Question: On All Souls Day the priest had a container of hosts on the altar to be used during the three Masses. What kept all of the hosts in the container from being consecrated during the first Mass?
Answer: The question prompts a wider discussion concerning the role of the priest's "intention" in conferring the Sacraments. In confecting any Sacrament, four things are needed: 1. Matter (bread and wine in the case of the Mass, water in the case of Baptism). 2. Form, the words which make the purpose for which the matter is being used more specific ("For this is My Body. ... " or "I Baptize thee in the name of the Father...."). 3. Minister, usually a priest, but lay people baptize and exchange marriage vows. 4. Intention, an act of the will of the minister to confer the Sacrament as Christ intended it. The intention of the minister may be "virtual" in the sense of "doing what the Catholic Church does," even if the minister is not fully aware of what that might be (The Jewish physician, for example, may validly Baptize a dying child if He intends to do what the Church does -- even if he doesn't know what that is, beyond it being something the child's mother requests.) The intention may also be "virtual" in the sense of having been formed in the past and not being consciously acted on in the present. The minister may have detailed knowledge of what Christ intended to do in the Sacrament, but it is not necessary that he go over each theological detail every time he confers the Sacrament.
The priest's intention in offering Mass is to do what Christ did at the Last Supper, acting in His place as "another Christ." He changes the bread and wine into Our Lord's Body and Blood, by saying "This is My Body...." and not "This is Christ's Body." This is no mere story being told about what Jesus did two thousand years ago; it is the working of Christ through the action of His priest, and not a narrative through the mouth of His biographer.
That a narrative is inadequate to change the bread and wine is seen clearly in the Mass of Holy Thursday or in the votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament. As at any low Mass, the hosts to be consecrated are on the altar next to the missal stand.1 In these Masses the words of consecration are read as part of St. Paul's Epistle.2 But after that reading, no one would be foolish enough to suggest that the hosts on the altar next to the missal had been consecrated! The priest's intention to narrate, rather than to consecrate is obvious. Quite logically, St. Thomas Aquinas holds that saying the words of Consecration as though they were a mere narration would render the Sacrament invalid.3 The late Cardinal Ottaviani points to this as one of the grave defects in the New Order missal.4 This defect, rather than being corrected is reiterated in the New Catechism.5
In the case raised by the questioner, it would seem that the priest's intention was to consecrate the Host(s) for the Mass, but not those in the host box. Normally, when studying for the priesthood a man is directed to form such an intention before ordination, to be "virtually" effective whenever he celebrates Mass. Since the rubrics (directions in the missal) require the hosts and the chalice to be placed on a corporal (an 18 or 20 inch square of linen) the young priest normally forms the intention of consecrating only the matter that is so placed. Given this intention, hosts placed elsewhere on the altar, or on a shelf behind it would not be consecrated. This eliminates any doubt that might arise about the consecration of hosts which the priest did not have specifically in mind when he spoke the words of Consecration (e.g. hosts in a ciborium left on the shelf behind the altar are not consecrated; while small hosts on the corporal hidden under a large host for benediction are consecrated). The hosts in the host box were not consecrated until the priest took them out and consecrated them on the corporal.