Washing with honor and respect

By Linda Zahorik | October 9, 2013

When I was growing up, my parents’ “wedding china” had a place of honor in our kitchen cupboard.  Those dishes were only used for Christmas and Easter dinner and a few other special family occasions. After the meal, my mother had an elaborate process for washing the china. Each piece was washed, one at a time, in a towel-lined sink, to prevent any chance of nicks. Each was then dried with the softest, lint-free towel and placed back into the cupboard. The china bore the stories of our family’s heritage and was being preserved with care for future generations. The china is now in my care, although I lovingly put it in the dishwasher on a gentle cycle! 

At liturgy, a similar scenario of careful washing is played out with the eucharistic vessels, which have been used to hold the body and blood of Christ. After the reception of Communion is completed and Eucharist placed into the tabernacle, the purification of the vessels takes place. You may observe it happening at the altar or at a credence table in the sanctuary. A small amount of water is poured from a cruet into one of the vessels. That same water is then passed from vessel to vessel, until the water along with any eucharistic particles it has picked up, is placed into the chalice. The remains in the chalice are then consumed by the priest or deacon. This process assures that the Eucharist, even in its fragments, is treated with honor and respect.

If for some unforeseen reason, Communion bowls end up in the sacristy having not been purified, a small amount of water is placed into them and that same water is then poured down the sacrarium. The sacrarium is a special lidded sink in the sacristy. The sacrarium has a drain pipe that goes directly into the ground, rather than through the plumbing system. The sole purpose of the sacrarium is to serve as a receptacle for water which contains host fragments.  

After the Mass, a sacristan will give all of the vessels a second, thorough washing with hot soapy water, to ensure that the vessels have been cleaned of smudges, stains and fingerprints. Clean sparkling vessels are then placed into a cupboard, ready for the next liturgy.

Outside of Mass another type of washing, involving the used purificators from Mass, takes place. Each Communion cup always has its own purificator. Someone in your parish collects all of these used purificators after the Masses and takes them home. First they are soaked in cold water. This serves to loosen any stains or residual of precious blood.  That water is then poured onto the ground in an out-of-the-way spot outdoors. The purificators are then washed in a machine with regular detergent. When the laundry cycle is finished the real labor of love begins. Each purificator has to be ironed, usually while it still has a bit of dampness in it. It is then folded in thirds lengthwise and folded once again, in half. The purificators are then returned to the parish. 

At my parish our laundresses wash and iron about 30-35 purificators per week. Consider how many purificators are used at your parish liturgies, including daily Mass, weddings and funerals. What a blessed service laundresses provide for us, one that often goes unnoticed. This weekend, when you see those clean linens at Mass, take time to say a prayer for the people who serve your parish as laundresses.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.

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