Why Does the Priest Do The Dishes?

Photo Credit: Art4TheGlryOfGod.
Photo Credit: Art4TheGlryOfGod.

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 doctrinal liberal and laissez faire approach to non-denominational Christianity, many Christians are returning to more traditional faith practices whether 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 allure of a church that’s done things in one particular way for thousands of years is strong.

Obviously, I can relate.

But there’s something beyond the mere pull of tradition, something beyond the feeling of safety in the tried and true, and it’s something I didn’t quite expect to encounter—at least not in the place I encountered it. It’s a phenomenal reverence for Jesus Christ, and it takes place when the priest does the dishes.

I can think, in my evangelical upbringing, of only a handful of times I’ve experienced true reverence on display. I can think of several times where I’ve been emotionally moved; to tears, to prostration, to my knees by a working of the Holy Spirit. But I can’t think of many times where I’ve seen deeper reverence towards Christ.

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, on Holy Ground. That was reverence, but that was few and fair between.

On the other hand, the Catholic Mass is dripping with reverent actions, and it compels me to my knees, to a deeper relationship with Christ.

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. 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.

These liturgical actions have deep, ancient meanings.

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 the wine and wafer 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 washes and 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 elements inside.

And if an earnest priest were to drop even one particle of the Host on the floor he would assuredly get down onto 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 savior, our hope, our best friend but He’s also God Almighty and in the presence and power of God we can’t help but be reverent. And for all the goodness of the Jesus as Best Friend message there’s something to be said for understanding God in all of His glory.

We can’t help but be overwhelmed and on our knees and snatching up every last morsel of Him that we can.

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, there is a wholly holy rhythm. A rhythm that seeks to revere God as guide, and friend, and as a 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 in some sort of meaningless aerobic routine. 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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