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throw out the consecrated bread and wine

A piscina (on the left side)
What do you do if you have too much consecrated bread and wine?

Some, confusedly, think that the piscina (sacrarium) is the solution. It is not.

There is the tradition, in church architecture, of having a piscina (sacrarium) near the altar, or in the vestry/sacristy. A piscina is a bowl with a drain that goes directly to the earth. [Technically, it is the drain that is called the sacrarium; some extend this term to the basin.]

The purpose of the piscina is to dispose of water from, for example, liturgical ablutions. In my experience the more normal practice is drinking the ablutions directly after communion, but a further wash of chalice and paten in the sacristy/vestry could have the water from that poured down a piscina there. A font preferably drains directly into earth – if not, the blessed water might be poured down the piscina. [Bad practice: directly after baptising someone at the west end of the church building, just as everyone was returning to the front, the priest reached down deeply into the font pulling the plug!] Holy oils, and remaining ash from Ash Wednesday can also be disposed of down the piscina.

Misunderstanding the role of the piscina, I have seen notices (all the way to cathedrals) directing the disposal of the consecrated Eucharistic elements down the piscina. I have seen this being instructed (all the way to bishops). [I have even heard of a priest “deconsecrating” the bread and wine! The mind boggles: was the Eucharistic Prayer said backwards?!]

The Roman Catholic Church could not be clearer:

Can. 1367 A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; moreover, a cleric can be punished with another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.

Using a piscina/sacrarium for this is specifically mentioned as forbidden at 107 here.

Anglican teaching and precepts on this are no different. For example, it is agreed in the formularies of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia that

Any remaining consecrated bread and wine, unless required for the communion of persons not present, is consumed at the end of the distribution, or immediately after The Dismissal of the Community. (A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, page 516).

Anglicans, like Roman Catholics, are only given two options: consume or reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

The Anglican approach is that people can mentally hold different models about what “actually” happens in the Eucharist, but in order that those holding this variety of acceptable models can worship together (in “Common Prayer”) we have an agreed practice.

Not even bishops can overrule our agreed practice. They, like anyone else, can seek to alter our agreements by the normal processes.

Historically some confusion may have developed, of course, when people have seen unconsecrated, left-over wine being poured down a piscina – which, of course, is perfectly acceptable. The tragedy is in communities where they are so poorly formed, trained, and careless that they themselves cannot distinguish what is consecrated and what is not.

image source Reading Minster

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22 thoughts on “throw out the consecrated bread and wine”

  1. In my Roman Catholic days I was invited to help distribute communion at an Episcopal Church wedding. the priest had provided a loaf of French bread (about the crumbliest bread one can imagine) and after the service she suggested that I take the remaining bread (a very large amount of bread indeed) home to enjoy with my family. I stuttered a little, and finally heard myself say “But I’m Roman Catholic!” She said, “Sorry! I’ll take it home.”

    My personal understanding has not changed now that I’m of the Episcopalian persuasion. It is now, and has always been, clear to me that “real presence” is not about what the bread IS, but rather what the bread MEANS. Handling the bread with care after the service, in respect for its sacramental meaning is to me very important.

  2. As a Catholic, this gets to a core of Christian belief about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, soul and Divinity. There is no way to have a more personal relationship with Jesus than to “take Him under my roof” in Holy Communion. People need to be reminded The Eucharist is not symbolic, but real.
    Interesting reading for the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. ” …Blessed are those who believe and have yet not seen.” John 20:29

    1. In 1971, ARCIC – the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, agreed that Communion with Christ in the Eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectively signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood … ARCIC then in 1979 was able to say in an elucidation on Ministry, following on from an agreed statement that in 1973, “that our agreement on the essentials of Eucharistic faith with regard to the sacramental presence of Christ and the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist, and on the nature and purpose of priesthood, ordination, and apostolic succession, is the new context in which the questions should now be discussed. This calls for a reappraisal of the verdict on the Anglican Orders in Apostolicae Curae – On the Nullity of Anglican Orders (1896).” And it is to be also noted in the 1971 declaration states The word transubstantiation is commonly used in the Roman Catholic Church to indicate that God acting in the eucharist effects a change in the inner reality of the elements. The term should be seen as affirming the fact of Christ’s presence and of the mysterious and radical change which takes place. In contemporary Roman Catholic theology it is not understood as explaining how the change takes place.

      Somehow the debate bewtween symbolic and ‘real’ has long since been at least agreed to in liturgical and theological circles – both Roman catholic and Anglican. Catechetical formation for the sensus fidelium might seem to be wanting.

      1. Thanks for these helpful points, Phillip. I concur that “transubstantiation” is a term now used without a necessary commitment to Aristotelian categories and the philosophical framework that undergirds it. It then becomes a useful model but it is also loaded with so much emotional baggage that it can become hard to understand what people are saying to each other. Blessings.

        1. Yes lex orandi, lex credendi … but it is word and symbol, and action,and even fixture. I remember 20 plus years ago I was familiar with an inner-city Auckland Anglican Church which had a tabernacle and tabernacle light, and even a lady chapel. After years away overseas and on return elsewhere in NZ, on being in Auckland I passed by that Church one day and entered in – the church was flipped, huge AV screens and equipment no altar, no ambo, still an Anglican Churcha and congregation however. Perhaps it is not only about the sacred consuming or disposing of the sacred species involved, but it is perhaps the disposing of what generations knew to be sacred. 20 years ago that Church offered high and charismatic liturgy, and while liturgy is always drama, however so is performance dramatic and perhaps one wonders sometimes what has been disposed of. It is said Man proposes and God disposes. I think however it might be that God proposes, and we dispose.

          1. Br Graham-Michoel

            I think many of will recognise the church in Auckland that you mention. The disregard and disrespect of one person ( the priest who changed everything )of decades of faith and tradition was a massively clear and indication of the decline of Anglicanism in this Country.

  3. Hugh McCafferty

    Thank you. In the days when I was in the priest force I celebrated as ‘guest celebrant’ in a lot of places. A an alarming number used paper towels for purifactors. How do you dispose of those correctly? Eat them?

    1. IMO paper towels are inappropriate for purificators, Hugh. One option might be to burn them, and then, following the thread of this post, dispose of the ash down the piscina. Blessings.

  4. One of my more surreal experiences surrounding the mystery of holy communion came about at a nursing home one Saturday morning where I’d just done a therapeutic music group and was eating breakfast with the staff preparing their weekend tasks, where they were told to prepare ( cut up and plastic-wrap ) the bread ( the grape juice was already pre-bought in small foil-sealed containers ) for Church the next day. I commented that given the temperature the bread would be stale/mouldy by next day, and someone rounded on me ‘it’s the body of our Lord’.

    I was somewhat new to the world of fanaticism and suggested it was a task left best to last-minute, ‘we don’t want to make people sick’ and the lady who spoke up before said ‘if that’s God’s will…’

    To me that is the utmost disrespect, to way-lay someone vulnerable into potential harm…nothing sacred in that.

    Mercy not sacrifice.

    The transformation is with-in the recipient. Matthew 12.

    1. One of the positives of the model of transubstantiation, Tracy, is that all the “accidents” of bread remain – including its getting stale, mouldy, and a natural means of spreading disease. People do confuse mystery and magic, don’t they! Blessings.

  5. Br Graham-Michoel

    I grew up an Anglo Catholic in a parish where the teaching of transubstantiation was an integral part of our faith. One central/core reason for my ‘swimming the Tiber’ was having had enough of the attitude that anything goes, anything is ok, that prevails in Anglicanism.
    Love your blog Fr Bosco.

  6. Vincent Murphy

    Hi Bosco;

    I’m interested that the rubric in NZ allows for some to be reserved for those not present as that differs to the theology I learned here. I wonder why the change? Does NZ not hold to the theology of the BCP?

    The BCP has “And if any of the Bread and Wine remain unconsecrated, the Curate shall have it to his own use: but if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.”


    1. Thanks, Vincent. I don’t have a survey of provinces, but I would have thought that NZ’s rubric is quite normal in contemporary Anglican revisions. You can read the history here. Blessings.

      1. Br Graham-Michoel

        I don’t know which province you are in Vincent, but ( as a former ‘keeper’ of Canon Law ) as Bosco points out, this is quite regular under the provisions of Anglican revisions – certainly in the CoE since 1928, and the then 1932 revisions.

  7. Father Ron Smith

    The trouble is that we Anglicans are not, any longer, systematically educated about the realities of the Holy Communion (Eucharist or Mass). It is surely the reponsibility of every priest to teach his people the fact that H.C., in accordance with our Church’s formularies in ACANZP affords us the privilege of receiving the Body and blood of Christ. Otherwise, we are just repeating a meaningless ritual, which could have little benefit as a mere remembrance of Christ, rather than the sacramental means of sharing His Body and Blood!

    Quote from the NZ Prayer Book – “Is this not a sharing of the Body and blood of Christ?”

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