Distributing Communion to Concelebrants

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Distributing Communion to Concelebrants

ROME, 20 FEB. 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Paragraph 246 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides that the deacon may present the chalice for the Communion of concelebrants at Mass, but Paragraph 242 says that the paten may be passed to the concelebrants by another priest concelebrant. The deacon is not mentioned. Does this mean that the deacon may not distribute the consecrated Host to the concelebrants? — J.C., Venice, Florida

A: The paragraphs in question are:

"242. When this prayer before Communion is finished, the principal celebrant genuflects and steps back a little. Then one after another the concelebrants come to the middle of the altar, genuflect, and reverently take the Body of Christ from the altar. Then holding it in their right hand, with the left hand placed below, they return to their places. The concelebrants may, however, remain in their places and take the Body of Christ from the paten presented to them by the principal celebrant or by one or more of the concelebrants, or by passing the paten one to another."

"246. If Communion is received by drinking directly from the chalice, one or other of two procedures may be followed:

"a. The principal celebrant, standing at the middle of the altar, takes the chalice and says quietly, Sanguis Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Blood of Christ bring me to everlasting life). He consumes a little of the Blood of Christ and hands the chalice to the deacon or a concelebrant. He then distributes Communion to the faithful (cf. above, nos. 160-162).

"b. The concelebrants approach the altar one after another or, if two chalices are used, two by two. They genuflect, partake of the Blood of Christ, wipe the rim of the chalice, and return to their seats.

"c. The principal celebrant normally consumes the Blood of the Lord standing at the middle of the altar.

"d. The concelebrants may, however, partake of the Blood of the Lord while remaining in their places and drinking from the chalice presented to them by the deacon or by one of the concelebrants, or else passed from one to the other. The chalice is always wiped either by the one who drinks from it or by the one who presents it. After communicating, each returns to his seat."

The texts actually refer to two different moments. No. 242 refers to the distribution of the hosts to all concelebrants before the "This is the Lamb of God." No. 246 (d) refers to the deacons presenting (but not administering) the Precious Blood when there are numerous concelebrants.

The intent of these norms is to attempt to foresee various possible situations, and indicate the best possible procedure. No. 242 indicates a preferred situation: each concelebrant coming to the center of the altar, but also offers other solutions if this is not feasible.

It is clear however that, at this moment, distribution of the hosts by the deacon is not contemplated.

No. 246 (d) also presents several ways in which the concelebrating priests consume the Precious Blood. No mention is made of the deacon presenting the hosts because No. 246 is presuming that the priests have already consumed the Body of Christ.

It is in Nos. 248-249 that the possibility is contemplated of the priests consuming both species at the altar, either one after the other, or by intinction.

The missal cannot foresee all situations, and there are cases when the number of concelebrants is so large, or the space available so restricted, that it is impracticable for all the priests to approach the altar.

In such cases it is possible for the priests to either remain at their places or to move toward pre-designated places where deacons or priests present them the paten and chalice. Communion in this case may be either one species after the other or, more commonly, by intinction.

In these situations the deacons or priests presenting the patens and chalices to the priests do so in silence without saying "the Body of Christ." This is because they are assisting in the distribution of Communion but are not administrating Communion to the concelebrants as they would to the faithful.

This latter solution, which is not found in the missal, has been the practice for very large concelebrations in St. Peter's Basilica and other similar situations.

For instance, for Rome's Chrism Mass, which gathers about a thousand priests, a large number of deacons, vested in dalmatics, present the patens and chalices to the priests who all remain in their places. ZE07022022

* * *

Follow-up: Communion and Concelebrants [3-6-2007]

After our remarks on Communion during concelebrations (Feb. 20) a priest from the U.S. state of Georgia sent this comment:

"I have a real problem with the idea of 'intinction.' At the Last Supper, 'Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, "Drink from it, all of you"' (Matthew 26:27). In Luke and Mark, the evidence is clearly on the taking of the cup and the sharing and drinking of the wine ... not the dipping of the bread in the wine. In the Eucharistic prayers we intone, 'Take and drink this all of you' ... the key words there are 'take' and 'drink.' These are verbal commands."

Drinking from the chalice is preferred whenever feasible. But I do not think that we should apply the biblical text as referring to precise details of the ritual, which developed over the centuries.

Otherwise we would end up questioning the legitimacy of centuries-old customs such as the Western practice of Communion under one kind alone or the custom of some Eastern Churches of Communion under both species together, using a spoon.

Rather, we should trust the interpretation of the Church which allows for intinction as a practical solution for communicating large numbers of concelebrants or when space, or the number of chalices available, is limited.

Finally an Eastern deacon sent me an interesting comment on the role of the deacon in presenting the chalice and hosts to priests during concelebrations:

"The GIRM paragraphs 242 and 246 also should be read within the context of long-standing rulings and practices of the Church as early as the Canons of the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), ratified also at Trent:

"Canon XVIII: It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate."

While not every detail mentioned in Canon 18 would apply to the present Roman rite, the fundamental principles remain the same even today. ZEZE07030629

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