It is useful to bring to the attention of our readers the norms for
communion under both species that apply in the Latin Church. The Italian
press commented on the extension of the norms in the new version of the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal in April. Notitiae, 2001, vol
37, nn. 6-7, the bulletin of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, commented on the new norms. In fact in the
United States, newly revised norms for the distribution and reception of
Holy Communion under both species by Catholics in the United States have
been approved by the Vatican and decreed by the President of the
Bishops' Conference. They became effective 7 April. Last June the
members approved the norms and on March 22 the Holy See confirmed them.
The new norms replace the US Bishops' 1984 directory on the matter. Here
is a translation of the commentary.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal approved by the
Holy Father on 20 April 2000, contains in n. 283 various dispositions
that extend, within the context of the Roman Rite, the possibilities for
the distribution of Holy Communion under both species.
The goal of the present commentary is not to outline the history of
this liturgical practice nor to go into the meaning of this way of
receiving the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus; the
goal is simply to endeavour to explain better the norms that are
currently in force.
Text of the General Instruction
Here is the text of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal,
"Communion under both species is permitted, over and above the
occasions listed in the ritual books.
a) to priests who cannot celebrate or concelebrate Mass;
b) to the deacon and others who perform a service during the Mass;
c) to the members of communities during the Conventual Mass or in the
Mass that is said to be of the community, to seminarians, to all who
participate in a spiritual retreat or in a spiritual or pastoral
The diocesan Bishop can define the norms for Communion under both
species for his diocese, to be observed even in the churches of
religious and in celebration with small groups. To the same Bishop the
faculty is given to permit Communion under both species whenever it
seems appropriate to the priest who has the pastoral responsibility for
the community, provided the faithful are well instructed and there is no
danger of the profanation of the sacrament or that the rite would be too
difficult to carry out on account of the number of the participants or
for some other reason.
The Bishops' Conferences can publish norms on the manner of
distributing Holy Communion under both species to the faithful and on
the extension of the faculty, with norms that have received the
recognition of the Apostolic See".
These liturgical norms are a noteworthy extension of what was
established till now and it might be timely to explain them.
The following are the general principles:
1. The numerous cases set forth in previous legislation and in the
liturgical books heretofore promulgated allowing the possibility of the
reception of communion under both species remain in force.
2. The occasions that were listed under letters a), b) and c) are the
reformulation or revision of concessions previously admitted;
3. From now on, it is the competence of the diocesan Bishop to
publish norms for his diocese on the distribution of communion under
both species (and this is a legislative act that cannot be delegated,
cf. cann. 135, § 2; 391). The competence of the Bishop is, in accord
with the law, primary (cf. can. 381, § 1), and is not subject to a
previous "authorization" of the Bishops' Conference.
4. The competence of the diocesan Bishop extends to granting to each
priest as proper pastor of his community the judgment on the opportunity
of distributing Communion under both species, except for the cases
listed as not advisable.
5. The final paragraph of n. 283 grants to the Conference of Bishops
the subsidiary faculty of legislating on this matter.
This faculty has to be correctly understood, namely:
The Bishop members of the Assembly of the Conference may publish
norms on the subject, but they do not necessarily have to do so. If they
decide to issue norms, this should be because they judge it necessary
and not for the simple desire of legislating. If they issue norms, they
should be approved in a session of the Plenary Assembly of the
Conference, with the necessary majority of 2/3 of the members who have
the right to vote.
The norms approved must be submitted to the Apostolic See for its recognitio
without which they do not have binding authority.
The substance of any norms could include these items:
—the manner of the distribution of Holy Communion
under both species, namely, if it is to be by drinking from the chalice,
or by using a small spoon or metal straw, or by intinction, and the extension
of the faculty, establishing whatever restrictions may be required
by the particular circumstances that are generally present in the
territory of the dioceses that belong to the Conference. It is clear
that the norms of the particular legislation by the Conference cannot
annul the general concessions granted in liturgical law nor can they
annul the faculty of the diocesan Bishop.
The general principle laid down by Vatican II applies here even if it
was stated for another matter: "freedom is not to be curtailed
except when and insofar as is necessary" (Dignitatis humanae,
It would be appropriate for diocesan bishops to study what is set
down in n. 283 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and
publish a few simple norms on the distribution of Holy Communion under
both species, above all, highlighting the pastoral criteria so that it
may be the stimulus for a faith that is more conscious of the fact that
Eucharistic Communion is a participation in the Sacrifice of Christ,
made present in every celebration of the Mass. To receive Holy Communion
worthily is certainly to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, truly and
substantially present under the Eucharistic species, but it must be
emphasized that this presence has a sacrificial dimension because, in
the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ is present as offered in
sacrifice and he is received as victim of the New Covenant: for this
reason, whoever receives Holy Communion is incorporated into the course
of Christ's self offering which is the substance of the Christian life