We’ve all seen it happen at many a Novus Ordo Parish – After the lay person designated to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion as a so-called “minister of the cup” has finish his “job”, he then takes his purificator and stuffs it totally inside the chalice thereby soaking the puirficator with the Precious Blood that had remained along the sides and base of the cup of the chalice. Many conservative Catholics will be horrified at this, since it is objectively disrespectful to treat the Holy Eucharist in such a manner. However, is soaking a purificator in the Blood of our Savior really so different from wiping the rim of the chalice after a communicant as consumed a sip of the Precious Blood? There is a subtle heresy at work in all of this.
Christ is whole and entire in each part of the Eucharistic Species
We know and believe that our Lord is present whole and entire in each of the Eucharistic species and in each part of each species. This is to say that the whole Jesus is fully and entirely present in the Host and the whole Jesus is fully and entirely present in the Chalice – furthermore, he is fully present in each piece of the Host after it is broken, and he is fully present in each drop of the Blood.
Now, by the words of consecration, the substance of bread is changed into the substance of Jesus’ Body, and because his Body and Blood are united in heaven, the Host is not only the Body of the Lord, but is truly the whole Lord Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Likewise, by the words of consecration, the substance of wine is changed into the substance of Jesus’ Blood, and because his Blood and Body are united in heaven, the chalice contains not only the Blood of Christ, but the whole Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Thus, an Host or a piece of an Host is not a “part” of Jesus, but is the whole Jesus – his entire Person. And the Precious Blood in the chalice or even a drop of that Blood is not a “part” of Jesus, but is the whole Jesus – his entire Person.
Therefore, a larger or a smaller Host is not any more or less Jesus, nor does it contain any more or less of Jesus. Furthermore, a larger or smaller amount of the Precious Blood is not any more or less Jesus, nor does a single drop of the Blood contain any less of Jesus than a large chalice would. There is no more or less in the Eucharist – but he is complete and whole in each and every part.
[Of course, we are not speaking of microscopic particles, for the Eucharist remains the Eucharist only so long as the species retain the accidental (visible, sensible) properties of bread and wine – therefore, when a crumb of the Host becomes so small as to be indistinguishable from a speck of dust, it is no longer the Eucharist; and when a drop of the Precious Blood dries and becomes hard, it is no longer the Eucharist.]
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1377 – “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsists. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.”
The Purificator in the Catholic Tradition
It is worth noting that the purificator is not traditionally a blessed item for the use at Holy Mass. The corporal and pall are to be blessed, and the altar cloths are blessed, but there has never been a blessing for the purificator. Indeed, the purificator traditionally is only distinguished from the finger towel (used by the priest for the washing of hands) by its shape – the two are essentially on the same level of “sacredness”. Even in the current Book of Blessings, the purificator is not mentioned as an item to be blessed.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the purificator was never meant to touch the Precious Blood. Even in the Novus Ordo, if a priest celebrates the Mass without any concelebrating priests and without the distribution of the chalice, the purificator will never touch the Precious Blood. The purificator was used only to wipe the inside of the cup of the chalice after it had been purified first with wine and then with wine and water. Even at that, because it had touched the chalice during the Mass, the purificator would be washed three times and that water would be poured into the earth, only then would the linen be laundered as normal.
What if a drop of the Precious Blood were to be soaked into the purificator? The Angelic Thomas gives us an idea of how our Catholic ancestors and the saints of our tradition approached the question when he quotes Pope Pius I on what should be done if a drop of the Blood were to fall upon the altar linens: “Let the minister suck up the drop, and do penance during three days; if it falls upon the altar cloth and penetrates to the second altar cloth [note: traditionally, there are three cloths laid upon the altar, and a forth on the bottom which held the other three in place], let him do four days’ penance; if it penetrates to the third, let him do nine days’ penance; if to the fourth, let him do twenty days’ penance; and let the altar linens which the drop touched be washed three times by the priest, holding the chalice below, then let the water be taken [to a sacred place] […] Some persons go further, and cut out that part of the linen, which they burn, putting the ashes in the altar or down the sacrarium.” (ST III, q.83, a.6, ad 7)
This gives us a good picture of what the saints would do if a drop of the Precious Blood were to be soaked up into the purificator: The purificator would be washed three times and the water put into sacred ground, the spot in the cloth would then be cut out and burnt and those ashes put into sacred ground, and the priest would do penance for between three and twenty days for EACH drop of the Blood.
“Wiping up” the Precious Blood
If we believe that the whole Jesus is in every drop of the Precious Blood, and that there is not “more” Jesus in the chalice than there is in a single drop, then it necessarily follows that soaking up a drop of the Precious Blood into a purificator is essentially and substantially no different from soaking up an entire chalice of the Precious Blood into a rag. Even as desecrating a small Host is just as bad as desecrating a large Host, whatever we do with a drop of the Precious Blood, we should be comfortable doing to a entire chalice worth.
Given that most people are horrified when they see a designated “cup minister” stuff the purificator into the chalice after the distribution of Communion, why are we not shocked to see the drops of the Precious Blood routinely wiped up and soaked into the purificator? It is God himself who is being “wiped up”, it is the whole Jesus who is being “soaked up” whenever a single drop of the Blood touches the purificator. Certainly, the rubrics of the Church (in which we take refuge) do specify that the rim of the chalice is to be wiped with the purificator when concelebrating priests receive from the chalice – and it seems that the same practice is to be used when the chalice is distributed to the faithful. However, we can easily see why the saints of the ages generally have not favored the practice of distributing the chalice to the faithful – the danger of sacrilege is just too great.
Finally, can anyone deny that there is a subtle heresy common to most cases of the distribution of the chalice to the faithful? How else can we explain the horror at seeing a purificator soaked with the Blood, but total calm at seeing a drop of the Blood wiped up? Even well-meaning Catholics are beginning to think that a drop of the Blood really isn’t Jesus, and that a larger amount of the Blood is somehow more Jesus.
A sermon on this topic:
Listen online [here]!