Ask a Priest: What's a sacrarium? And, why do we confess with a priest?

December 18, 2017


Q.  We have been Eucharistic ministers and always washed the bowls and chalices after Mass in a special sink where the water would go directly into the ground.  That sink was used only to wash out those items to make sure if there are any particles left of the consecrated host or wine, it would go down that special sink drain directly into the ground.

   We have moved and have joined a new parish and are Eucharistic ministers there.  We were told to just wash the bowls and chalices out in the regular sink and not to use the sink that went directly into the ground.  This is upsetting to me and I even asked during training about it and was told to just use the regular sink.

   It seems to me that this is not a practice that should be done.  Am I wrong, has this practice changed or is it OK to use a regular sink?  It seems to me possibly washing down a particle of a consecrated host and have it go down into the drain into the sewer system is sacrilegious.

A.  Today the Church prefers the term “Communion Ministers” to “Eucharistic Ministers.”  It’s a wonderful way for people to deepen their participation in the Mass, and parishes are blessed to have people like you who perform that ministry.  Most parishes have a special sink called a sacrarium, and as you say, that drain goes directly into the ground.  However, not every church has a sacrarium.  One church where I served, not only didn’t have a sacrarium; it didn’t even have an ordinary sink – no running water at all.  And there are some churches that have sacrariums but over the years they have gotten clogged, and are not of much use.  What to do?

   When cleaning the vessels used for Communion at Mass we need to be careful to avoid two extremes: 1) being careless, and 2) being scrupulous. 

   If there is much of the consecrated wine left in the cup, it should be consumed by one of the ministers, then the cup should be rinsed with water and again consumed.  The sacrarium is ordinarily not needed if those steps are followed.  This was the practice we used at the parish where there was neither sink nor sacrarium.  Because the cups and bowls have contained the consecrated bread and wine, they should be purified and dried respectfully and returned to the place where they are stored.


Q.  Catholics confess sins to a priest.  Do other denominations do this?

A.  Not that I’m aware of.  But even for Catholics, the sacrament of penance has a long  and varied history.  Nearly 50 years ago, following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the ritual for penance was revised and included three forms: 1) Individual penance and absolution; 2) communal penance with individual confession and absolution; and 3)  communal penance with communal absolution.  There are three terms that refer to this sacrament: penance, confession, and reconciliation.

   In the earliest days of the Church, baptism offered people the beginning of a life in Christ.  However, the early believers thought that once they had embraced the faith that they would live sinless lives.  Of course that didn’t happen, and so over the centuries the Church offered various formats of the sacrament.  Public penance was common for public sins.  In the 600s and 700s, monks in Ireland confessed their faults to one another as a practice of piety.

   Many parishes offer communal penance services, especially during Lent.  Most of the time, they include music, Scripture readings, a homily, and time for individual confession and absolution.  Other Christian denominations have prayers for forgiveness and reconciliation, but I think only Catholics have the sacrament of penance.


Q.  I have noticed for the past years that when groups of people pray the Our Father, no one says, “Amen” at the end anymore.  I have been at numerous rosaries where there was no Amen after the Our Father or Hail Mary prayers.  Did I miss something somewhere that this is not required? I have mentioned this to several priests and none of them have noticed the lack of Amen. I have heard priests leave it out as well.  

   Also, I notice in the Mass prayer books, and other Catholic writings, there are very few times when Him, He, or His are capitalized (when referring to God or Jesus).  I was taught that this is a sign of disrespect and wonder why that change was made. Thank you, Jean Herrity


A. Regarding the capitalization question, writing styles change from generation to generation.  Headlines in newspapers used to be printed in all CAPITALS.  Usually today, that’s not the case.  I don’t think that there is any intention to be disrespectful of the Lord.  Pronouns are often just lower case.  Notice, however, that Jesus, God, and Lord, are all capitalized.

   Amen is not said during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass because the priest immediately follows it with another prayer, “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil . . .” after which we all say, “for the kingdom, the power, the glory are yours now and forever.  I suspect that the Amens in the rosary got dropped because people were carrying over the practice from the Lord’s Prayer at Mass.  There may be another explanation, but I don’t know what it is.