Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the early centuries of the Church, it was common for Catholics to receive Holy Communion under the species of both bread and wine. However, the practice of receiving from the chalice had almost entirely disappeared by the eleventh century. The Council of Trent (1546) made the practice of receiving Holy Communion under one form the universal norm for the Latin Church (that’s us). Accompanying this norm was a clarification about what we receive when we receive Holy Communion. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist, whether we receive under the form of bread or wine. Thus, it is not necessary to receive both kinds in order to “fully” receive Holy Communion.
While the priest is obligated to receive both species, his reception of Holy Communion is not only for himself but also for the whole community assembled. This reality is not always in evidence at our regular celebrations of Mass because, in general, it is possible for people to approach and receive Communion. However, the priest’s role as intercessor and his reception of Communion on behalf of the whole community has, historically, been evidenced in powerful ways, particularly when Mass is difficult or dangerous to celebrate. For example, there are countless stories of priests in Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and other prisons celebrating Mass with tiny scraps of bread and drops of wine that had been smuggled to them. During those Masses, it was virtually impossible to distribute communion to the other prisoners, but the priest would receive on their behalf while the assembled congregation in the prison barracks would make an act of spiritual communion, uniting their prayers to the prayer of the priest.
The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) suggested that the practice of distributing Communion under both kinds could be restored in a limited way so that the symbolic nature of the act of receiving Communion could be more fully visible. The Council left it to local (national) conferences of Bishops to provide directives to their respective territories. In paragraph 55 Sacrosanctum Concilium suggests Holy Communion could be distributed under both kinds “for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.” The document remains silent about other occasions. Thus, we can safely say that the Second Vatican Council, without mandating Communion under both kinds, did open the door for Holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds, while the promulgation of norms was left to competent authority outside of and after the Council.
This historical background can help set the stage for our deeper understanding of the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. While the chalice is no longer being distributed here per our bishop’s directive for flu season, it is good for us to be reminded of the tremendous privilege we have in receiving our Lord who is truly present in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity!