Dear Pastor Breedlove,
I know that when we were at Creekside, what elements of the Eucharist were not consumed by parishioners were fully consumed by the clergy and/or deacon, so that the Body and Blood would not be thrown away after it had been consecrated. I’ve noticed that that practice doesn’t happen anymore. What happens to the leftovers, and what is the theological reasoning behind not consuming it all?
Thanks for the question, J. You’re correct in observing that we do not consume the elements immediately after communion, but as a matter of fact, we rarely did that at Creekside as well. While occasionally they are consumed after the service is completed by members of the Altar Guild and the lay eucharistic minsters, most often we commit them to the natural world. What I mean by that is this: it is permissible, rather than consuming the elements, to commit them to nature — to pour the consecrated wine on the ground so that it is soaked up in the soil and to place the consecrated bread in a place where birds can eat it. The idea is that it is a holy use of the elements to give them to the natural world.
Of course that is certainly not the only way to deal with unused elements: in many churches they are consumed immediately following communion. If we can find a practical way to consume the elements so that one or two people are not responsible for consuming a large portion of unused bread and wine, or if it can be done unobtrusively, so that it does not impact the flow of the service at the conclusion of communion, we might change our practice.
Thanks for the good question! Steve Breedlove