ROME, 12 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
Q: Recently I asked one of my priests to prepare the faithful
to discontinue the practice in their parish whereby the people
dip the sacred host into the chalice. This has been a
long-standing practice in the parish, and it was started by a
certain missionary from India who said to me that this was a
custom in wide usage in that country. In response to my didactic
approach emphasizing the role of the minister in giving
Communion, and the recipient receiving the gift, the parish
priest quoted "Memoriale Domini" of 1969, which, in
Paragraph 4 states as follows: "With regard to the manner of
administering the sacrament, one may follow the traditional
method, which emphasized the ministerial function of the priest
or deacon, in having them place the host in the hand of the
communicant. One may also adopt a simpler method, allowing
the communicant himself to take the host from the ciborium.
In either case, the communicant ought to consume the host before
returning to his place [...]." I cannot for the life of me trace
the progression from "Memoriale Domini" to Paragraph 92 of "Redemptionis
Sacramentum," which states: "'Although each of the faithful
always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at
his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the
Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference
with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given
permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or
her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that
the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the
minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic
species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then
Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the
faithful.'" I have indicated the key issues by italics. I am
sure you will be able to throw more light on this issue.
A bishop in South Africa
A: First of all, it is necessary to point out that, strictly
speaking, the parish priest was not quoting from the instruction
"Memoriale Domini" but from a letter, published in French, which
was annexed to the original instruction. It was a sample of the
letter on practical applications sent to bishops' conferences
that had received permission to allow Communion in the hand.
Therefore, the suggestion regarding the people's taking hosts
directly from the ciborium has almost no value as a legal norm.
Likewise, since it is intimately united to the question of
Communion in the hand, it falls under the aegis of the bishop as
the authority permitting this practice.
I would also mention that this question would not justify the
practice in this parish since the very same letter quoted by the
priest says two paragraphs later: "When the communion is
distributed under both kinds, it is never permitted to place in
the hands of the communicants hosts which have first been placed
in the Blood of the Lord." This at least implies that the option
of the faithful dipping a host into the chalice was not
Thus, rather than a magisterial document we are before an
initial attempt to regulate a nascent practice. The suggestion
that the faithful take the hosts themselves never made the cut
and was not incorporated into any formal documents. Indeed, very
soon the opposite practice became normative.
In January 1973 the Congregation for the Sacraments published
the instruction "Immensae Caritatis." When dealing with
Communion in the hand this document makes no mention of the
option of the faithful taking the host from the ciborium but
"Ever since the Instruction Memoriale Domini three
years ago, some of the conferences of bishops have been
requesting the Apostolic See for the faculty to allow ministers
distributing communion to place the eucharistic bread in the
hand of the faithful. The same Instruction contained a reminder
that 'the laws of the Church and the writings of the Fathers
give ample witness of a supreme reverence and utmost caution
toward the eucharist' and that this must continue. Particularly
in regard to this way of receiving communion, experience
suggests certain matters requiring careful attention.
"On the part of both the minister and the recipient, whenever
the host is placed in the hand of a communicant there must be
careful concern and caution, especially about particles that
might fall from the hosts."
Later in 1973 "Eucharistiae Sacramentum" published the new
Rite for Eucharistic Worship and Communion Outside of Mass. The
introductory norms (No. 21) quote the "Memoriale Domini" letter
almost literally but excise the clause regarding the faithful's
taking the host from the ciborium.
Indeed, the document insists very clearly that whether the
Eucharist is received on the tongue or in the hand, "Holy
Communion must be distributed by the proper competent minister,
who presents and gives the consecrated host to the communicant
saying the formula 'The Body of Christ …'" [my translation].
Finally, in 1985 the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a
letter to the president of the U.S. bishops' conference. This
letter approved the practice and offered an example of the
present letter that replaced the one annexed to "Memoriale
"The Holy See, since 1969, while maintaining the traditional
manner of distributing communion, has granted to those Episcopal
Conferences that have requested it, the faculty of distributing
communion by placing the host in the hands of the faithful ....
It would seem opportune to draw attention to the following
"1. Communion in the hand should show, as much as communion
on the tongue, due respect towards the Real Presence of Christ
in the Eucharist. For this reason emphasis should be laid, as
was done by the Fathers of the Church, upon the dignity of the
gesture of the communicant. Thus, the newly baptized at the end
of the fourth century were directed to stretch out both hands
making 'the left hand a throne for the right hand, which
receives the King' (Fifth mystagogical catechesis of Cyril of
Jerusalem, n. 21: PG 33. col 1125, or Sources chretiennes,
126, p 171; Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 47: PG 63, col.
