Liturgy

Pyxes Left on the Altar

Date: October 30, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Question: Is it lawful for priests to leave newly consecrated Hosts (in pyxes) on top of the altar right after the dismissal, veneration of the altar, and recession at the end of the Mass, and then let the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion go the altar by themselves immediately after Mass to get their own pyxes with consecrated Hosts for them to bring to the sick? And is there a "proper" procedure (that is, prayers, etc.) for the extraordinary ministers in giving Communion to the sick outside the Mass? --M.A.S., Iloilo City, Philippines

Answer: While there does not seem to be any universally approved procedure, some dioceses have issued instructions and norms for when the pyx with Communion for the sick is received during Mass.

For example, the Archdiocese of Dublin in Ireland has the following indications for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, which seem to me to be both practical and dignified:

“As part of your duties as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, you may be asked to bring Holy Communion to those parishioners who cannot attend Mass because of old age or illness. The expectation is that you will bring Eucharist to the homebound person(s) on your way home after you have attended Sunday Mass.

“After the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass, the celebrant should call forward those who are to bring the Blessed Sacrament to the Housebound. The celebrant should send the minister/s forward using the following, or similar, words.

“‘The Extraordinary Minister(s) of Holy Communion will take the Eucharist to those who are confined to their homes.’

“‘As you go, take with you not only the Sacrament we have celebrated, but also the Word of God which we have heard, as well as the affection of this parish community, and ask for the prayers of those whom you visit in return. And now, let us pray.…’”

“The Prayer after Communion follows.

“The ministers depart in silence after the ‘Amen’ to the Prayer after Communion or may process out with the priest.”

In the situation foreseen above, the pyxes for communion could be placed on the altar during the preparation of gifts, to be consecrated during the Mass, or prepared after communion is over.

In some places, approved extraordinary ministers bring a pyx during the communion procession and ask the priest to place a specified number of hosts in the pyx. While I think the brief rite above is preferable, this latter process is relatively widespread. However, to avoid any danger of profanation, it should only be done if the minister of communion personally knows the extraordinary minister as duly approved.

Precisely because of these difficulties, some dioceses are moving away from this practice and adopting a procedure similar to that seen in Dublin. For example, we have this transition spelled out in detail to extraordinary ministers from one parish in the United States: 

“New Procedures

“1) At the beginning of each Mass, a tray will be placed on the credence table in the sacristy. On the table will be a bowl of unconsecrated hosts. Please fill a pyx with the number of hosts that you need.

“2) Cards will be on the tray with a space for your name and number of hosts. Those bringing the Eucharist to the homebound would fill out the card and place the card with their pyx on the tray.

“3) During the preparation of the altar, the servers will place the tray on the altar for the hosts to be consecrated.

“4) After Communion is finished, the priest will come in front of the altar and call forward all those who will be bringing communion to the sick. Each person will then take their pyx from the tray and the priest will give them a short blessing.

“We are making these changes for several reasons:

“First, our diocese has asked us to move in this direction instead of having individuals simply bring a pyx in the communion line and ask for a host.

“Second, having people come forward during the Mass is a beautiful reminder to us that our parish community includes those who are sick or unable to attend Mass every week. Thus, we can be reminded to pray for those who are sick or suffering.

“Third, our new process will help us ensure that the Eucharist is handled with the greatest care and reverence by allowing us to track and train those who bring Communion to the homebound, as well as helping us to better know who our homebound parishioners are.

“All of us want to treat the Eucharist with the utmost respect, and our new procedures can help avoid inadvertent mistakes.”

In other locations, there is no particular ceremony, but the secure location of the tabernacle key is known to the extraordinary ministers. This is probably most appropriate for weekday visits to the sick.

As we have seen, nobody has proposed to leave the pyx on the altar to be taken after Mass. Since the liturgical books indicate that any remaining hosts should be returned to the tabernacle after communion, it would not be appropriate and might even be seen as somewhat disrespectful toward the Eucharist. Hence, I would suggest establishing a procedure similar to those outlined above for Dublin and the American diocese.

Concerning the procedures for an extraordinary minister to administer Communion to the sick, these are fully developed in the liturgical book “Rites for Holy Communion and the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying.” Some editions are tailored for laypersons; there are also several online versions.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, city, state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.

 

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