Eucharistic Utensils

As we live through this 21st century plague with growing concerns regarding the transmission of diseases through the species of Holy Communion, it is interesting to examine the different forms of receiving holy communion with utensils that the Latin Church has employed through the ages. While their appearance was due to scruples while handling the Blessed Sacrament, and acquired a ceremonial character, they have shown practicality for the administration of Holy Communion to the faithful either during times of pestilence or when unable to consume the Host.

A priest uses forcipes to distribute Communion during the plague of 1813. Pietro Paulo Caruana.
National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta.

The liturgical drinking-straw, variously called calamo, cannula, arundo, calamus, pipa, pugillaris, sipho or sumptorium is the only utensil that survived in ceremonial use up to the 20th century. The use of the fistula seems to have originated in late antiquity in the papal court, where it was in use at least since the time of Pope St Gregory the Great. It is explicitly mentioned in the rubrics of the Ordo Romanus of the 7th century, where the bishop communicates the Holy Blood with it. The use of this instrument extended during the Carolingian period in Italy, France, Germany, England and Poland as well as the Cistercian and Carthusian orders. It became the prevalent method for administering the Lord’s Blood to the faithful until the 13th century, when the custom of the people receiving both kinds was discontinued.

Ministers present the Pope with two chalices and fistulae (colored). Rome, 1719.
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
Fistulae from the Wiltener set. Austria 1160.
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Fistula from St Trudpert monastery. Germany, 1230.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Picture by author.
Interestingly, it is also mentioned in the 1970 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal stating that the Most Precious Blood may be consumed either directly from the chalice or using a spoon or tube.

The Fistula could also be used as a pipette so that rather than suctioning the Lord’s Blood, it may be dropped into the communicant’s mouth in cases in which the communicant might not be able to swallow anything other than liquids.

A more detailed article on the use of the Fistula during the Papal Mass by Shawn Tribe can be found here.

Administering the Viaticum with a Fistula. detail from the Illustrated Heidelberg Catechism, 1455.
Heidelberg University Library

The appearance of the Eucharistic spoon is probably somewhat later to that of the fistula, around the 8th century. Historic references to its use are scarcer, but it was clearly employed, as is today in the eastern rites, for Communion through intinction. The cochlear is no to be confused with the scruple spoon, which serves to add the water to the wine at the Offertory.

While its use during Mass faded at the same time as the practice of communion under both kinds, it has been retained for the administration of the Viaticum, commonly in the form of a Host or particle dissolved in water. While most times the priest might use a spoon from the household, some examples of spoons made for this specific purpose have survived. The were, like other vessels, made of silver, and the cup of the spoon was gilded.

Eucharistic Spoon. 17th cent. Diocese of Padua.
Ufficio Nazionale per i beni culturali ecclesiastici e l'edilizia di culto.
Eucharistic Spoon and case.Bonaventura Gambari circa 1767. Diocese of Bologna.
Ufficio Nazionale per i beni culturali ecclesiastici e l'edilizia di culto

Probably the more obscure of these utensils, the Eucharistic pincers were used initially to submerge particles of the Host in the chalice. While their origin is likely ancient, we see it become common in the papal court of Avignon during the 14th century, probably limited to the more solemn celebrations. Contemporary sources, including the Liber de Cæremoniis also call them tenacula or furcheta and clearly state their Eucharistic use.

The liturgical use of the Forcipes does not seem to have passed on to Rome after the Western Schism but they were still used to give Holy Communion to lepers or the plague stricken.

Liturgical pincers. 13th century.
Illustrated by  Rohault de Fleury, 1884.

Plague-times Eucharistic pincers.
Terra Sancta Museum.
Contemporary gold-plated liturgical pincers by Granda.

Likewise, other implements were created for times of pestilence. A common utensil was the Host-spoon (manche à Hostie, Hostienloffel) consisting of a long rod with a small flat disc at the end. François Ranchin, a prestigious French doctor from the 17th century specifies that it should be a metal rod at least 20inches long, with a lunette at the end, where the Host would be placed.

Hostienloffel. 1679. Vienna Cathedral.
Picture by Verein Wienische Hantwërcliute 1350

llustration by Michale Welply for "Geschichte erleben: Die Pest. Geißel der Menschheit”, 2006

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