With dioceses around the country reopening or planning to reopen Masses to the public, many…
Communion under one kind
Even before the coronavirus pandemic shut down our churches, it first caused the elimination of the Precious Blood from holy Communion. Those in the United States, accustomed to receiving both the body and blood, may be wondering when the chalice will again be offered. Actually, and as many Catholics know, receiving the body and blood at Mass is not the Church-wide norm.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that receiving the bread alone “has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite. But the ‘sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds'” (CCC, No. 1390). The U.S. bishops have approval from the Holy See to authorize the distribution of both species at Communion.
The Church has long taught that each species alone contains the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which can never be separated. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that “above all, they [pastors] should instruct the Christian faithful that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation” (No. 282). Because of the potential for spillage or the large number of communicants, pastors may decide not to offer the Precious Blood. In such instances, provisions are typically made for those who cannot receive the host due to a gluten-free diet.
The 2011 Vatican document, “Doctrinal Formation and Communion Under Both Kinds,” points out that distribution of both the body and blood at holy Communion is not universally practiced. This publication, from the Office of Liturgical Celebrations, reads: “The purpose, then, of receiving holy Communion under both kinds, is not that the faithful receive more grace than when they receive it under one kind alone, but that the faithful are enabled to appreciate vividly the value of the sign. Sadly, this distinction has not always been made clear and some people, when not offered holy Communion under both kinds, have expressed a sense of bewilderment, even thwarted entitlement, or a feeling that holy Communion under one kind alone was, to some extent, deficient.”
The document emphasizes that the distribution of Communion must be carefully discerned, reverently conducted, and even the potential for abuse, especially mishandling the Precious Blood, avoided. Further, the faithful should be well informed that Christ is wholly present under either species, since a lack of proper catechesis can lead to misunderstanding, as well as complaints and criticism.
Early Church and holy Communion
That the first Christians received Communion under both kinds is well established. A second century writing describes the Eucharistic gathering of Christians and indicates, “Bread and wine with water are brought forward and the president offers prayers and thanksgiving … and the people assent saying, ‘Amen.’ And there is a distribution … of the Eucharistic elements” (St Justin, martyr, “First Apology,” No. 67, circa A.D. 155).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-86) wrote: “Then after having partaken of the body of Christ, approach also to the cup of his blood: not stretching forth thine hands, but bending, and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow yourself by partaking also of the blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lectures, 23:22).
Given this practice, which continued for centuries, it has always been Church teaching that if you receive one species, you receive the other. Canon Law 925 gives these options: “Holy Communion is to be given under the form of bread alone, or under both species according to the norm of the liturgical laws, even under the form of wine alone in case of necessity.”
During the holy sacrifice of the Mass, only the priest celebrant is obligated to receive both the consecrated bread and consecrated wine. He fulfills the commands Christ gave to the apostles at the Last Supper “to eat of it, drink from it, do this in memory of me.”
If the chalice is not offered to parishioners, communicating under bread alone suffices as it contains the body and blood of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The perfection of the sacrament does not lie in the use of the faithful, but in the consecration of the matter. And hence, there nothing derogatory to the perfection of this sacrament: if the people receive the body without the blood, provided the priest who consecrates receives both” (Summa Theologiae III, 86, a 12, ad 2).
During the eras when it was common practice to distribute both the body and blood of Christ, there were and are situations when only one species is received.
One Species Alone
We know, from those early writers, that during the Roman persecutions, Christians took the consecrated bread home after Sunday Eucharist and consumed the single species during the week. Of course, the bread (body of Christ) often without the Precious Blood, like today, was taken to the sick. There was a time at the baptism of a baby, when the child was given a few drops of the Precious Blood. Catholics know that on Good Friday the Precious Blood is not distributed.
The book “Mary Help of Christians” (Father Bonaventure Hammer, OFM, and Father John J Burke, Benziger Brothers, NY., 1909), reads: “In the early ages of the Church Communion was given to the people under both forms. The faithful however, could, if they wished, dispense with one form and receive under the form of bread. This shows that the Church always taught that Christ is entire both under the form of bread and under the form of wine. At one time, the faithful received under both forms; now they received under one form, the form of bread. It is merely a matter of discipline, which the Church could change if circumstances demanded it. … Since Jesus Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread, as well as under the form of wine, the practice of the Catholic Church of giving holy Communion under one form is reasonable.” The popes and Church councils have repeatedly preached that only one form is necessary for salvation.
|Heretics and Holy Communion|
In the fifth century, the heretical Manichees refused the chalice, claiming that wine was made by an evil spirit. In response, Pope St. Gelasius I (r. 492-96) commanded both species be received. In the 15th century, the Utraquist movement taught that both the body and blood were necessary for salvation. The Council of Constance condemned this group and mandated Communion by bread alone; the Council of Trent did likewise.
In Church history, the distribution of both species was common practice until the 12th century. In response to heretical groups, both the Council of Constance (1414-18) and Council of Trent (1545-63) perpetuated the practice of Communion under one kind. From the Council of Trent, 21st session: “… layman, and clerics when not consecrating, are not obliged, by any divine precept, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist under both species; … that communion under either species is sufficient for them unto salvation. For, although Christ, the Lord, in the last supper, instituted and delivered to the apostles, this venerable sacrament in the species of bread and wine; not therefore do that institution and delivery tend thereunto, that all the faithful of Church be bound … to receive both species. …” Later the language of this session makes it clear that it is Church law to receive by bread alone and exceptions will be at the approval of the Holy Synod.
The Council of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium (“Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”), without negating the decisions of Trent, issued guidance that bishops, with Holy See approval, can determine when Communion under both kinds is appropriate (No 55).
Current practices for U.S. bishops are promoted in “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America” (June 2002).
During holy Communion, whether we receive both species or one species, we receive our Divine Savior whole and undivided.
D. D. Emmons writes from Pennsylvania.