Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As you know, flu season has necessitated a pause in the practice of distributing Holy Communion under both species in most parishes in the Diocese of Bridgeport. It’s good for us to reflect on this as a practice. Therefore, I have used this column to explore some liturgical norms, rubrics, and instructions over the past few weeks. We have examined the Second Vatican Council’s idea about a limited practice of distributing communion under both kinds, and have reflected on the nature and necessity of rubrics for the good, reverent, and orderly celebration of Mass. The distribution of Holy Communion is also governed by rubrics and instructions.
In 1984, a document from the US Bishops called “This Holy and Living Sacrifice” gave norms for distributing Holy Communion under both kinds. Expanding on Vatican II’s suggestions, the document listed several other times when distributing Holy Communion would be permissible. A 2004 document from the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship, “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” seems to trim that list a bit. Both documents share in common the caution that the chalice should not be administered when the number of people receiving would make it difficult to gauge accurately how much wine is necessary, as well as the instruction that care must be taken to make sure the Precious Blood is consumed reverently and without danger of being dropped or otherwise profaned. Incidentally, the same caution for safeguarding the sacred species exists regarding the Precious Body. In the current typical edition of the Roman Missal, three occasions are mentioned for distributing Holy Communion under both kinds: (1) for Priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate, (2) for the Deacon and others who perform some duty at Mass, or (3) members of communities at the Conventual Mass [n.b. “communities” here refers to members of a religious order] or the “community” Mass, along with seminarians, and all those engaged in a retreat or taking part in a spiritual or pastoral gathering. Given these more recent instructions, it would appear that the 1984 document is no longer in force – though a resolution of that discussion may be more entertaining to church nerds like me and Fr. Tim and less entertaining as a bulletin column.
All the norms and instructions share the caution about the sacred species being handled in a disrespectful or sacrilegious way, as well as the insistence that, if both kinds are to be given, a sufficient amount of wine must be consecrated that all who wish to receive may do so, and that there should be very little left after Communion has been distributed. A practical concern is always how much wine to consecrate. Slightly more theoretical but still important is the linguistic habit of referring to the Precious Blood (after the consecration) simply as “the wine” (how often I have been asked by young people if they’re allowed to drink the wine!). The rich symbolic action of receiving under both kinds is easily blurred or obscured if we become overly familiar about the practice.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds is a legitimate option but is not required. A person receiving only one species is still receiving Jesus who is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. Far from feeling deprived if both species are not offered, we should rejoice in knowing that Jesus generously offers Himself to us day after day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that we are privileged to witness and receive.