When the Priest Does the Dishes

Photo Credit: Aleteia Image Department.
Canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Photo Credit: Aleteia Image Department.

At the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Priest does the dishes. Sometimes a fellow priest who is present and concelebrating can do them, or sometimes it’s the deacon. But someone does the dishes.

I’m of a generation, I think it’s safe to say, that’s returning to many of the traditions of our faith. I’m not alone, and statistics bear this out. Disillusioned with a doctrinally liberal and laissez faire approach to evangelical Christianity, many Christians are returning to more traditional faith practices be it Anglican, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. For Christians who move from church plant to church plant, whose bread and butter becomes a church that suits their mood, the draw of a breed of church that’s done things in one particular way for hundreds or thousands of year is strong.

Obviously, I can relate.

But there’s something beyond the pull of tradition, something beyond the feeling of safety in the tried and true, and it’s something unexpected but incredible. It’s, like other things I’ve written about before, one of the hidden treasures of the Catholic Church. It’s the phenomenal reverence for Christ.

It’s when the priest does the dishes.

I can think, and I’ve put a lot of thought into it, of only a handful of times I’ve experienced true reverence in my Protestant upbringing. I can think of several times where I’ve been emotionally moved; to tears, to prostration, to my knees. But I can’t think of many times I’ve felt a deep reverence for God on a Sunday morning.

can think of a guy I knew, a worship leader, who used to take off his socks and shoes when he played. Like Moses at the burning bush. That was reverence, but I seldom felt that.

But the Catholic Mass is dripping with reverent actions, and it compels me.

I admit even in my own parish—a sleepy, kind of disappointing parish—the sense of reverence for God, in the Mass, is palpable.

My sister, upon hearing that I was becoming Catholic, joked that I love to sit down, stand up, and kneel. She’s right but those actions carry with them profound significance, even if those taking part don’t fully understand it (although that’s a topic for another time). It’s the significance that I love so much. Indeed, we stand up to pray. We kneel at the consecration of the Host. We make the sign of the cross on our forehead, lips, and heart when the gospel is read because these are the actual words of our God, written and recorded infallibly, and we’re praying they penetrate our minds, be spoken on our lips, and sink deep into our hearts.

And then the priest does the dishes.

Following Communion the priest does the dishes because Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharistic elements and if that’s really true then those elements need to be treated with a mind-boggling amount of reverence and respect. So the priest cleans up. He drinks every last drop of the wine, then wipes the cup. He cleans up every last particle of the Communion wafers, and then wipes out those dishes too and any leftover consecrated wafers go into the Tabernacle which Catholics bow to when they pass, out of reverence for the consecrated wafers inside.

And if an earnest priest were to drop even one particle of the Host on the floor he would get on his hands and knees and pick each piece up—right there in front of everyone.

Because in the actual presence of God we would be reverent, wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t be able to speak but for His grace, right?

In the Protestant circles I grew up in Jesus was our friend, our buddy, our pal. Certainly, these things are true about Jesus. But these things and so much more. Jesus is our accessible saviour, our hope, our best friend but He’s also God and in the presence and power of God we can’t help but be reverent. We can’t help but be overwhelmed.

What the Catholic faith offers me, and what it extends to everyone, is a truly reverent experience of God. In the Mass, in the daily devotions, rituals and practices, I’ve found a wholly holy rhythm. A rhythm that seeks to revere God as guide, and friend, and king. With all its trappings and rituals the Catholic Church seeks not to build up things in the way of salvation and Christ, but to properly express the reality of our incredible helplessness and fragility. We don’t sit down, stand up, kneel, and bow because that’s what we do (and that gets in the way of true faith). We sit down, stand up, kneel, and bow because, if we really understand whose presence we’re in, we can’t help but do anything else.

That’s why the priest does the dishes.

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  • http://twitter.com/ShaftonP Peter Shafton (@ShaftonP)

    One can never be too reverent in the presence of God, can we. Even the water used to ‘do the dishes’ must be disposed of in a particular way, not just flushed down the sink. Thank God for tradition.