiaconate (though not a Sacrament) a Major liturgical Order in the West; subdeacons could touch sacred vessels.

Of course, even before Vatican II these principles were going slack. Minor Clergy and even lay Sacristans regularly touched consecrated vessels in some cases, and deacons regularly distributed the Host with their hands. Still, we might do well to re-institute (even in the Old Rite) the internally consistent liturgical principles behind all this, because if you start to make too many "extraordinary" exceptions...well, we've see where that slippery slope led.

8 comments:

George said...

so are you seriously arguing that even deacons should not distribute communion?

A Sinner said...

No, not at all.

I'm merely saying that deacons should, primarily, minister to the chalice (I support restoring intinction even in the Old Rite). And that, even when they do distribute the host, it would be best, as in the East, if they used some instrument (like consecrated tongs) to do so and if the vessel used still signified their primary connection to the chalice (so, a ciborium rather than a paten or pyx).

sortacatholic said...

Remember, most "deacons" at solemn Masses are really priests in dalmatics. There is no question of orthodoxy when a priest vested as a deacon distributes Holy Communion.

Slightly OT: I have an interesting solution to the question of ministry to the homebound, ill, and the dying. Perhaps the Church should go back to ordaining simplex priests when compulsory celibacy for diocesan priests is (finally!) lifted.

Volunteer simplex priests, perhaps middle aged married men, could be ordained after a short one or two year catechetical course. Certain permanent deacons could be elevated to the simple presbyterate after further education. Simplex seminarians would be exempt from Latin, Greek, advanced philosophy, and Thomistics. Simplex priests could celebrate private Mass, offer the Baptism rite, anoint, and give the Viaticum. Simplex priests will not preach publicly or hear confessions in public. I suppose that simplex priests could be licensed to hear confessions for the chronically ill and dying to provide for a worthy communion. Also, I suppose that simplex priests could say Mass in hospitals, provided that they either read from a postil in lieu of a sermon, or simply not preach.

The ordination of volunteer simplex priests will solve a number of problems that have arisen from the (ab)use of EMHCs. Unlike EMHC's, simplex priests could hear the confessions of the ill and anoint. They could licitly touch the pyx and Host because of they have received the full priestly ordination but not the license to perform every sacrament. A simplex priest could also vest in choir at a missa cantata, for example, and minister Holy Communion.

Of course, progressive Catholics would rage at the notion that certain priests would not be able to perform every sacrament in every situation. Nevertheless I look at simplex ordination as a special ministry, not a handicap.

A Sinner said...

"Remember, most "deacons" at solemn Masses are really priests in dalmatics. There is no question of orthodoxy when a priest vested as a deacon distributes Holy Communion."

That's certainly true.

As for the (unsalaried, part-time, married) "Simplex" priest idea...that's what we've been proposing at Renegade Trads all along.

And even when it comes to parish Mass and confessions...as long as they were limited to simply reading approved homilies (the bishops could maybe publish a volume of good Patristic homilies for the year, maybe edited for modern listening) and to not giving "advice" in confession other than assigning certain "canonical" penances out of a Penitential Manual or something...it seems like it could be done.

Saying words out loud and waving your hands over things isn't rocket science or brain surgery.

Robert said...

"Simplex seminarians would be exempt from Latin, Greek, advanced philosophy, and Thomistics."
Not to be too rude, but from what I experienced on my visits to seminaries, due to the lack of academic rigor current seminarians are except from Latin, Greek advanced philosophy, and Thomistics (practically at least).

Robert said...

Would it be possible to consecrate the EMHC's hands without making them priests? I mean we can consecrate metal, cloth, stones and hands--why not hands but removed from the ordination rite? The church could have a ministry of "instituted EMHC", but it would eventually become vestigial like all other instituted ministries. *sigh*

sortacatholic said...

Robert: what I experienced on my visits to seminaries, due to the lack of academic rigor current seminarians are except from Latin, Greek advanced philosophy, and Thomistics (practically at least).

Exactly! Modern Catholic diocesan seminaries are very weak compared to Protestant B.Th and M.Div programs. I am currently a PhD student in a historically Protestant religion department. The Anglican seminary and Reformed ministry students are stratospherically more intelligent and driven than their Roman seminary counterparts.

The seminaries need to be reformed so the secular celibates (the pastors, deans, canons/monsignori, and bishops) receive a five to seven-year Latin education, three-year Greek education, and full hellenistic, Roman, patristic, Thomistic, and modern philosophical and theological education. At the end of their studies, these priests should receive the equivalent of a B.Th. and M.Div. per the Protestant degree model. Optionally, future "career clergymen" might go to Rome for a civil or ecclesiastical doctoral degree. Intellectually gifted non-stipendary married priests (such as teachers and academics) should be given an opportunity to take a M.Div. if finances and time permit. These married priests would then licensed to preach, give counsel in confessions, and provide spiritual direction. Older married priests with the M.Div could pastor smaller churches or missions.

What passes for seminary "education" these days should be the curriculum for simplex married priests. A massive restructuring of seminary education is not just desirable but necessary for both a capable clergy and educated laity. I'm very ashamed that I can run rhetorical circles around some priests without ever having set foot in a seminary.

A Sinner said...

Here's how I think ideal distribution of communion would work (at the ideal Solemn High Mass):

The priest would consecrate the "additional" hosts (ie, besides his big host) in a large medievally paten rather than a ciborium (the paten really is more proper to the host and to the priest; the ciborium is a form of chalice, as discussed in this post).

I'd prefer the large patens maintain the appearance of a "dish" rather than a bowl as is so common at the Novus Ordo now. In other words, be wide and low and possibly have a flat rim like a plate (decorated with jewels, etc, possibly)

Then, the priest would distribute from the large paten while the deacon would be next to him with the chalice for intinction and the subdeacon with the priest's small flat paten to hold under. Or, perhaps the priest would hold his own small paten and take the hosts from the large paten held by the subdeacon standing next to him.

Remaining hosts would be transferred into the ciborium for reservation in the tabernacle for the deacon to bring to the sick (with golden tongs).

If Mass was said at an altar (like the high altar in a cathedral) that was NOT the Blessed Sacrament altar, the deacon would be responsible for getting this ciborium from the Blessed Sacrament altar/chapel and putting it back. The subdeacon would be responsible for putting away the large paten at the end.

This set-up might be hard if the priest had to walk along to people at an altar rail. It might make more sense for the people to process up, kneel at the sanctuary gates two at a time, and have the clerics stand in place to distribute (like at the NO) rather than walking along, if intinction is to be done.

In a somewhat less ideal (but perhaps more realistic) situation, the priest could distribute from a large paten while the subdeacon followed him with the smaller, and the deacon could distribute from a ciborium (with the golden tongs) while an acolyte followed with one of those patens-on-a-stick. This strikes me as unideal because of the multiplication of instruments, however. Of course, in large crowds with many people communing, that's always going to be the case (it's why I don't like large crowds with many people communing...)