Sacred Linen Questions

a) Is there a particular amount of time deemed sufficient to soak a fragment of consecrated host so that it can be deemed to be no longer bread even though it may still be visible? Example: one of the sacred linens has a fragment of consecrated host caught fast in its threads, such that the fragment is visible but not such that it can be removed and consumed.

b) Is there any particular ritual required for laundering linens that have absorbed one of the sacred oils rather than having possibly absorbed a consecrated species?

Very good question. As a Sacristan in training I would very much like to know the answer from someone who actually deals with this.

Ok from this and what I’ve read on other links if a presence of the Body of Our Lord is still on the altar cloths in the manner you say it should be well rinsed in the Sacrarium and then laundered as the altar linens should be.

Oils are a sacramental, they are not the Sacrament.

Honestly, I am finding it hard to imagine a fragment that is large enough to resemble bread yet small enough to be caught in the weave of linens. Would an average person see this and say “that is bread stuck in the fabric”? If not, then, it no longer has the appearance of bread.

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It happened to me only once. I could tell it was a fragment of a host but I just could not get that fragment out of the corporal without wrecking the weave. I have no idea how it got ground in like that, but there it was. I soaked the piece overnight, which a priest I know who is an expert in these things thought was a sufficient amount of time, but I have always wondered if there were other opinions on the subject. I’m teaching someone else to do this, and I’d like to be able to just tell her that whatever she may miss when she inspects the linens that she can feel safe assuming that no bread in the world is still bread after an overnight soak in water and therefore the eucharistic species do not subsist after that same treatment, either. That is true, right?

As for the holy chrism, I wash all the laundry from the church separately from our personal things, but I have just been treating grease stains like grease stains. They aren’t going to come out with a water rinse, so yes, I figure they are like linens that are wet with the water from the first ritual soak. They’re laundered with the appreciation that these are linens set aside for sacred use, but the method is the same as any other laundry of delicate items that are being spared from undue wear. I wanted to know if that fit the consensus here. (We have a priest who is very generous with the oils, lol. It isn’t as if I could wring out the piece and fry an egg, but this isn’t a small amount, either.)


I was once told by a priest who was my pp at that time, that he had to dissolve a consecrated (corrected typo) host which he retrieved off the floor (iirc), and anyway it was placed in the vasculum and I think he told me it took a week to dissolve. My understanding is that it is left to dissolve until such time as it can no longer be identified for what it is/was.

So in your case soaking the piece of linen overnight or even for a bit longer until it is no longer recognizable as part of a host would be right, with that water dispensed down the sacrarium.

This article is a good read in general - Treatment of partially consumed hosts

As for blessed oils on cloths, I also give them a first rinse - separately - (several towels post baptisms), and dispose of this first rinse water in the same way as the rinse water from purificators. I then either pre-treat the stain before soaking them in sodium percarbonate - Church Linens (followup)


This is also how it is handled in our Parish.


Thank you! This is what I was looking for (italics mine):

“With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians would hold that, although the host externally remains intact, the real presence would cease as soon as the host is fully soaked with water since from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

So, just as wheat bread otherwise proper for consecration is tainted with something, even something edible–buttered bread, bread soaked in milk or water, etc–is no longer matter that can be consecrated, just so bread that is treated with water eventually takes on an appearance that would not be said to be exclusively that of bread and so the eucharistic species no longer subsist.

Would you say this fits: The main thing is that there not even be an appearance of carelessly discarding a consecrated host that might have been consumed. It is worthwhile to take a few minutes to inspect linens already inspected by the priest, lest a fragment than might have been consumed not be consumed. Having said that, once the linens have been inspected and then put into water to soak one can feel satisfied that any eucharistic species that may have been missed are very small and would no longer subsist when such a small fragment is soaked overnight in water. If some piece of wheat germ or something of that sort is seen later, the devoted person doing laundry can feel at peace that he or she is only seeing the elements of bread that has been dissolved in water, and that is OK.


Correct. It’s my experience as a sacristan, that that was left up to me - Father trusted me to inspect the linens very carefully.

(as an aside - I loathe when some people shake out the corporal if as part of their duties they set it out on the Altar when setting up for Mass. Yes, it was part of our duties for one particular priest at one place I served at years ago, and saw another helper/sacristan [apparently experienced] do this. I couldn’t believe it, and rushed over to explain why that shouldn’t be done :frowning_face:]

Yes. We can only deal with what the eye can see, so soaking overnight includes the intention to properly and respectfully deal with any particles on the corporals.

I wouldn’t think anything would be recognizable/left after soaking over night, and unless these were inspected again prior to putting through the washing machine (on their own, separate to other personal washing), I can’t see how one would be aware of any ‘left over matter’.

As long as we exercise due care and attention to what we are doing, treat the sacred linens with the care and respect they deserve, I don’t think we would be accountable to the impossible. So examining carefully prior to soaking, disposing of this first rinse water appropriately , (if only one item with this piece of host was also soaked separately which would then allow it to be inspected more carefully) before being soaked in sodium percarbonate - would be all that would be expected of us. If no more found, then it could be soaked, then washed in the usual way.

If some particles were still observed, then it is no longer exclusively the host (being majorly combined with water by soaking in a generous amount of water in the bucket), but I guess depending on the person - if they have a tender conscience (which is completely different to being scrupulous) they could then dispose of this soak water appropriately too. Though I wouldn’t think that was necessary, but for the peace of their conscience I don’t see any harm.

