Mentioning Names at Communion

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Mentioning Names at Communion

ROME, 30 AUG. 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I am a deacon [permanent] and was informed that it is a questionable procedure to mention the person's name when administering the Eucharist; for example: "Mary, the Body of Christ!" etc. My pastor does this routinely. Is this proper and licit? — R.J., Allentown, Pennsylvania

A: While I know of no express prohibitions, this practice does not correspond to the proper rite, which is simple and sober as described in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

"161. If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ). The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely.

"If, however, Communion is given under both kinds, the rite prescribed in nos. 284-287 is followed.

"286. If Communion of the Blood of Christ is carried out by communicants' drinking from the chalice, each communicant, after receiving the Body of Christ, moves and stands facing the minister of the chalice. The minister says, Sanguis Christi (The Blood of Christ), the communicant responds, Amen, and the minister hands over the chalice, which the communicant raises to his or her mouth. Each communicant drinks a little from the chalice, hands it back to the minister, and then withdraws; the minister wipes the rim of the chalice with the purificator.

"287. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a communion-plate under the chin, approaches the priest, who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The priest takes a host, dips it partly into the chalice and, showing it, says,Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). The communicant responds, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest, and then withdraws."

In the extraordinary form the formula is more elaborated but with no naming of the recipient: "May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul safe for eternal life."

Thus, naming the communicant is not part of the Roman-rite tradition and as such is not a licit practice. While it might appear a very pastoral gesture, some might find that the interjection of the personal element weakens the proclamation of faith that is inherent in this dialogue.

In showing the host and saying, "The Body of Christ" the priest deacon or other minister of holy Communion is both stating a fact and requesting an assent. At that moment he is acting as the Church's representative so that the communicant, with his "Amen" affirms the Church's faith not only in the real presence of Christ but in all that the Mass entails.

The element of personal relationship introduced by naming an individual could be interpreted as reducing the dialogical proclamation of faith to a more human level.

It could also unwittingly stir up division insofar as the minister cannot know all people who approach Communion, and leaving some out might cause offense. Requesting each one's name is likely to encumber the Communion rites.

At the same time, it must be recognized that some liturgical traditions do name the communicant. In the Byzantine liturgy the communicants approach the priest one by one. As the priest gives them Communion he says: "The servant of God, N., is communicated with the precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his (her) sins and for life everlasting."

This elaborate formula is within the context of the Byzantine tradition in which partaking of Communion is less frequent than in the Roman rite and at times only a few members of the assembly will receive. Indeed, a special rite is added to the Mass when there are recipients with the priest reciting a long preparatory prayer, which includes a profession of faith in the Eucharist, before the faithful approach the altar.

There is no contradiction in these differences as each practice works well within its respective rite.

* * *

Follow-up: Mentioning Names at Communion [9-13-2011]

In the wake of our comments on using names at communion (see Aug. 30), a reader from the Byzantine tradition offered some pointers which I believe help us to understand better the context of their practice, to wit:

"Perhaps I as a [Byzantine Ruthenian Greek Catholic] deacon could add some additional insight into the Byzantine tradition's use of names. First, every sacrament is considered a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus, so every one is given using the recipient's first name, 'The servant of God, N., is baptized ...,' 'The servant of God, N., is crowned in matrimony ...,' 'The servant of God, the pious deacon N., is ordained ...,' etc. This use of the name is so important that when one approaches a priest who does not know them for Communion, they should mention their name so that the priest can use it when giving them Communion. (The worst fate possible for a human being is for God to forget them. That is why when we pray for the dead we pray not only for their blessed repose, but also that their memory may be eternal. Not eternal in human terms, but always in God's memory.) Incidentally, the practice among Catholics of the Byzantine tradition is for frequent Communion, just as it is among Catholics of the Roman tradition. Infrequent Communion is the usual practice among the Orthodox rather than the Catholic."

I thank our reader for this edifying and useful contribution.

Related to the topic of receiving Communion, a Vermont reader made the following query: "Recently our pastor 'informed' the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in our parish that they may be needed to hold communion services in the event of his absence. He instructed them to consume the Eucharist before distributing Communion. I told him I had learned that such persons are not to 'self-communicate' and are not to receive Communion unless there is another extraordinary minister present who can offer this. My 'information' is hearsay. Please tell me where I can find out the correct procedures."

The correct procedures, as usual, are to be found in the Church's official ritual books. Both the Directory for the Celebration of Sunday in the Absence of a Priest and the Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside of Mass foresee the possibility of the minister, whether a deacon or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, partaking of the hosts by themselves.

