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Jesus fell

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Gravity is the natural force that causes things to fall. It influences objects of all sizes —from a minuscule grain of sand to a mammoth meteorite. Both solids and liquids are bound to its effects —even Jesus’ own body and blood.

In Gethsemane, our Lord’s blood drips on the garden’s floor and the Stations of the Cross tell of Jesus’ body slamming to the ground three times.

To this day, the Body and Blood of Christ — in sacramental form — are under the perils of gravity’s effects.

So what happens when the unthinkable happens; when, while standing for Communion, we see a Host fall or the Precious Blood spill?



Before exploring the answer, I want to make it clear that what is falling is not just a trivial breadcrumb or merely a drop of common table wine — quaint reminders of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper. No. At Mass we are not reminiscing — it is not a gathering of people with a penchant for nostalgia.

At Mass we are taking Jesus at his word when, at the Last Supper, he took bread and said: “This is my body given for you;” (Luke 22:19) and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20)

Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55).

This is what we do at Mass. We obey his command to “do this in remembrance of me.”



After the words of consecration, what was once bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Jesus in sacramental form. This is a key doctrine of the Catholic faith — a teaching that sets us apart from most other Christians:

“The true body and blood of our Lord, together with his soul and divinity, exist under the species of bread and wine. His body exists under the species of bread and his blood under the species of wine, according to the import of his words.” (Council of Trent, Session XIII)

“Christ is ‘truly, really, and substantially contained’ in Holy Communion. His presence is not momentary nor simply signified, but wholly and permanently real under each of the consecrated species of bread and wine.” (Norms For The Distribution And Reception Of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds In The Dioceses Of The United States Of America #8)

The Council of Trent dogmatically defined that: “... in the venerable Sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species...” (The Council of Trent, Thirteenth Session, Canon III)

This codifies the fact that even the smallest particle of the Host and the tiniest drop of the Precious Blood contains the entirety of Our Lord. It is therefore paramount that we be conscious of our actions at Communion and be on guard out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

Through the ages the Church devised several safeguards to minimize the chance of the Host or Precious blood falling to the floor, as well as creating a reverent protocol in case they do.



Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This time-honored idiom couldn’t be truer when referencing Holy Communion.



As a child I vividly remember an acolyte holding a handled paten under the mouth of parishioners as they received Communion on the tongue — lest the Host should fall. In 1977, the United States was given permission by the Holy See to distribute Communion in the hand. As the popularity of this form of reception eclipsed the former, the presence of the paten-wielding acolyte diminished. However, the practice is still seen when the Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary form (the Latin Mass) and in papal Masses where Communion on the tongue is the norm.



In medieval times, in order to minimize the spilling of the precious blood, the curious custom of the fistula arose. The celebrant would dip a golden straw into the chalice and put his finger at the top to create a vacuum. The suspended wine would then be released into the communicant’s mouth. The fistula was still a part of the pre-Paul VI papal liturgy.


Communion spoon

Eastern Catholic Churches who celebrate the Byzantine Rite as well as Eastern Orthodox Churches distribute Communion — both elements — through the use of a Communion spoon called a Kochliárion. The faithful are instructed not to slurp from the spoon, nor should their teeth scrape it. They should close their mouths around the spoon and carefully make sure all its contents have been removed so as to insure nothing spills or falls to the floor.

Both the use of the Communion spoon and fistula are still options in distributing Communion: “The Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #245)

However, neither is common in the United States: “Distribution of the Precious Blood by a spoon or through a straw is not customary in the Latin dioceses of the United States of America.” (Norms For The Distribution And Reception Of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds In The Dioceses Of The United States Of America #48)


Communion cloth

In addition to the use of the spoon, Eastern Churches also use a red “Communion Cloth” placed underneath the chin. After receiving, the communicant carefully dabs his or her lips with the red cloth in case a small crumb or drop of wine remains. Similarly, Eastern churches may stretch a cloth between two servers to catch any drops or crumbs that fall.


Liturgical rug

It is the custom in some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches to place a small rug in front of the priest so when the faithful receive Holy Communion, they do so standing on it. If an accident occurs, the priest would consume whatever he could from what had spilled. The rug is then removed and dealt with — typically through burning.



Despite these safeguards, accidents surrounding the distribution and reception of Holy Communion do occur. We are human. It may be humidity that causes Hosts to stick together or a child who tugs your arm at the wrong time. Regardless of how it happened, the Church has a protocol in place:

“If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently. If any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #280)

The GIRM is unclear as to what should be done with the host once it is picked up.

Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, answered this way: “I would say that, if the host remains clean, then either the minister or the communicant should consume it directly.”

If, for whatever reason the host is soiled, he added: “The process of dissolving the host in water may be used in special conditions if a host had been seriously soiled. Once the host is dissolved, the water may be poured directly upon the earth or down the sacrarium.”

A sacrarium is a special sink in the sacristy whose plumbing is not connected to the sewer system but runs straight down into the ground.

All these preventive and remedial measures emphasize our core teaching on the Body and Blood of Christ.

Dan Gonzalez
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Comments from readers

Charles Howard - 01/11/2023 11:14 AM
Thank you Dan for your article. In regards to the issue of what happens if particles of the Precious Body and Blood should fall, I would encourage all who read this to ask, what should we as the faithful do to receive Jesus? If more particles are falling because of the majority of us who receive on the hand, then that should be concerning. If less fall between the priest's hand and the tongue of the person, then I would recommend that we should examine what is more proper. Yes, the laws of gravity do exist, but I remember one saint whom I can't remember his name who said, "Be careful not to drop the Host". In addition, I would like to encourage all to ask, then, what is proper in how to receive our Blessed Lord to avoid any particles of the Sacred Host falling on the floor? I have no knowledge of 'experiments' that have taken place after 1970 on church floors and carpets to see if any particles were noticed. But if such visual experiments could have taken place, not just at the altars but also along walkways and towards the pews where the faithful travel, then this should be concerning if tiny fragments were seen in those areas. If this didn't happen before because of the way the Roman Rite Mass was prayed and how the faithful took the Eucharist, then I encourage then the return to taking the Eucharist on the tongue and that we should use the Communion plates.
alda bevans - 01/10/2023 06:36 PM
Very interesting article. I have seen a priest retrieve a fallen Host and eat it. I told myself if it ever happened to me that's what I should do. I have never heard of the sacrarium..thanks for this explanation
Valli Leone - 01/09/2023 11:25 AM
Thanks for the very insightful article. As a Eucharistic minister, this concern is always on my mind. When I pray about it, Jesus shows me that he is always present and is able to handle our foibles, including the dropping of his precious Body and Blood, which thankfully is a rare occurrence. Fear not! And this verse always comes to my mind: There is, therefore, no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus. Personallly, I would always consume the Host — the Lord, my Healer— regardless of any dirt or germs around Him Alleluia! ✝️⚓️💜

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