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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Extraordinary ministers of Eucharist barred from purifying vessels

I just saw this news:

"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."

Most of the article discusses the fact that this may lead to something of a restoration of the practice of receiving under one species. While I think that is good and important and, like St. Thomas More, I question why we should abandon such a long-standing tradition, I think it is also important to note the symbolic value of the purification of the sacred vessels.

The purification of the vessels by the priest, especially when it is done immediately after the congregation receives, is a visual demonstration of the importance of the Eucharist. The sacred vessels are not simply dirty dishes to be put aside until a more convenient time for cleaning, they contain or have just contained the body and blood of God. Immediately purifying the vessels, especially by the priest, is a clear sign that the Eucharist is truly important. It is so important that the priest stops in the middle of mass to "do a chore," to "clean the dishes." It highlights that this "meal" we have received is not simply a community affair. No. What was bread and wine are no longer something merely to be cleaned away. They are God and deserve to be treated with the immediate attention and respect that is His due.

Too many times I see otherwise devout priests leave this seemingly insignificant detail to the extraordinary ministers. I cannot help but think it is generally a sign that the priest has implicitly forgotten the significance of the event in which he is taking part.