Friday, December 06, 2013

Communion under Both Kinds: or not.

The Preparation of the Chalice by the Celebrant
I have just posted a Position Paper on the Extraordinary Form's not allowing Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds - ie, you receive only the Host. Go over there to read it.

It is one of those issues where, for many years, I quite liked what happens in the Ordinary Form. I can't say I missed it when I started going to the EF, there are so many differences with the OF that it hardly seemed important, but as I've been thinking about this over the years, and especially after researching for this Position Paper, I have come to the conclusion not only that the EF practice shouldn't be changed, but that there is a problem with the practice of the OF.

The Position Paper goes into all the details, here is a little more on three salient points.

1. The current practice, familiar in England and Wales and throughout Europe and North America, is not the restoration of an ancient practice in any precise sense.

2. The current practice was not called for by Vatican II.

3. The current practice is incompatible with the traditional respect due to the Sacred Vessels.

The Celebrant receives the Precious Blood
1. The business of everyone queuing up and taking the Chalice in their hands from an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is NOT what happened in Early Church - at least, as far as we know, or can reasonably infer. The earliest practices we know about are intinction and the use of a special metal straw, the fistula. Yes, the laity received the Precious Blood using one of these methods in antiquity, but by the time we hear about this (the 7th century) the frequency of reception was only a few times a year. This puts a number of practical issues in a very different light: reverence, the time it takes, the number of people needed to distribute it, and issues of hygiene. To restore the distribution of the Precious Blood, without intinction or the fistula, in the context of frequent Communion, large congregations, and Extraordinary Ministers, makes it a very different experience with very different pastoral implications.

2. The decree on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, in para 55 suggested the distribution of the Precious Blood in three possible cases. The list was not intended to be exhaustive, but illustrative. What does it illustrate? Remarkably, all three cases are once-in-a-lifetime events: a baptism, a religious profession, and an ordination. It wasn't for everyone to receive from the Chalice on these occasions, just the newly baptised, professed, or ordained. This looks like a late Medieval monarch having the privilege - as they sometimes did - of receiving from the Chalice at his Coronation. The current practice is something completely different: to repeat, it has completely different pastoral implications. (This point about Communion Under Both Kinds and the Council has also been made recently by Peter Kwasniewski on the New Liturgical Movement blog.)

The celebrant presents the Host to the Faithful
3. One of the things which had to change, to make possible the current Ordinary Form practice, is the attitude to the Chalice itself. Traditionally, this was not just blessed but 'consecrated' to liturgical use, and the sense of the special nature of the Chalice was such that it was out of the question for lay people to touch it with their bare hands. (In cases of necessity a lay sacristan would use a cloth or gloves.) This is not one of those 'late Medieval superstitions' the liberals like to talk about, it goes back at least to the time of Gregory Nazianzen, who died in 389 or 390 AD, who himself didn't invent it but rather took it for granted. The rules in Canon law and the General Instruction underwent a revolution in the respect after Vatican II; now anyone can touch anything. Canon 1171 simply cautions that the Sacred Vessels 'are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use.' If we are serious about restoring reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, this is one area which is in need of attention. You can't reap, in reverence, what you haven't sowed, in the established practices of the Church. But this diminution of the reverence for the Chalice was necessary if people were to pick it up and receive from it.

The EF has something to teach the whole Church here: we keep, as liturgical principles, rules which bound the whole Church for at least sixteen centuries. We are the guardians, if you like, of the Church's memory.
At 'private' Masses it is the priest who carries the Chalice,
under the burse and pall, to and from the Altar, while
the server carries the Missal.
Photos: A Low Mass at the LMS Priest Training Conference in Ratcliffe College, Leicester.


  1. Communion under both kinds is not necessary for the full reception of Christ in Holy Communion.

    Receiving the Consecrated Wine is unnecessary and is unhygienic. Given today’s techniques, DNA of all recipients could be detected. Wiping with a cloth, usually inefficiently, does not alter that. Certainly in time of infection this practise should be forbidden.

    The principle of receiving only from hands blessed for that purpose, something St Francis of Assisi firmly believed in, must be restored. That would eliminate the need for emHCs – except in emergency, of course.

    This is all about Reverence. Belief in the Real Presence is difficult enough as it is. Without Reverence it will inevitably wither - as it was intended to do by the post Vatican II Reformers

  2. [---
    It may be stated as a general fact, that down to the twelfth century, in the West as well as in the East, public Communion in the churches was ordinarily administered and received under both kinds. That such was the practice in Apostolic times is implied in 1 Corinthians 11:28 (see above), nor does the abbreviated reference to the "breaking of bread" in the Acts of the Apostles (ii, 46) prove anything to the contrary.

  3. Yes, that what the paper says. But we better sources to cite than the Catholic Encyclopedia!

    1. It is from a source. There is a missal from 12th century that envisions communion under both kinds.

      Also, Cistercian Rite had communion under both kinds until 13th century

    2. You agree with the paper, then.

  4. Hi, maybe we should just eliminate the reception of holy communion by the faithful entirely except for maybe "once in a lifetime" events. I mean, placing the hosts directly into the mouths of the faithful is also not hygienic, the faithful not receiving communion emphasizes the role of the priest since only the priest must receive, it eliminates the possibility of extraordinary ministers of holy communion as well as the risk of reducing the Mass to a banquet, let's not even get into the risk of the altar boy accidently touching the chin of the lay person with the paten.. Finally, everytime that holy communion is received, the host is dissolved by our saliva and enters into our digestive system, that hardly seems a worthy way to treat Our Lord. If only the priest receives then this is minimized. There, problem solved, only the priest celebrant should usually receive holy communion, lay faithful only in "once in a lifetime events" like dying.

