What's the right thing to do when people try to put the Eucharist in a corpse's mouth?

My great-uncle died a year ago and I was there with his wife when he passed away.

He had a pyx with him that still had a Consecrated Eucharist, and his wife and son were talking about putting the Eucharist in his mouth (this was thirty minutes after they pronounced him dead). I politely said that you can’t do that, and I thought that was the end of it.

I went out of the hospital room for a while, then I came back and overheard someone mentioning that they did put the Eucharist in his mouth.

The way I saw it was that I did my job by telling them that they aren’t supposed to do that; they know the rule and it’s their problem if they do that.

And, yes, I see the irregularity in that they had a pyx with the Blessed Sacrament in the first place. I don’t doubt that it was really the Eucharist; I didn’t ask how they got it but I presume that they asked the Chaplain for a Host when he made his rounds, which means the Chaplain broke the rules too (yes, I know you can’t carry the Host on you unless you’re transporting it to give to someone, no need to devote any time here to the rules, I know them thoroughly); I guess compassion overcame prudence.

His body went into the freezer that night and got cremated in the morning, by the way, which means even more so was the Eucharist maltreated. As bad as it is, it’s at least a good case study of how the Eucharist could be treated improperly if it falls into the wrong hands.

Technically, I don’t even think that uncle should have received the Eucharist in the first place. While he is a practising Catholic in that he went to devotions and Novenas and whatnot, he was on his third wife, having abandoned the first then divorced the second. While he was charitable and adopted kids, his biological kids understandably despised him. He had a history of womanizing, and I seriously doubt that he Confessed this since he was still living as husband and wife with her when he died. Chaplains probably don’t ask about a person’s personal life when they go around giving viaticum.

My question is, what would the right thing have been for me to do? One instinct is to take the Host out of his mouth, although of course this would have upset his family. Plus I was by far younger than them, and it was in a country where seniority is revered. Is informing them of the rule good enough on my part?

I have read that in the past this was an issue that the Eucharist was placed in the mouths of the departed.

This is a tough issue but if you are ever in such a situation, I would suggest to call a priest immediately. Not only can he give a definitive answer, but he has the authority as well to have the Host retrieved from the mouth and then he can properly deal with it.

That’s a good suggestion. There was a Mass in the hospital room a couple hours after he died. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to tell the priest.

Let’s say, though, that you can’t contact a priest. For example, there wouldn’t be enough time because the body was about to be taken away. Priests aren’t always available immediately anyway. What would be the right thing to do in such a situation?

It surprises me though that this actually was an issue before. Was it an issue as a theological debate, or was it an issue in that people abused the Eucharist? If the latter, it would be a surprise that the Eucharist was so liberally mishandled by the priests who gave it out (unless if someone took the Host illicitly).

I have never heard of this. Anxious to hear the answer :popcorn:

I have never heard of anyone doing this. This is very disturbing to think anyone would do this. I think the proper thing to do would have been to contact a priest. If none was immediately available I think it would have been proper to remove the host surreptitiously without the family noticing to avoid a “scene”, wrap it in a linen cloth then return it to the priest for disposition. I think it might be warranted in emergencies (where one can’t get to a church anytime soon) to also break it up into pieces and place them into a pitcher of clear water then stirring to dissolve. Once the accident of the appearance of bread is not recognizable then the sacred presence is gone. This water then may be safely poured in on the ground (preferably church ground) where it is not likely to be walked over. I need to check this though if laity can do this in an emergency without special permission.

I know that Eucharistic ministers are authorized to dispose of the the Eucharist in cases where it has become defiled/profinated. So if someone chokes on it and spits it out (elderly person) etc. it can be disposed of by collecting all the particles dissolve in a pitcher of water then poured into a special sacristy sink called a sacrarium. The sacrarium is a special sink with a drain going directly into the church ground and not the sewer or septic system. When such a sink is not available, the liquid should be poured on the ground in a location that would not be walked over, such as behind a flower bed that is along a wall, at the foot of a statue or similar places.

