…We of the Catholic faith are accustomed to a short period of waiting and contemplation near the end of the Mass; a period known, at least in my circle of the laity, as “doing the dishes.” It is during this time that the surplus elements of the Body and Blood of Christ are transferred from the various plates and vessels used to distribute them, gathered into a single chalice, and placed into the tabernacle. Part of this ritual includes the drinking of any remaining wine, which of course is no longer wine but the Blood of Christ. There is often a substantial quantity remaining after communion, the result of the priest’s anticipation of a good turn out for the sacrament and his effort to err on the side of a surplus amount of wine. Such an amount seems to require some time and several swallows by the presbyter to fully consume.….
….On one particular Saturday, Fr. Salazar had invited the newly ordained Deacon Ted to visit from out of town, to help with the proceedings of the vigil Mass, read the Gospel and deliver the Homily. Deacons, of course, are Eucharistic Ministers as well, granted the privilege and responsibility of distributing Holy Communion, and they are often assiged the task of “doing the dishes” while the Priest, altar servers and the rest of the congregation wait contemplatively, prayerfully, or simply fidgeting and fanning themselves.
…. Deacon Ted, on this sweltering August evening, read the Gospel expressively and with vigor, then prefaced his homily with assurances that those of us in the congregation who felt that hot weather and short sermons went hand in hand could rest easy, knowing we had allies who had already spoken with him. True to that suggestion, Deacon Ted delivered a concise, animated and moving Homily, over the course of ten minutes, based on the evening’s Gospel and having to do with the manner in which Christ answered the multitudinous questions posited by his his many followers.
….The Mass continued through the Transubstantiation and to Communion, with Fr. Salazar first accepting the sustenance from his own hands, then turning to Deacon Ted, beside him on the altar, and placing the Eucharist on Deacon Ted’s tongue. Fr. then handed the deacon the chalice, that he might partake of his sip of consecrated wine, and Deacon Ted took it, sipped, sipped again, and then to the astonishment of all who were paying attention, raised and tilted and drained the chalice of its Holy contents. Fr. Salazar had only begun to raise his hand in realization and protest by the time Deacon Ted was lowering the empty chalice, and while lowering it, clearly beginning to realize the error he had made. Beginning to realize that some combination of thirst, reverie, heat and confusion had led him to consume the entirety of the consecrated wine prior to general communion, instead of after, when the tilting and draining of the chalice is not only allowable, but required.
….There ensued a moment approximately five seconds long wherein Fr. Salazar and Deacon Ted simply stood on the altar looking at each other, saying nothing, Fr. Salazar presumably considering the possibility of retreating to the sacristy refrigerator, getting more wine, and repeating the rituals of consecration. He knew, though, that there was still enough wine in a small chalice with the eucharistic bread to suffice in distributing communion the “old fashioned way”, that is, by dipping each Bodily wafer into the now Blood wine and offering the Body and Blood of Christ together instead of separately, separately being an option only recently adopted by the Catholic Church.
….Father made the decision quickly, perhaps with the help of the other Eucharistic Minister, Eleanor, who had been waiting near the altar to receive and take the big chalice for distribution to the congregation. She had observed the error, and simply offered, “Shall I just go back to my seat?” Father nodded yes, and we proceeded with “the old fashioned way” which I’m sure brought back fond memories for many older Catholics. Deacon Ted looked mightily chagrined, but I’m sure Fr. Salazar was very understanding, as were all the rest of those present who had ever just absolutely spaced something out.