Does the ciborium ever get emptied?

Often, the priest at Mass only consecrates the large host for himself, and the people receive from hosts reserved in the tabernacle. At other times, there are hosts left over at the end of communion and they are added to the ciborium in the tabernacle. Very occasionally, I’ve seen an empty ciborium being cleaned out at the lavations at the end of Mass, but only because it seems to be empty by chance.

I can imagine this could get confusing, especially if there are several priests in the same parish, all celebrating Mass at different times. How do they make sure the ciborium doesn’t still have last month’s hosts in the bottom, with the newer hosts added on top, some consumed, then more added, consumed, but never completely emptied?

I’m guessing there must be more to it than that, and it’s probably something really simple, but I can’t think what. Anybody know the answer?

At my parish (which has 3 assigned priests and always at least 1 in residence–right now we have 2), it doesn’t seem that the ciborium are ever completely empty. But I do think the priests become experienced at gauging how many new Hosts to consecrate at any one Mass. Usually at the early morning daily Masses, the priests only consecrates his own Host. At the most attended Sunday Masses usually 4 additional ciboria worth of hosts are consecrated and then reserved Hosts are brought out from the tabernacle–we have 8 ‘stations’ for communion. At the end of that Mass, perhaps only 2 ciboria are returned to the tabernacle, so I do think that the reserved Hosts are ‘turned over’ so the Blessed Sacrament from last month isn’t still lingering at the bottom.

In our parish I doubt the ciborium ever gets emptied completely. I’m aware that the sacristan feels she has to put out enough hosts so that we’ll have enough on reserve to communicate all the survivors of a 747 crash – I’m not kidding, she told me that if we get lower than 100 Hosts in the Tabernacle she starts panicking that we wouldn’t have enough should a plane crash. In reality, I think there are only 6 people who receive Communion at home on Saturdays so a reserve of 10 Hosts would be ample for our needs.

I can’t speak for every priest, but here’s what I do: I make a mental note of which one is the “old” ciborium, and always make a point of adding the old Hosts to the top of the new hosts. In other words, I always transfer the old ones, never transfer the new ones. That way, the ones in the bottom are the new ones. Every so often (no real schedule) I also make a point of allowing the old ciborium to become completely empty at Communion time–even if this means that only a few people receive before I retrieve a new one from the altar (which was consecrated at that Mass).

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