The rubric of the above-mentioned rite describes the minister placing the ciborium or pyx upon the altar before introducing the Lord's Prayer and possibly the sign of peace. It then continues: "The minister genuflects. Taking the host, he raises it slightly over the vessel or pyx and, facing the people, says: this is the Lamb of God …" After all have responded with the "Lord I am not worthy …," the rubrics continue: "If the minister receives communion, he says quietly: May the body of Christ bring me to everlasting life. He reverently consumes the body of Christ."

Since the concluding rites that immediately follow contain alternative rites for an ordained and a lay minister, it is clear that no distinction is intended regarding the manner of receiving Communion by the extraordinary minister.

The proviso in the rubrics "If the minister receives communion" does not imply a prohibition. In all likelihood it merely takes into account that the minister may not be receiving at this particular service because he or she has already received Communion on the same day.

The "information" received by our reader quite likely stems from an undue extension of the Holy See's reprobation of the abuse in which extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion self-communicate at Mass. Such reprobation might be incorrectly extended to the various circumstances of an extraordinary minister leading a celebration of the Word with Holy Communion in the absence of a priest.

* * *

Follow-up: Self-communion [9-27-2011]

Several readers asked for further clarifications regarding self-communion, an issue we dealt with in the Sept. 13 follow-up article.

One correspondent asked: "Relative to the interesting discussion regarding self-communion at Mass by extraordinary ministers, which I understand (from your ZENIT article) is prohibited, I wonder whether this prohibition also pertains to extraordinary ministers who offer Christ's blood to the faithful at weekday Masses. On Sunday Mass, with multiple extraordinary ministers engaged, the extraordinary ministers form a prayer circle after Mass and pass the cup around to each other in a circle, doing so with proper reverence, seemingly in compliance with the Holy See's instructions. Our practice in weekday Masses, however, is quite different. Normally there are only two extraordinary ministers offering the Blood. If all the Blood is not consumed during distribution, then our practice has been that each extraordinary minister consumes what remains in the chalice as he takes the cup to the sanctuary side-table. Is this improper self-communication? If so, one might correct this by having the two ministers administer the unconsumed Blood to each other. But I wonder what the practice should be if, for some reason, there is only one extraordinary minister distributing the Blood?

"In a related matter, when I take Communion to a homebound individual and find that for some reason I am unable to distribute the host, I have always said a prayer and consumed the host myself. Our pastor has allowed this as an alternative to bringing the unconsumed host to the rectory. Presumably one would do the latter in the case of multiple unconsumed hosts, but I personally have never encountered that particular situation."

According to the U.S. norms for distribution of Communion under both kinds:

"52. When more of the Precious Blood remains than was necessary for Communion, and if not consumed by the bishop or priest celebrant, 'the deacon immediately and reverently consumes at the altar all of the Blood of Christ which remains; he may be assisted, if needs dictate, by other deacons and priests.' When there are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood from their chalice of distribution with permission of the diocesan bishop."

First of all, it is presumed in this case that the extraordinary ministers have first received Communion from another minister before initiating the distribution of Communion. This is why their later consuming would not be a simple self-communion.

If there is only one extraordinary minister, then the priest and/or deacon would consume the extra Precious Blood. Since the number of those attending daily Mass is usually quite regular, it should be fairly easy to calculate the amount of wine needed for consecration. The extraordinary minister should consume from the chalice only if the celebrant were impeded for some legitimate reason.

It is not correct to consume the Precious Blood after Mass. If the extraordinary ministers have received necessary permission from the bishop, they should consume immediately after the distribution of Communion. It is probable that this practice is based upon a misinterpretation of the norms that allow for the purification of the sacred vessels after Mass.

With respect to the situation when the extraordinary minister is unable to distribute a host, I would say that in this case it is legitimate for the minister to consume the host. If possible, it would be preferable to give two hosts to the last communicant, but such situations are not always foreseeable.

An English reader asked for clarification on the point that the minister might not receive twice. He wrote: "It is my understanding that ministers, and indeed everyone, can receive Holy Communion a second time in a day provided that they are 'participating' in a sacrament, which the minister you refer to would be. Can you please clarify this point, and perhaps expand upon what qualifies as 'participating' in such cases?"

There appears to be a misunderstanding of the law on this point. At one time there was a doubt regarding the meaning of the word iterum (which can mean either "again" or "a second time") in Canon 917. The Holy See's body for authentically interpreting laws decided that it meant "a second time." Therefore, except in the case of viaticum for the dying, a second communion is permissible only within Mass, not at any sacramental celebration. Communion outside of Mass is not, strictly speaking, a sacrament. This term would only apply to the Eucharistic celebration itself.

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