Home > faith/religion, gender issues > Who Did the Dishes after the Last Supper?

Who Did the Dishes after the Last Supper?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007, 18:55 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

This post is from my new blog, Readings from the Book of the Den Mother.


It isn’t just administering the sacraments that Rome restricts to the ordained (read: males). As was widely reported last October, now we can’t clean up, either.

At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States.

In an Oct. 23 letter, Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked his fellow bishops to inform all pastors of the change, which was prompted by a letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The U.S. bishops had asked the Vatican to extend an indult — or church permission — in effect since 2002 allowing extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to help cleanse the Communion cups and plates when there were not enough priests or deacons to do so.

Bishop Skylstad, who heads the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., said Cardinal Arinze asked Pope Benedict about the matter during a June 9 audience, “and received a response in the negative.”

In a letter to the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments justified the prohibition:

Paragraph 279 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that the sacred vessels are to be purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte. The status of this text as legislation has recently been clarified by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. It does not seem feasible, therefore, for the Congregation to grant the requested indult from this directive in the general law of the Latin Church.

Now purifying the communion veessels is something we’ve been doing at my parish for at least the last several years. At most of our Sunday masses, we have communion under both kinds, six stations each because of the number of people in attendance. Besides the priest’s chalice, which he purifies after communion, that’s six chalices and six patens to purify afterward, almost always by lay eucharistic ministers, while the priests and the deacon are greeting parishioners leaving mass. It takes awhile even for three people to interact with all those people, but with the help of the eucharistic ministers, that one task is taken care of for them.

Needless to say, I have been wondering for the last few months why it is that lay eucharistic ministers can’t continue to do what we have been doing without controversy week in and week out. According to the current version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, paragraph 279 reads:

The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever [sic] does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator.

Care must be taken that whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ after the distribution of Communion is consumed immediately and completely at the altar.

There is no further explanation or reference to any other document. So there we have it. The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte because the sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte. Such is logic in the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic church.

One might wonder why we peons — you know, the people who do the work of the church, who pay the bills of the church, who are the church — can take the body and blood of Jesus into our very bodies but can’t clean out the plates and cups that held it.

No explanation has been forthcoming from the Vatican about how this makes any sense.


I have shut off further comments for this post. To post a comment, please go to the original post.

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  1. Wednesday, January 17, 2007, 03:35 EST at 03:35

    If you haven’t read the USCCB’s post on the matter, you can find it here: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/.Here are some of the reasons I can think of for the Holy See making this change:- The indult that has not been renewed only came into effect in 2002. It apparently was only in effect in the U.S. From many of the comments I’ve heard at my own parish, the practice was going on long before the Church granted the indult. SO like many of the other freedoms granted, it was done to appease people who were already not going by the book.- The GIRM outlines who is permitted to purify the vessels and has done so since long before Vatican II. Given that the document refers to the current GIRM, Vatican II clearly did not abrogate the normative restrictions. They simply reverted back to what existed prior to the indult.- The normative practice for receiving the Eucharist under both species is via intinction. Moving to the practice of intinction would reduce the number of extraordinary ministers, as well as the number of vessels required for the distribution of the Eucharist.- Receiving in the hand, which is not the normative means but is permitted, is not possible with intinction.The ending of the indult appears to be intended to reduce the nonnormative practices of having so many extraordinary ministers and of receiving in the hand. Given that both practices are nonnormative, it seems to me a decision meant to curb abuses and restoring reverence to the reception of the Eucharist. Even the use of the term “eucharistic minister” demonstrates part of the problem. A little bit of freedom is extended until purifying the vessels is considered “washing the dishes.”

  2. Wednesday, January 17, 2007, 12:11 EST at 12:11

    I’m not sure why this is a problem.The basic idea seems to be that the consecrated wine and wafers are extremely special, but they don’t look that way, so you surround them with various observances and restrictions so they seem that way to people. Why isn’t that a good idea?(As you point out, it’s more trouble for the priest, but it’s not that big a job, and maximum convenience for priests shouldn’t be the standard.)

  3. Wednesday, January 17, 2007, 22:41 EST at 22:41

    Theocoid, it seems that your primary defense of this practice is because that’s the way it’s always been done. That, by itself, is a poor reason. A secondary reason seems to be to reduce the use of extraordinary ministers, which goes directly to my concern that the hierarchy seems to want to push the faithful as far away from real participation on the eucharist as possible. But we aren’t merely observers, or at least we shouldn’t be.Anonymous, I agree that the consecrated bread and wine are to be treated with the utmost reverence. Lay eucharistic ministers, if trained properly, handle the body and blood of Christ with appropriate reverence while distributing communion. Why wouldn’t purification of the vessels be done with similar reverence?P.S. I didn’t mean to enable comments for this post, so I’m shutting them off now. If you’d like to comment further, please follow the link above to the original post on the other blog.

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