On Consecrating Wine in a Flask or Bottle

Author: ZENIT



ROME, 23 SEPT. 2003 (ZENIT).

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

Q: Is it allowable to consecrate wine at Mass in a flask or bottle? Is it allowable to use a chalice and a flask, putting both on the altar in cases of large numbers receiving under both kinds? I personally strongly think not. The words of consecration would not be true: This is the cup of my blood. The rubrics too only mention a chalice/cup, i.e., a drinking vessel. The symbolism of the cup is of course important. Has there been an official ruling? — B.B., Gladesville, Australia

[This reply was given prior to publication of Redemptionis Sacramentum, 23 April 2004, which states, "Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms." Moreover, "the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery" (106).]

A: As you yourself observe, the rubrics say nothing about this flask, and while so far there has been no official ruling against it we cannot appeal to silence to obtain tacit approval of abuses.

It is impossible for the Holy See to specifically forbid everything which the liturgical imagination can contrive and we have to be guided by the positive norms which speak only of chalices.

Even in the United States, where use of this flask, in some areas dignified with the slightly archaic term flagon, is relatively common, the recent norms published by the episcopal conference regulating concelebrations speak only of chalices and of pouring the blood of Christ from one chalice to another for distribution.

I am in full agreement with you as to the importance of maintaining the symbolism of the words of consecration and would add that the use of these flasks, decanters, bottles — or whatever name is given them — tends to send the wrong message as their external form tends to be associated with social events and parties rather than the sacred banquet of the sacrifice of the Mass…. ZE03092323

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Follow-up: Consecrating Wine in a Flask [from 10-7-03]

My answer to an Australian reader regarding the use of flagons for consecrating wine (Sept. 23) generated a fair amount of correspondence, of varying degrees of insight and courtesy. As some worthwhile comments were made, I wish to address the question once more.

First, some readers were under the impression that I objected to the distribution of the Precious Blood to the faithful. This is not the case. In these replies I strive, insofar as it is possible, to limit myself to the pertinent official norms. One thing is the broad faculties granted to the local bishop by the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal to regulate the occasions for the administration of communion under both species within his diocese. Another question is the most correct or apt means of carrying this out.

In my original response, based above all on universal documents, I stated that flagons were not mentioned in any official texts. I am aware that GIRM 330 speaks of "other vessels," but within the context of that number and the document as a whole, it is unlikely that it refers to flagons.

A reader from Texas said that I overlooked the document "This Holy and Living Sacrifice: Directory for the Celebration and Reception of Communion under Both Kinds," produced by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1984. It is true that No. 40 of this document specifically states: "The wine should be placed in flagons or pitchers of careful design and quality."

I should perhaps have considered this text; however, it has recently been replaced by a new set of norms that, having received approval from the Holy See, came into effect on April 7, 2002, as particular law for the United States. It is available on the bishops' Web site, www.usccb.org. This new document makes no mention of the flagon and in its Nos. 36-40 gives preference to the practice of pouring from one large chalice into smaller ones.

There is probably more risk of spillage from this practice than from use of the flagon. But the bishops have obviously preferred to give weight to the symbolic value of partaking from the "one cup."

The flagon is certainly a pragmatic solution to a practical problem. But it is also a novelty with no counterparts even among those Eastern Churches that never lost the tradition of Communion under both species. No matter how beautiful or elegant, the flagon fails to fit well into the overall symbolic language of the eucharistic rite.

When I agreed with my original correspondent as to the flagon's seeming to contradict the words of consecration — regarding taking and drinking from the cup — it was from this symbolic, rather than from a theological, standpoint.

I believe we need to consider how the liturgical objects we use, because they are also symbols, may eventually affect the perception of the thing they symbolize.

Finally, another American reader took me by surprise by suggesting that I follow the Holy Father's example in consecrating flagons of wine.

While I always strive to follow his example I would point out that Communion is almost never administered under both species at papal masses as it would be impracticable. If memory serves me well, it was done once, in St. Louis, where the celebration in a covered stadium apparently made it logistically possible.

In fact, at some of the outdoor masses, the local bishop has even temporarily suspended the faculty for receiving Communion in the hand so that the danger of a Host falling due to the jostling and stumbling typical of large crowds on uneven terrain be reduced to a minimum.

My own, admittedly small, firsthand experience in helping to organize these trips at the Vatican has taught me that the input of the host diocese is far from negligible. So one must not be too hasty in drawing universal liturgical lessons from the Pope's pastoral visits. ZE03100721

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Follow-up: Consecrating Wine in a Flask, