Q. As I travel throughout the United States, I notice that some parishes use Communion patens and others do not. Is there a rule about this?
A. A Communion paten is a small plate that is held by an altar server or acolyte during the distribution of Holy Communion. It is placed under the the chin or the hands of the communicant to ensure that the host, or particles of the host do not fall to the ground. The patens are then purified over the chalice by the priest or deacon, and the chalice is purified with water, which is drunk by the priest or deacon.
The Eucharist is truly a gift to us. In fact, it’s a continuation of Christ’s total gift of self that began with his incarnation, came to its culmination on the cross where he died for us, and continues to be present to us under the appearance of simple bread and wine. Because the Eucharist is such a precious gift to us, it must be treated with respect.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is infused within us at baptism, and sealed in the sacrament of confirmation is piety. Piety is giving God his due worship and revering him as his child. The gift of piety should be expressed in our participation at Mass, where we encounter the Lord in a profound way.
As Catholics, we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Through the words of consecration by the priest, bread and wine change substantially into Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity. The whole of Christ is present in every part of the species of bread and wine.
The documents of the Church call for the Communion paten for the reception of the Eucharist by the faithful to be part of the vessels used at Mass. In 2004, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published an instruction titled Redemptionis Sacramentum concerning the proper celebration of Mass. That document states “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 use of the paten may also assist our faith. For those who believe, it reminds us of the reverence that is owed to Our Lord. It could also assist those who do not believe to assent to faith in the Eucharist. For, if we show reverence to the small particles of the Sacred Host, it may impress the heart of an unbeliever enough to believe.
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