Purificator Purity

I’ve recently, after a long hiatus, had occasion to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite – with its rubrics that are far more detailed and thought-provoking than those of the Ordinary Form. And doing so has revived in my mind another observation I’ve been making for some time about how we tend to do things in the Novus Ordo liturgy.

I’m writing tonight about the way that we handle the purificator.

In many places where the Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form is celebrated, the Precious Blood is distributed to the faithful on a regular basis – even daily. There are arguments for and against this practice, and I’m not going to get into that here. What I am going to get into are some of the problems that arise from this tendency.

Most priests and many lay faithful will by now have witnessed how, when the Precious Blood is distributed to many people, the purificator that the minister uses tends to become rather spotted as the rim is wiped after each sip. And not only that – sacristans will have noted the cosmetics that often end up on the purificator as well.

What happens next is the main difficulty that I would like to point out: after, the sometimes-heavily-soiled purificator is brought back to the altar with the chalice. And in many places, the priest or deacon uses this same purificator to purify the chalice.

Here arise two principal problems:

  1. The risk of handling a purificator moistened with the Precious Blood, and so transferring small amounts of it to other surfaces;
  2. A question whether one really purifies the chalice by wiping it out with a Precious-Blood- and cosmetic-stained cloth.

There is a prior, connected problem:

  • The fact that some Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion do not handle the purificator all that carefully (for lack of instruction), such that they, very often, are probably touching moistened parts of it with their fingers and so transferring the Precious Blood elsewhere also. I’ve seen the way purificators sometimes come back rather soaked with the Precious Blood, and I cannot escape the foregoing conclusion.

HE’S CRAZY – some of you are probably saying by now. I AM GOING TO WRITE TO HIS BISHOP. Well, if you must. These types of posts have already generated fan mail… Clearly I am not doing this to be popular.

What does all of this have to do with the Extraordinary Form? A few things:

  1. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Precious Blood is almost never distributed to the faithful, and thus there are no problems with heavily-used purificators afterwards being used to “purify” vessels;
  2. Even the priest does not necessarily bring the purificator in contact with the Precious Blood – after he receives from the chalice, he does not wipe the rim, but simply places the pall back on top until it’s time to purify it. The purificator is then used only to wipe out the already-rinsed chalice or other sacred vessel;
  3. The result from all of this being, basically, by the time the priest purifies the sacred vessels, the purificator that he usees to do so is essentially still clean. There is thus no risk of touching moistened parts of it and/or transferring the Precious Blood to other surfaces.

Again, I am not arguing here for never having the Precious Blood distributed to the faithful. But I am suggesting we need to re-think a few things.

First, priests, deacons, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion would do well to be more conscious of how they are handling the purificator, taking care not to touch sections that have already been moistened.

Second, priests and deacons who then purify sacred vessels would do well to have a clean (spare) purificator on the altar with which to do so, not attempting to put the already-soiled one(s) into further use. (Often, I am able to fold the already-used ones inside-out and so avoid problems, but even then, not always. It’d be better just to have a clean one on hand.)

Third, all of us should pray for a deeper faith in the Real Presence and for a greater awareness of the consequences of that Presence. This could include reviewing the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand, and switching to receiving on the tongue instead.

O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!

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