BF

I was shocked upon reading this. This is an unthinkable act! In all my years I would have never thought that someone would do such a thing. Unbelievable!!! I am glad you did say something. Very admirable on your part.

I’m sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds like you did the proper thing to inform the grieving family that they should not administer the Sacrament to him.

That’s another good suggestion. It did occur to me to remove it and put it in a handkerchief and visit a church as soon as I can so they can dissolve it and pour it into their sacrarium (not easy to dissolve it and pour it into the ground at a hospital), but it wasn’t possible. The body was never left unattended between the time he died and the time the body was taken away, and the more I waited, the more people came into the room (his numerous children and other relatives kept coming).

In addition to that, the hospital staff also wrapped a sort of cloth lengthwise around his head to keep his mouth shut for when rigor mortis would set in. So if I did eventually have the chance to take out the Host, it would have created an even bigger fuss, so even more would it have attracted attention.

I love St Padre Pio :thumbsup:

Did this incur excommunication?

Canon 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…”

Although it seems debatable if this is a sacriligeous purpose. It wasn’t done out of malice. Interesting debate.

(PS: I love Padre Pio too! Funny, when Adonia put that up, I was watching videos of the exhumation of his body; odd coincidence, since we’re talking about the Eucharist and Padre Pio’s body suffered what Jesus’ did.)

If you read the Wikipedia entry on Viaticum, it describes a history of such abuse when the Host is placed on the mouths of those who already passed away. It was done more out of superstition rather than valid spiritual need. I’m not sure if this is the same issue your aunt has. I don’t think this falls into that Canon Law because there is no intention to desecrate the Eucharist, even though what has been done is wrong it probably was done with good intentions.

Anyway, I really don’t know how to proceed. We, by virtue of our Confirmation, are to protect our faith and everything in it. This includes protecting the Blessed Sacrament. There’s a lot of ways you could have tried to fetch the Host thats not in the presence of your aunt. Is this in the Philippines (looking at your location)? You could have talked your way into the morgue and fetched the Host there.

Yep, I was in the Philippines at the time (I’m in Hawaii now). The body wasn’t taken into the morgue; it went to the mortuary straight from the hospital room, since customarily in that country bodies go there and there is a wake every night until the body is buried and visitors go in all day till then. I would imagine that you can’t talk your way into either a morgue or mortuary easily; they would expect me to have some business there.

I think you were right about the suggestion to let a priest know. I could have took the priest aside, have him mention in front of the family something like “When was the last time he received Communion?” They might tell him what they did, and then it would be his job to do something about it.

Though even that isn’t a sure scenario. First off, as the family already knew they weren’t supposed to do that, they might not tell the priest. Second, there’s the strong possibility that the priest won’t bother removing it, either for laxity or because he wouldn’t want to create a fuss.

No need to explain, I’m Filipino :wink:
In the Philippines, you can talk your way into anything.

It would depend on the priest. Whether there or here in North America, there are priests who will do what is right no matter what. There are those who may succumb to pressure. They are people after all, lets not forget about that. But its worth a try.

Oh, cool, you’re the first Eastern Catholic Filipino I’ve encountered.

And, well, yeah, I guess you know the way Filipinos are. Prudency is often not observed, as anyone who’s been on the road there could attest. I doubt a priest there would have removed the Host.

Makes me wonder, since the Eucharist is supposed to come first, maybe I should have said something even if it creates discomfort. Aside from removing the Host when nobody is looking, it seemed to me that my options are either #1 remove the Eucharist even if it’s unseemly to do so or #2 tell them what they’re supposed to do and leave it to them. I chose #2 at the time because the way I saw it was that it’s their Eucharist as much as it’s mine, and it’s their responsibility as much as it is mine. But then, I thought of a time when I was at a morning Mass here in Hawaii, someone went there and took the Eucharist without consuming it; a sister noticed and went to take it back, so even if it is the Eucharist for all of us, maybe we are responsible to keep it from being maltreated by others too.

