How to Prevent Host Desecration

Just about every Catholic blog out there has commented on PZ Myer’s threatened and eventual desecration of the Eucharist.  I don’t want to provide any traffic, albeit small, to such a sacrilegious person, so I won’t bother providing a link.  However, the best summaries of the recent events can be found here.

What I will do, however, is talk about something which I have yet to hear discussed:  what are some simple ways of preventing such sacrilege from happening in the first place?  The much missed story in this whole affair is that it was very easy for a person who wished to steal the Blessed Sacrament to do so.  Not only that, but no Catholic blog that I read ever questioned the fact that it was an easy thing to do!  That, to me, speaks worlds of how careless we’ve become, and I think it is time to take practical measures to protect the Eucharist.  Much of what I say will seem extreme to many people; nevertheless, I think going “old school” is much better than allowing the Eucharist to be abused on a regular basis.  Nor do I find it “extreme” to do things the way that it had been done for centuries.

First, a quick story.  Two weeks ago I was serving Sunday Mass and I witnessed a lady pretend to place the Host in her mouth, and then proceed to place the Host in her pocket.  I followed the lady back to the pew and politely told her that she needed to consume the Host.  She followed directions without too much of a fight, telling me that her husband was sick and needed Communion.  I replied that if she talked to the priests after Mass they would be more than happy to listen to her requests.  She never appeared after Mass to talk to the priest,  probably out of embarrassment more than anything else. 

What this incident taught me was how easy it is for anyone to steal the Eucharist.  I took this lady at her word, that she was merely trying to take Communion to her husband; I doubt she had any malicious intent.  She had probably done it before without anyone catching her (or maybe her priest back home didn’t care), and she may have even done it habitually.  When she put the Host in her pocket, she did not even both to do it discreetly:  she just did it without trying to hide her actions.  And yet, despite the fact that what she is doing is wrong, this may have been the first time she had ever been caught or even instructed about proper reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. 

Still worse, when I sometimes clean up after Mass, I will on occasion find the Blessed Sacrament sitting in the pew or on the floor.  Now we have a story of some punk groupie of PZ Myers who was able to steal the Blessed Sacrament.  According to Myers, they even have a youtube video posted of the person performing the theft.

So what do we do about such things?  Do we continue our current modus operandi and allow this type of thing to happen without putting up any road blocks?  Here are my suggestions regarding how to stop such abuses:

a) Bring back the Communion rail; have a server watching the line to see if someone tries to take the Blessed Sacrament out of his mouth.

b) Require people to receive on the tongue at large Masses where the priest does not know all of the people present.  This of course does not apply to daily Masses where the priest is familiar with everyone present.

c) Have everyone receive by intinction.  I hope this doesn’t border on disrespect, but I’ll be blunt because I think it’s true:  nothing discourages taking something out of one’s mouth more than being required to take it out when it is wet and soggy.  Intinction makes sure that once the Host goes in, the Host won’t come out.  Plus, the Precious Blood would help to dissolve the Host much more quickly so that even if the thief did take it out of his mouth, he wouldn’t have much left of it to use for whatever purposes he is planning.

I think any combination of these things would serve as enough of a safeguard that many acts of abuse would simply stop.  I think a combination of all three of these things would discourage even the willing thief, or at least make stealing it very much harder. 

If my readers find these measures extreme, that’s fine.  However, I leave those who disagree with a question:  given that we all know how easy it is to profane that which we hold most dear, what measures would you take to prevent such a thing from happening?  I’m willing to accept any suggestions so that I can carry them out when I am ordained, God willing.  What I will not accept is the current status quo.

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One Comment on “How to Prevent Host Desecration”

  1. Robert Says:

    Paul Hamilton,

    An anecdote. I was attending daily mass. It so happened that a lady– who, let me be clear, I in no way wish to belittle or demean– with great enthusiasm ministered Holy Communion to me. Instead of simply moving the Host forward she, with great delight and gusto, wheeled the host in an arc back around towards me. Alas, her grip was not quite so sure. She threw/dropped the Host slightly backwards and to her right. Slightly flustered, she hastily picked up the host and gave me another.

    After mass I gave my pastor a heads up. I figured he’s the only one who would or could do the purification.

    But I think in some ways this exhibits the lax way in which we treat the Eucharist. The way she was ministering Holy Communion, while very well intentioned, was far too likely to result in dropping the Host. Second, it needs to be impressed that *speed* is not the primary virtue of ministering the Host. And thus it is no sin to halt, fetch a purificator, and overlay the spot where the Host fell. Yes, it will take an extra minute. But reverence is paramount.

    But how to prevent this? Well, I think your ideas make sense. Here are a few others.

    1. Greatly emphasize Eucharistic doctrine and piety.

    Do it. Period. I don’t care what in the world you are preaching about, but if you can’t make at least one reference to the presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Most Blessed Sacrament then you just aren’t trying hard enough. If people really believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, they’ll come around.

    2. Direct all parishioners to make a profound bow before receiving the Eucharist.

    It’s ridiculous, but the time/speed factor always comes up. People are worried to make the minister of Holy Communion wait for a moment as they bow, so they make these somewhat ridiculous partial bows which just look like they are swaying forward. Every able bodied parishioner ought to make a full profound bow before receiving the Eucharist. Period. We believe how we act, and as long as we allow ourselves to act in a lax manner around the Eucharist we are going to treat it irreverently.

    To this end, preach to your congregation on the necessity of showing reverence to the Host– when entering and exiting a Church, by custom, with a genuflection– by the profound bow before receiving the Eucharist, not excluding a full genuflection which is also allowed. Naturally, you’d also instruct them in Eucharistic adoration.

    3. Patents. If you have extra altar servers, have them hold patents. This will emphasize that a dropped Host is something to be avoided.

    4. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

    This is sticky. Good luck with this. Train those who are EMoHC very well, and recall ones who have already been trained to constant training. Since it’s a privilege– and indeed, a tremendous and serious one– anyone who wants to be one ought to be well acquainted with everything. Instruct them in proper distribution of Holy Communion.

    Also, do your best to cut down on the numbers. How? I really have no idea. Intinction can only be done by a priest, so obviously they are out for that.

    All of these should prepare the ground well for what you want.

    And then your recommendations would seal the deal, so to speak. Receiving on the tongue makes it very difficult to steal the host, and intinction, as you note, makes it nearly impossible. Having a dedicated server for guarding the Host might even be a good tradition to establish. Or, have the Knights of Columbus designate a “Eucharistic guard”– quite literally– whose job it is to be vigilant at the altar rail for theft and desecration of the Host. Heck, it would even give men a manly and important job in the Church. That’s two birds, one stone.

    In retrospect I am quite pleased that my stomach lurched when I saw the Host fall– at least something in my spiritual life is in order. And as a note, I wanted to tell her, I would have gladly have eaten the Host off the ground (after all… God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt.)

    Your thoughts?


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