I've worked at Catholic Answers as a staff apologist since 2003. This will mark my tenth year in apologetics. Most questions I receive through letters, phone calls, email, and questions submitted to the Catholic Answers Forums and EWTN are interesting and challenging; I enjoy researching them and discovering the answers to share with people. But there is one category of questions I dread but feel compelled to answer as swiftly as possible: abuses of the Eucharist.
The most visible abuses of the Eucharist usually occur at Mass. Someone mishandles the sacred species and drops or spills occur. Someone unknown to a minister of Communion presents a pyx to be filled and takes off with the Eucharist for who-knows-what purpose. Agitators for a cause decide to make a statement about beliefs at variance with Church teaching by showing up at Mass in distinctive sashes demonstrating their devotion to their cause and their intention to present themselves for Communion anyway. Believe it or not, these abuses are mild in comparison to what happens to the Eucharist outside the public eye--especially when the Eucharist is taken by an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to Catholics who are homebound, hospital-bound, or prison-bound.
Here are a few of the horror stories.
- A man called to say that he had been going through his deceased mother's home and found a stash of consecrated hosts in the cabinet, evidently stored there by someone who was distributing them to the man's homebound mother one by one.
- A woman whose aunt was in a nursing home contacted us about one of the visits an extraordinary minister of holy Communion had made recently to her aunt. Her aunt was unable to swallow the Eucharist placed on her tongue, so the EMHC retrieved the host and deposited it in a potted plant.
- Another EMHC was worried about how she had handled a similar situation when she took Communion to someone at the local hospital. When the patient was unable to swallow the host, the EMHC didn't know what to do with it. She decided to wrap the Eucharist in a tissue and throw it in the trash can in the patient's room.
If you think this is a problem solely for laypeople handling the host, you haven't heard the worst case yet. I consider it the worst case because it concerns a priest, who should have been trained in the proper handling of the host. When a parishioner approached this priest with a consecrated host she had found on the floor of the church, the priest advised her to burn the host and dump the ashes in a garden.
One of these days, I hope that the Lord places me in the path of a bishop and there is time to chat. If so, I will tell the bishop these horror stories and plead with him to pass on the message to his brothers in the episcopate that we desperately need more protections for the Blessed Sacrament and training for those entrusted to handle the sacred species. In all these cases, the reason our Lord suffered these indignities to his precious body, blood, soul, and divinity was ignorance, not malice. And so what is needed is knowledge, which in turn will enkindle love.
St. Tarcisius, pray for us!