With the use of various kinds of homemade altar breads, and even with the old familiar wafers, the issue of crumbs comes up at every workshop. As careful as the clergy may be, it is inevitable that crumbs from consecrated bread or even wafers will miss their mark and fall, whether if dispensed to the open palms or placed in the mouth of the communicant. I have often seen clergy bend down to retrieve consecrated wafers and consume them on the spot, offering another to the communicant- but what to do about those crumbs which escape into the kneelers, on the floor, under the carpet and everywhere? The Roman Catholics have had a solution to all of this for years- a handy device called a patenella, simply a paten with a handle. A server stands beside the individual dispensing the communion bread and carefully places the patenella under the chin of the person receiving. You will sometimes see this useful piece of equipment in Episcopal churches, especially Anglo-Catholic parishes. Any liturgical supply company should be able to supply this piece of equipment. The one in the photo costs $132. Sometimes I have seen a regular paten used for the purpose of safely delivering the sacrament to the mouth. There seems to be less risk when the communion bread is placed in the hand, but sometimes during intinction, there is again the risk of the bread being dropped.
There are three popular styles of paten, the well, the scale and the bowl paten. The well, as the name suggests, has a depression in the center with a higher rim all around which helps to keep bread inside the paten. The bowl paten has an even deeper bowl-like depression and is excellent when there are many communicants as they hold many wafers or bread portions. Perhaps the riskiest shape is the scale paten as it is shallow, has no rim and just the slightest curve, like a fish scale. The paten to the left is a well paten.
Bowl paten Scale paten
But what happens after the service has ended and the altar guild comes into the chancel to tidy up and finds crumbs beneath the altar rail? We recoil at the thought of sweeping up consecrated elements in a dirty old dustpan with a whisk broom (and so we should)! I find a great solution to be the “silent butler”- that wonderful device our grandmothers used to gently whisk the tablecloth with after Sunday dinner. These were popular in most homes until the 1950’s and can still be found in stores, Ebay and antique shops very reasonably priced. Many were metal, some very elegant ones were silverplate. I have a silverplate whisk brush and scoop and it seems quite appropriate on the chancel. Metallic scoops can be a godsend for wayward thurible charcoals too. I recall one procession on Easter Sunday in 2004 when a thurifer attempted a 360 degree circle with his thurible but only managed 180 degrees! The charcoals flew all over the encaustic tiles in the path of the processing choir! If you are on duty for a service, by all means seat yourself near the sacristy in case of such a calamity. Within seconds I had my metallic scoop, genuflected and while down, swept up the glowing coals all before the first soprano crossed the transept! Nobody was the wiser. Altar guild workers can make use of the Scouts’ motto, “Be Prepared!” because anything may and will happen. Consecrated elements must always either be consumed, washed down the piscina or buried. Crumbs from the floor would probably be best disposed of down the piscina. Just once did we have to bury an enormous bowl of consecrated wafers which our new priest had dropped on the floor. There were simply too many to “consume reverently” so we all solemnly processed to the memorial garden where the dusty wafers, tenderly wrapped in the corporal for the journey, were carefully buried in the soil beneath the garden cross.
Always be sure the corporal is removed from the burse and carefully shaken out over the piscina after a Eucharist as there are often tiny particles remaining in the corporal.