It’s an interesting question – the clergy is obliged to safeguard the Eucharist, so is the laity obliged to be as stringent? Does the laity have this responsibility up to a certain point, or do we have the same absolute responsibility that clerics do?

Then again, maybe both #1 and #2 are right. Even saints can solve problems in different ways and none would be wrong.

I’m not really Eastern Catholic. Notice, its my location, not religion :wink:
But I am enamored by it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I apply for a Canonical change in the future. Maybe, maybe not.

He might have. We have a lot of good priests. He may also take an indirect approach as supposed to a North American priest who would probably take a direct approach. Its just a difference in culture, but I know there are a lot of good priests there who would do the right thing.

Canon Law says as much:

Can. 229 §1. Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each in order for them to be able to live according to this doctrine, announce it themselves, defend it if necessary, and take their part in exercising the apostolate.

I hope my interpretation is not wrong, but defending doctrines includes defense of the Blessed Sacrament from desecration.

I wonder if this means that we should physically take the Eucharist away from divorced and remarried Catholics.

We can’t. Because even priests can’t do that. We can’t be presumptuous about the state of one’s soul. That is between that person and God.

But blatant acts of desecration, we must take action. We do not know if a divorced and remarried Catholic has been granted annulment and have convalidated the new marriage. We don’t know if they stopped having marital relations with their partners when they sought to be back in a state of grace. We leave that to God’s judgment.

Yeah, well, I know a couple priests who have done that and even gave marriage counseling to a divorced and remarried man. And, yes, those priests both knew.

As a point of reference:
The Catholic Church Canon Law # 1367 states: “One who throws away the consecrated species or, for a sacrilegious purpose, takes them away or keeps them, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with some other penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.”

In this case I do not think there was an intention to profinate the eucharist. But it sure sounds to me like the bishops in the Philippines need to all come together and make statements to condemn what seems to be a local cultural tradition. This whole episode is very ironic to me given that the Filipinos are known to be among the most devout Catholics world-wide. It sounds like its a simple lack of education and its time this practise be ended. It is highly improper and irreverent to use a dead body essentially and figuratively as a tabernacle or even as a monstrance. What is even more horrid is the idea of interning or cremating the body without removing the consecrated species. This is a profination and is no different than somone spilling the consecrated wine on the carpet or dropping the host on the ground at communion and no one doing anything to retrieve it and properly clean up and dispose of the sacramental remnants. It is no different than receiving the sacraments unworthily which latter thing is metaphorically equivalent to flushing the eucharist down the toilet!

In the early church a Christian would die in defense of the Eucharist. There are a number of recognized saints who gave their lives in defense of the Eucharist and probably many others who were never recognized officially. In light of this heroic history it would be trivial to step in and personally remove the host even in the presence of family members while explaining how offensive this is to Catholic sensibilities and to God. It is regrettable that many people will likely hold a grudge either for:1 ) Embarrassing them as they come to recognize the inappropriateness of this practise (‘Why didn’t you tell me in private?!’) or 2) Feeling that they have been subordinated by a family member who is more distant to the deceased than the direct family (spouse, children) and grandstanding religion at a time of grieving.

It is a delicate situation. I would have done as you did initially - inform the most senior adult family member present who has the most influence (usually a surviving spouse, eldest son, grandparent etc.) of the inappropriateness. Then offer to remove it and return it to the priest. If they rejected that and started challenging your authority to speak on the matter I would have told them that the matter was going to be reported to a priest. If it looked like they were inclined to do something really belligerent to force their will in this matter (like push the host further down the throat to impede its extrication) I would probably go ahead and quickly remove the host then quickly depart to avoid a physical confrontation. The latter thing is a very last resort though since the grieving family would think they were defending their beloved departed and might become very violent. It would be doubly ironic to get killed over something like this then have these same people do the exact same thing to your own corpse as an act of consideration and kindness to the departed.

It’s no wonder Jesus sometimes got frustrated with fellow humans:

Luke 9:41 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

BF

Never heard of this practice…sounds a bit disturbing. I guess most hospitals have a chaplin, I would contact him.

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