A communion plate was introduced in the late 19th century to catch any fragments of the Eucharist host during the distribution of communion.
Some parishes have chosen to retain the use of a communion plate during the distribution of holy communion. Often an altar server will hold the communion plate under the hands of the communicant or under the chin.
What is the purpose of a communion plate?
According to the 2004 instruction by the Vatican, Redemptionis Sacramentum, “The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.”
The communion plate is also mentioned in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, where it is to be placed on the credence table, “On the credence table … the Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful.”
Before the communion plate was introduced in the late 19th century, a cloth was most often used underneath the chin of the communicants.
In Orthodox churches, a red cloth, called a maktron, is held underneath the each person’s mouth while receiving communion, to catch any crumbs of the Eucharist.
The early Church had a similar care for the Eucharist, as St. Hippolytus of Rome in the 2nd century urged, “nothing of it fall or be lost; for the body of Christ is to be eaten by believers and must not be despised.”
Currently the communion plate is not a strict requirement for the celebration of Mass, but is still encouraged by the Church to honor the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.