    1. Actually, I think the current practice of the EF is just fine.

      And your objection to that is what, exactly?

    2. I'm simply pointing out that the arguments that you make against the practice of communion under both species can also be used to support the position that lay faithful should rarely if at all receive holy communion during Mass. That if your concerns are lack of reverence for the sacred vessels, hygiene, an overemphasis on the meal aspect of the Mass and the like, then it would make sense to eliminate communion of the faithful as a regular practice (this in itself would be a return to longstanding custom).

    3. But your argument does not work. The difficulties with reception of the Chalice described in the paper do not apply to reception of the Host in the EF. This is done without the Faithful touching the Sacred Vessels or infringing the basic principles of hygiene.

      So, you need to try again.

    4. So you're primary concern isn't the distinction between the role of the priest and the role of the lay faithful, and of reducing the Mass to its meal aspect?
      Communion on the tongue is also unhygienic, it's also discontinued whenever the threat of swine flu shows up. I can't tell you how many times the priest has accidently touched my tongue (priests who celebrate the EF exclusively and priests in countries where communion on the hand is forbidden tend to be the biggest offenders ironically. As for touching the sacred vessels, I've had altar boys hit me under the chin with the paten on a regular basis. If you're worried about the laity touching the chalice then you can go for intinction or cover the lay faithful's hands with a corporal as shown in this byzantine icon:

    5. The Communion Plate is not a sacred vessel. It is called a 'paten' in America for some reason but it is not the same item as the paten on the Altar.

      On the hygiene issue, this has been addressed in the paper. If you have no response to the argument made there, but can only repeat the original objection as if the paper had not been published, you are wasting everyone's time.

  5. It's called a "paten" in many other languages including latin. Even if it is not a sacred vessel then there is still the risk of particles on it touching the chin of the communicant and then falling off.

    You don't so much address the issue of hygiene and communion on the tongue so much as dismiss it. If you have 150 communicants and one priest chances are very good that he will touch someone's tongue and have his hands breathed on (the chances probably triple for elderly priests with shaky hands). The same goes for using the spoon in the Byzantine Liturgy (even if the spoon does not touch the tongue, it is still breathed on.) Also, while we are on the topic of hygiene, has it ever been shown scientifically that the sharing of the chalice leads to disease?

    Personally, I don't see how it can be ok to pour the precious blood into a communicant who is a temple of the Holy Spirit created in the image of God, but not ok to touch the vessel that contains that precious blood which however consecrated it is, remains just an object. But that's just me. If that really is a problem, then the faithful may have gloves, or use a corporal as in that nice icon I linked to above.

    1. So, you got confused by the terminology and made a mistake about the paten. Do you get it now?

      The hygiene issue is a matter degree, the degree of risk. Breathing on the priest's fingers vs. sharing saliva. You've answered your own question.

    2. And what you don't understand about the touching of the sacred vessels is not the paper's judgment but the tradition of the Church for 19 centuries. If you are a Catolic you need to take a deep breath and try again.

  6. About the communion paten, I was confused because I assumed that the church before the council took seriously the rule that only what is consecrated may touch the blessed sacrament.

    It's not 19 centuries of tradition, even if the attribution to Pope Sixtus (which is first mentioned about 400 years after the fact) is accurate, it certainly wasn't a universal decree. If an exception can be made for lay sacristans to touch the sacred vessels, then certainly an exception could be made for someone engaged in the sacred act of receiving holy communion in which the communicant is of far greater dignity than the vessel. Respect for the sacred vessels shouldn't get in the way of sharing in the fullness of the sign of the sacrament.
    Even so, 12 centuries of tradition (in the west, in the east there are 20 centuries of tradition) involved giving the chalice to the laity as normative and that was overturned and you don't have any problem with that. It's really funny how the current EF practice of people going to the rail after the priest's communion during every Mass is a departure from centuries of tradition yet that doesn't bother you. It's amazing how you use that card only when it supports your preferences.

    So is there any evidence of sickness resulting from sharing the chalice?
    How do you measure the difference in degree of risk from the priest touching people's tongues or placing the same spoon in many people's mouths, versus people drinking from something with a high alcoholic content?

    1. The Blessed Sacrament only touches the Communion Plate if it falls down.

      I meant 14 centuries. But the argument is the same. If you don't understand why the Church did that, it's something you need to get to grips with.

    2. Since there are almost always particles of the hosts on the paten at the end of communion, it is almost always the case that something of the Blessed Sacrament touches it. Despite this, the comunion paten need not be consecrated.

      By the way, you are wrong in your paper about the sacristan needing gloves or a cloth to touch the chalice, so somehow exceptions have already been made to the rule even before the council.

  7. The paper cites scientific research on infected surfaces. It is hardly to be expected that one would be able to attribute specific cases of infection to specific infected surfaces.

    If you won't address what the paper says, I am not going to repeat it for you in the comms box.

    1. So you agree that no statistical correlation has ever been shown between the disease rates among Catholic and Protestant Christians who share the chalice and the general population? Or will you claim that it is impossible to show such a statistical correlation?

      I write this in what I fear is vain hope of a response since your general strategy both in your paper and on this blog is to dismiss counterarguments rather than address them.

  8. I have already told you what I think. If you can't or won't read it There is not much point in writing it again.

  9. As a former Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, who gave up because of lack of respect (and worse) with regards to the Precious Blood, I wholeheartedly agree with you.