ROME, 12 JUNE 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary Father Edward
McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: How should one dispose of a consecrated host which was placed in the
mouth of an ill person who, in the end, was unable to swallow it?
L.M., Kennesaw, Georgia
Q: In Canada most parishes use several types of missal booklets for
either English or French Masses. Once these have expired they are thrown
out. The question is, since the majority of people now take Communion in
the hand instead of directly by the mouth, particles of the host are
bound to become attached to these missals when the communicant returns
to their pew. How then should these missals be disposed of? It just
doesn't seem right, if they have particles of host on them, to throw
them in the garbage. Could you please give us some advice on this
R.H., Otterburn Park, Quebec
A: A host which has been partially consumed in some way may be disposed
of by placing it in water until it has dissolved, and then pouring the
water into the sacrarium or into the ground.
If the mishap has occurred outside of a parish
for example, in a nursing home or hospital with no chapel
then it should be carefully wrapped in a purificator and brought to the
parish for proper disposal.
Some courageous ministers might be willing to consume such a host
themselves out of respect, but this is usually not advisable and is
Regarding the second question, I do not think there is really much
danger of fragments of hosts remaining on the booklets.
If such were the case, then they would also remain in other places such
as the pews, the clothes worn by the faithful and all over the floor. If
the Church had considered that there was a serious danger of fragments
being deposited in various places as a result of the practice of
receiving Communion in the hand, then it would never have contemplated
permitting the practice.
This is, of course, presuming that the hosts used are properly produced
and not subject to easy fragmentation.
Also, as dealt with in more detail in the follow-up published on July 5,
2005, according to traditional Catholic theology, above all, that of St.
Thomas Aquinas, a microscopic fragment is no longer an integral part of
the host and may therefore be considered as equivalent to a corrupt host
in which Christ's presence would no longer subsist.
Therefore, I believe that the booklets may be disposed of without
scruple as regards the possibility of the Eucharistic presence. They
still contain God's Word, however, and, while strictly speaking they are
not sacred objects like the missal or lectionary, many people have
scruples about mixing these booklets with the common trash.
While it is not necessary to go to great lengths to dispose of them, if
feasible, it may be better to take them directly to an incinerator or
paper recycler rather than mixing them with the common garbage.
* * *
Follow-up: When a Host Isn't Swallowed [6-26-2007]
Some readers took umbrage toward the affirmation in our June 12 column
on corruption of the host: that Christ's real presence would no longer
subsist in a microscopic fragment of the host.
A clarifying link to an earlier reply was provided in the earlier piece.
However, given that not all of our readers have access to the Internet,
I will restate the essential point here.
My reply was principally based on an application of the doctrine of St.
Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae" III pars q
In the corpus of the fourth article of this question, "Whether the
sacramental species can be corrupted," the Angelic Doctor affirms:
"An accident can be corrupted in another way, through the corruption of
its subject, and in this way also they can be corrupted after
consecration; for although the subject does not remain, still the being
which they had in the subject does remain, which being is proper, and
suited to the subject. And therefore such being can be corrupted by a
contrary agent, as the substance of the bread or wine was subject to
corruption, and, moreover, was not corrupted except by a preceding
alteration regarding the accidents.
"Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between each of the aforesaid
corruptions; because, when the body and the blood of Christ succeed in
this sacrament to the substance of the bread and wine, if there be such
change on the part of the accidents as would not have sufficed for the
corruption of the bread and wine, then the body and blood of Christ do
not cease to be under this sacrament on account of such change, whether
the change be on the part of the quality, as for instance, when the
color or the savor of the bread or wine is slightly modified; or on the
part of the quantity, as when the bread or the wine is divided into such
parts as to keep in them the nature of bread or of wine. But if the
change be so great that the substance of the bread or wine would have
been corrupted, then Christ's body and blood do not remain under this
sacrament; and this either on the part of the qualities, as when the
color, savor, and other qualities of the bread and wine are so altered
as to be incompatible with the nature of bread or of wine; or else on
the part of the quantity, as, for instance, if the bread be reduced to
fine particles, or the wine divided into such tiny drops that the
species of bread or wine no longer remain."
Thus, our discussion dealt specifically with the theme of corruption of
the host by reduction "to fine particles … that the species of bread no
This is a different question to that of Christ being really present in
small particles or fragments of a host while retaining the species of
bread. So long as the species of bread remains, Christ is really present
and it is even possible to administer Communion to the sick or
persecuted using very small pieces of hosts or even drops of Precious
Thus, while Christ would certainly not be present in microscopic or no
longer visible fragments, it is almost impossible to establish a
dividing line when dealing with small but visible particles
and the Church has never wished to pronounce on this theme.
In part this is due to the objective difficulty and danger in making
such a demarcation, but also so as avoid giving any justification
whatsoever for a lackadaisical manner of treating the sacred species.
Even when specifically asked about this question in the 1960s, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith merely recalled the necessity
of observing due reverence for all fragments by carefully following all
Church norms regarding the purification of sacred vessels and altar
linens as well as the proper procedure for cleansing the area if a host
should happen to fall to the floor.
I hope that this clarifies Church doctrine on this matter for our
concerned readers. As for me, my intention is always to coincide with
the Church's teachings.