"* In practice the opposite direction has to be given to the
faithful: the left hand is to be placed upon the right hand, so
that the sacred host can be conveyed to the mouth with the right
"2. Again following the teaching of the Fathers, insistence
is to be laid upon the importance of the Amen said in
response to the formula of the minister, 'the Body of Christ';
this Amen is an affirmation of faith: "Cum ergo
petieris, dicit tibi sacerdos 'Corpus Christi' et tu dicis
'Amen', hoc est 'verum'; quod confitetur lingua, teneat afectus"
(Saint Ambrose, De Sacramentis 4, 25: SC 25 bis, p
"3. The communicant who has received the Eucharist in the
hand is to consume it before returning to his place, moving
aside yet remaining facing the altar in order to allow the
person following to approach the minister.
"4. It is from the Church that the faithful receive the Holy
Eucharist, which is communion in the Body of the Lord and in the
Church; for this reason the communicant should not take from the
paten or container, as would be done for ordinary bread, but the
hands must be stretched out to receive from the minister of
"5. Out of respect for the Eucharist, cleanliness of hands is
expected. Children need to be reminded of this.
"6. It is necessary that the faithful receive sound
catechesis in this matter, and that insistence be laid upon the
sentiments of adoration and respect that are required towards
this most holy sacrament. (cf. Dominicae cenae, n. 11).
Care must be taken that fragments of the consecrated host are
not lost (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 2,
1972: Prot: no. 89/71, in Notitiae 1972, p. 227).
"7. The faithful are not to be obliged to adopt the practice
of communion in the hand. Each one is free to communicate in one
way or the other.
"These norms and those indicated in the documents cited above
are designed to recall the duty of respect for the Eucharist and
apply independently of the way in which communion is received.
"Those who have the care of souls should insist not only upon
the necessary dispositions for the fruitful reception of
communion, which in certain instances demands recourse to the
sacrament of Reconciliation, but also upon an external attitude
which conveys a sense of respect in general and expresses in
particular the belief of the faithful in the Eucharist.
"From the Congregation for Divine Worship, April 3, 1985.
+ Augustin Mayer, OSB
While this is not an exhaustive study of the theme, I believe
I have provided His Excellency with enough material to
demonstrate to his hesitant parish priest that "Redemptionis
Sacramentum" is in continuity with the most relevant teachings
and practice of the Church and so discontinue this erroneous
practice in the parish.
* * *
When the Faithful Take the Host Directly [1-26-2010]
Related to our comments on the laity taking the host directly
(Jan. 12), a lay extraordinary minister of Holy Communion from
Manila, Philippines, presented a particular case: "Each weekend
I distribute Communion among the sick in our
parish. Occasionally, because of the absence of some of the
sick, I end my rounds with an unconsumed, consecrated host or
two. I am told that it is all right to consume the hosts myself.
However, I want to know if self-communion is really allowed as a
practice. At the moment, the only option is to make the long way
back to return the hosts to the church."
The rite for distributing the Eucharist to the sick in this kind
of case does not foresee the extraordinary minister receiving
Communion; nor does it foresee that hosts might be left over. An
exception occurs when Communion to the sick is made under the
species of wine; in that case, the minister always consumes the
extra species after administering the sacrament.
The rite for Communion outside of Mass by an extraordinary
minister, however, does make allowances for the minister to take
Communion and for reservation in the tabernacle.
The reason for this difference is that the rite supposes that in
the first case the minister to the sick has had ample
opportunity to receive Communion from a sacred minister, whereas
the second circumstance normally presupposes the absence of an
ordained minister. It would be paradoxical in the latter
situation that the only person inhibited from receiving the host
would be the minister who is giving out Communion.
The fact that the second rite permits the "self-communion" of
the extraordinary minister proves that its absence in the rite
for the sick is based on practical and not theological grounds.
There are probably some circumstances in which the extraordinary
minister to the sick could receive Communion if it were the only
opportunity to do so on a given weekday.
It must also be remembered, however, that one may receive
Communion twice in a day only if the second time is at Mass.
Viaticum is an exception to this rule (see canons 917 and 921.2
of the Code of Canon Law).
Therefore, I do not think that the minister consuming the extra
hosts is the most apt solution.
I would suggest that the easiest and most practical solution to
having one or two extra hosts is to administer two hosts to the
last communicants. This may be done to the sick if they are
able, or to one of those attending the sick. Receiving more than
one host at the same time, or receiving half a host, in no way
increases or diminishes the grace received and constitutes a
single act of communion.
A reader from Ireland asked: "In our parish it is the practice
that the ministers of Communion self-administer the chalice from
the altar and the last minister brings the chalice to a side
table for the members of the public who are celiac to
self-administer the blood of Christ. Can you advise if this
practice is acceptable?"
The short answer is no. Everybody except the priest should
receive the Eucharist from a minister. Even the deacon should
receive the host and the chalice from the priest, after the
priest has made his communion.
In the case of those who are celiac, the minister should go to a
suitable place and present the chalice to them one by one,
saying, "The blood of Christ." They may then take the chalice
and reverently consume the species as this is not a case of
self-communion but the most practical means of avoiding any loss
of the Precious Blood. An acolyte with a Communion plate should
be present, and the minister should have a purificator available
in order to wipe the chalice rim.