Another thought - if after the first rinse, they inspected the item (assuming one and soaked on its own separately for its first rinse) and found it still hadn’t completely dissolved, then whilst I agree with the statement you quoted from that article, I also see no harm by giving it another “first” rinse, before soaking it in the sodium percarbonate.


Think practicality. If there is a piece of the host lodged within linen (a good reason to favour plain linen without lace ornamentation) remove what can be removed and place in water or in the ground. If in water, stirring will dissolve it quicker and it can then be poured into the ground. If the species is no longer identifiable as the host, it’s ok to go. (If you’re asking ‘Does this look like the host?’ then the answer is probably no).

Oils are somewhat different as a Sacramental - for anything involving oils I will either put out cotton wool pads or old (retired) linen which can then be burnt. If that’s not available, soak in very hot water to remove the oil and pour the water into the ground.

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I find it difficult to believe that a particle of the Host can be embedded in the corporal. I think it far more likely that it is starch from where the linen is laundered.

Starch can clump together, particularly if spray starch is used .

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I saw it myself. It was a fragment of whole wheat host on a very white corporal. There was no question at all what it was. I can also guarantee it was not starch, because we used no starch at all.

I will say that I think the weave of that linen was too loose to be used in a corporal. I will probably do linens for another 20 years and never see anything like it again, because the corporals at our present parish are made from linen that is woven more tightly and finely, but it did happen.

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Now you are aware and can make us all aware.

Once after Mass as I was going to the credence table to collect the vessels to bring to the Sacristy, a lady who sat in the front pew stopped me. She told me she had noticed a piece of Our Lord’s Sacred Body had flown onto the Corporal while Father was doing the Consecration. Father had NOT noticed. She wanted to make sure he knew that there was a piece of the Consecrated host in the corporal. So I made sure to leave the Corporal aside on the counter in the Sacristy and when Father came in from greeting Parishioners I told him what was told to me. He carefully checked the corporal and even though he didn’t see any fragments of Our Lord he gently shook it over the Sacrarium and rinsed it out. I was so glad she had said something. Oh and the lady and I both checked the altar cloth as well to make sure it wasn’t there.

I like to see when each “leaf” of the corporal is given a gentle little tap so that any particles on the periphery will fall to the center (rather than flying off to who-knows-where) before folding.

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If you can see a very small fragment of the Eucharist in the weave then how can it not have the appearance of bread as it has been recognised by the person tasked with cleaning the cloth as such?

This is what the way the theologians look at it, apparently: “With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians would hold that, although the host externally remains intact, the real presence would cease as soon as the host is fully soaked with water since from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

There are times when a host is recognizable as a host but for some reason it cannot be consumed. Usually, that is because it has unfortunately fallen and dirt particles cling to its surface. In that case, the consecrated host is usually broken into very small pieces by a priest and then soaked in water for an extended period of time, such that it can be assumed that it is a piece of bread-and-water and is no longer a piece of bread exclusively.

It is important to avoid even the appearance of profaning a host. This is why, when we have run across packages of unconsecrated hosts that are stale and therefore no longer proper matter for consecration, even those are still soaked until they swell and fall apart and then disposed of in a sink rather than just put into the trash can. We don’t want someone emptying the trash later to be jolted by the sight of what looks as if they were hosts. It isn’t that the person emptying the trash is going to leap to rash judgment, but having bread made for consecration in a trash can just looks “wrong.” Maybe that is not strictly necessary or maybe it is even scrupulous, but it is not a lot of trouble and it does feel more appropriate.

Modern hosts are designed so that they disperse easily in water. Altar linen should be soaked in cold water and the water should go to earth. Pouring it on the garden is preferred to using the sacrarium which is designed for disposing of excess holy water.

Similar considerations apply when a host is soiled. Occasionally a host may be dropped and accidentally trodden upon. I have had occasion to deal with a host that someone has received and sacrilegiously spat out again. In either event the host should be placed in a glass of water and left for ten minutes after which it will be be completely dispersed. It should then be emptied onto the garden. The glass is then rinsed and poured either on the garden or into the sacrarium.

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And then, I believe, carefully disposed of in a sacrarium or poured into the ground where it is unlikely to be disturbed.

I was responding to what I thought was the suggestion that a very small fragment of the consecrated host that could be seen in the weave of a cloth was so small that it would not count as having the appearance of bread and would therefore not be the Eucharist anymore. I would very strongly disagree with that suggestion.

No–thank you for the clarification. It is not that the fragment is small but that it has absorbed the limit of water it can hold. In other words, there isn’t just water “on” the host. If the host were to be full-sized and have soaked up water in that way, the host would be so soaked that it couldn’t be picked up. When that soaked, it would undoubtedly fall apart spontaneously. It will have lost its integrity as being exclusively bread, but would be dissolved in water (even though wheat germ, for instance, doesn’t disappear into water as salt or sugar does). That is the point at which the Real Presence no longer subsists.

I have heard that priests will break up a consecrated host into small parts when this is necessary (because it is not safe to consume it for some reason), but from what I gather that is just to speed up the process of absorbing the water and disintegrating into it. It does not imply that even very small fragments are “less consecrated” than unbroken hosts.

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