The Paten and Ablution Cup

by Father Michael Clawson on March 03, 2024

Over the last several weeks, we have made a handful of changes and additions to the Mass, so I wanted to spend a little time reviewing them and explaining what they are and the reasons behind them. 

The first addition I’d like to mention is the “Paten”. This is the plate that the servers hold under people's hands or chin as they receive communion. In the document from the Vatican Redemptionis Sacramentum the Church says“[93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.” The practice of using the “communion plate” also known as the Paten, is a rather modern addition in the history of the Church beginning in the 19th century, but the practice of having an object dedicated to catching any particles of the Eucharist that fall or the whole host itself is not new and is a very ancient practice. Originally there would have been a cloth held under the person's chin by several servers as a way of catching any particles, then as the practice of using a communion rail began a cloth was draped over the whole of the communion rail and held at each end by servers for the same purpose. Both of these former ways of protecting the Eucharist from falling to the ground are still practiced today in various places around the world. In the Orthodox Church they still have servers hold a cloth under each person’s chin as they receive communion and at parishes that celebrate the Latin Mass it is still common, although not universal, to see them drape a cloth across the whole communion rail as a way to catch any particles that fall. It wasn’t until the 1970’s and onward though that the practice of using Patens became more widespread with the rise of people receiving the Eucharist in the hand and the idea of a cloth being held up by multiple servers under people’s hands or chin was thought to be impractical. While some may think it unnecessary, people would be surprised to see how many particles of the Eucharist fall and are caught by the paten. At the heart of our parish adding patens is our love and devotion for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of our faith and from which all things flow and so if we desire St. Malachy to be a dynamic and life filled parish then we must first be a parish that is filled with Love for the Eucharist, which is our Lord Himself. 

Flowing from the addition of Patens is the second addition of the “Ablution Cup” for the EMHCs (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion) after communion. The Ablution Cup is a small bowl that is specifically used to wash any small particles of the Eucharist that stick to the Priest or EMHC’s fingers once they are done distributing the Eucharist. Fr. Danda and I already do this practice by having one of the servers pour water over our fingers into the chalice to wash pieces of the Eucharist that have stuck to our fingers so it makes sense that if we are going to do this for ourselves, then we should also have the EMHCs do this as well. Everyone who chooses to receive communion in the hand should adopt this same attitude and carefully looks to see if any small pieces of the Eucharist are in their hands and, if there are, to make sure that it is picked up and eaten. 

Then lastly is the new place the Ushers stand. Unfortunately, St. Malachy has continued to have a problem with people either intentionally or unintentionally not consuming the Eucharist before heading back to their pew. It is the duty of the Priest, Deacon, and EMHC to make sure that each person consumes the host before they give the Eucharist to the next person. When people fail to follow the directions given from the General Instruction to the Roman Missal paragraph 161, 

“If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it.

and because of the large number of people at Mass, it's incredibly difficult to ensure people only walk away after consuming the Eucharist. Because of this the Ushers have moved to stand in the aisle where people return from communion to assist in this task. 

As Catholics, we have been entrusted with the gift of the Eucharist. It is not a gift for us to do with whatever we like; it is the most delicate and precious gift we have been entrusted with, to be its caretakers, not its master. It is the pearl whose value is so great that the person who finds it sells all he has to buy it. It is beyond comprehension; it is a mystery. Second only to my desire for the salvation of each one of you is my desire for the Eucharist always to be treated with the love, devotion, and reverence that it deserves. Pope St. John Paul II said in his document Ecclesia De Eucharistia (The Church of the Eucharist), “No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.” “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church.” What Pope St. John Paul II means is that if we wish to be faithful Catholics, then we must follow what the Church asks of us, and what the Church asks of us in connection to the Eucharist is to strive with all our being to honor and protect it and to treat it with the most profound reverence possible. 

I will end with these words from Pope St. John Paul II: “By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this “treasure”. Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for “in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation”.

Fr. Clawson


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