|ROME, 30 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: At the consecration of the bread at Mass, is the priest required to
hold the host up with two hands? In our church, the priest raises the
host with only one hand in a rather casual manner. This makes me almost
cry, as I cannot help but think that this gives a message of irreverence
to the church community. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.
K.S., Frankfurt, Germany
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not give a detailed
description of this rite. Nor do the liturgical norms and rubrics
surrounding the consecration in the missal explicitly determine that the
priest takes the host in both hands. These rubrics are the following:
"1. In the formulas [of the consecration] that follow, the words of the
Lord should be pronounced clearly and distinctly, as the nature of these
"2. The Priest takes the bread and, holding it slightly raised above the
"3 He bows slightly [and says “Take this” etc.]
"4. He shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the
paten, and genuflects in adoration.
"5. After this, the Priest continues: [“In the same way” etc.]
"6. He takes the chalice and, holding it slightly raised above the
"7. He bows slightly [saying “Take this” etc.]
"8. The Priest shows the chalice to the people, places it on the
corporal, and genuflects in adoration."
If we were to limit ourselves to a minimalist interpretation of the
rubrics, we would have to say that there is no strict legal requirement
to hold the host in both hands.
However, the liturgical norms of the ordinary rite, even though they no
longer describe each gesture in detail, tend to presume continuity in
long-standing practice. Thus there is every reason to assume that when
saying simply that the priest “takes the bread,” the legislator presumes
that he will do so with both hands as is obligatory in the extraordinary
form of the Roman rite.
This is certainly the most natural practice and it is followed by the
overwhelming majority of priests worldwide. Holding the host and chalice
in both hands allows for greater pause, reverence and composure in
carrying out this rite. As our reader points out, holding up the host
with one hand can evoke an impression of nonchalance on the part of the
priest with respect to the Eucharist.
On the other hand this practice is perfectly justified when a priest is
physically impeded, as was the case of Pope John Paul II who held up the
host with one hand when he could no longer control both members. In such
a case any lack of aesthetics is more than compensated for by the
priest’s devotion to his ministry edifying and nurturing the faithful.
Finally, it is important to remember that we are above all before a
consecration narrative of the saving events and not before a historical
narrative mime or drama. It is therefore liturgically incorrect for the
priest to add dramatic gestures that are not described in the rubrics
and have no basis in traditional Church practice.
Some practices that crept into the liturgy, such as that of breaking the
host while narrating Our Lord’s action of breaking the bread, have been
explicitly forbidden in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."
Others, while not specifically mentioned, fall under the same logic that
motivated that prohibition. For example, some priests have fallen into
the habit of making a gesture of offering toward the faithful with the
host and chalice while saying “Take this, all of you.” The addition of
such a dramatic gesture is unjustified from the point of view of the
rubrics and tends to be quite distracting.
Above all, however, this action tends to dislocate the fourfold action
of the Last Supper that the Church has placed at various moments of the
Eucharistic celebration. These four moments are succinctly described by
(now Bishop) Peter J. Elliott in his "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman
Rite," (footnote 59):
"(1) The preparation of gifts (he took), (2) the Eucharistic Prayer (He
blessed or gave thanks), and then (3) the fraction (he broke), and
finally (4) the communion (He gave)."
For this reason I believe that we can affirm that the Roman rite's
characteristic sobriety and lack of dramatic flair is well-grounded in
both theology and pastoral good sense.
* * *
Follow-up: Both Hands at Elevation of Host [10-14-2008]
comments on the importance of the priest using both hands for raising
the host after the consecration (see Sept. 30), a distinguished reader
commented on a possible variant.
He wrote: "Thank you for making your point so clearly about using
both hands in the raising of the host and the other pertinent points you
made. They are important and [...] give a proper decorum to the mystery
"There may be a case for using one hand when the other hand holds the
vessel beneath the raised host, as I often do. In other words, at the
consecration the whole paten which is usually large and flat is raised
slightly and after the consecration the big host is raised above the
paten or dish and shown to the people. Then the dish is in the left hand
and the raised host in the right."
I would agree with our reader that this particular form would not
lack reverence and decorum.
The only caveat I would have is that raising the paten is not
foreseen at this moment. The rubrics, in directing the priest to take
the bread ("accipit panem") and deposit it upon the paten after showing
it to the faithful, seem to presuppose that he physically handle the
bread itself and not the paten. This would be in continuity with the
Roman tradition as exemplified in the extraordinary form of the Roman
Likewise, raising the paten during the showing of the host, while not
forbidden, is not mentioned at this point, whereas the rubrics specify
two other moments when the paten should be or may be raised.
Although the showing of the host and chalice after the consecration
are central moments of the Eucharistic Prayer, liturgically speaking,
the elevation of paten and chalice during the concluding doxology until
the people have finished the final amen is of more importance. This is
because it makes explicit the whole mystery of the sacred sacrifice's
giving glory to the Father, through, with and in Christ in the unity of
the Holy Spirit, whereas the symbolism behind the showing after the
consecration emphasizes above all the mystery of transubstantiation.
Raising the paten at the consecration might possibly make it harder
to catechize the faithful regarding the full meaning of this moment of
The other moment when the paten may be raised is during the "This is
the Lamb of God." At this moment the celebrant has a choice as to
present the remaining fragments of the large host to the faithful above
the raised paten, or above the raised chalice. In this case it should
never be simply presented to the people without the paten or chalice as
is usually done in the consecration.
Several other readers pointed out that the celebrant's reverence, or
lack thereof, toward the Eucharist at Mass is very often reflected in
the behavior of other ministers and of some of the faithful. Above all
they pointed out the effects on the liturgical and spiritual formation