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When the Precious Blood Spills

Date: June 18, 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: Can you explain the proper procedures when a chalice of consecrated wine is spilled during the Mass? -- R.H., Grand Rapids, Michigan

Answer: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) briefly deals with this point:

“280. If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently; and if any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy.”

The sacrarium is a special sink found in many sacristies, which is not connected to the drains but goes directly to the ground. If there is no sacrarium, the water used to wash the area, along with the water used to wash any cloths or purificators that have been used to absorb the Precious Blood, should be poured out directly into the earth.

The missal in use before the Second Vatican Council had an ample section entitled “On Defects that May Occur in the Celebration of Mass (De defectibus),” which offers detailed descriptions and solutions regarding multiple possible errors and accidents that might occur. Although not all the cases described are applicable to the current rite, most of it remains a useful guideline.

Several English translations of the full document are available on the Internet, although some sites attempt to use this document to question the liturgical reforms stemming from Vatican II.

Regarding spilling of the Precious Blood the document gave the following indications:

“42. If any of the Blood of Christ falls, if it is only a drop or so, nothing need be done except to pour a little water over the spilled drops and dry it afterwards with a purificator. If more has been spilled, the corporal or the altar cloth or other place is to be washed in the best way possible, and the water is then to be poured into the sacrarium.

“43. If, however, all the Blood is spilled after the Consecration, the little that remains is to be consumed, and the procedure described above is to be followed with the rest which has been spilled. But if none at all remains, the priest is to put wine and water into the chalice again and consecrate from the words Simili modo, postquam cenatum est, etc., after first making an offering of the chalice, as above.”

The last phrase regarding the offering “as above” refers above all to No. 6 of the “De defectibus” and in consequence applies to the mental offering of the chalice:

“6. If the celebrant notices before the Consecration that the host is corrupt or that it is not made of wheat flour, he is to replace that host with another, make the offering at least mentally and continue from where he left off.”

The indications offered in the GIRM in a way summarize these more detailed norms which would still be generally applicable in the present Roman Rite.

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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, your city, and your state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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