Growing up, my parents occasionally went to Shop ‘n Save. My job was to bag the groceries. In my teenage gusto, I bagged the groceries heavy, stuffing as much as I could in them. I remember my mom reminding me on at least a few occasions to bag the bread separately and to put it in a separate place, lest it get smashed. I remember a few sandwiches at school that didn’t quite look the same as the other students until I had learned this lesson.
Handling bread, then, is something we know to do with extra care. Even so, accidents do happen. At Mass, with the unconsecrated hosts made of unleavened bread, an accident may happen. Hosts may stick to the gift bearer if it is an open container. Hosts may accidentally spill out when transporting the ciboria to the altar. But thankfully, before the hosts are consecrated they are just bread. Some priests may choose to take the hosts and take them to the sacristy to throw them away just as we would a piece of bread that has hit the floor. Others may quickly put it back in the ciboria, if they are more of the “five-second rule” school. Either way, at this point, it’s just bread.
A similar statement can be made with the unconsecrated wine. Before the priest says, “This is My Blood,” it’s church wine. Thus, the care that is taken with cleaning up the Precious Blood doesn’t need to be observed, and a towel can be used right away to clean up the spill.
One more story: When I was in high school, I also ushered a bit at Mass. Getting gift bearers to volunteer was one of our hardest jobs, and I think concern over something like this happening may hold some people back from volunteering. Please don’t let it. It is a beautiful symbol and prayerful experience of bringing the gifts — symbolic of the community’s gifts and prayers — to the altar, and seeing them placed on the altar. If an accident does happen, there may be some natural embarrassment, but it is nothing beyond dropping a piece of bread or a beverage at this point in the liturgy.
This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in south St. Louis.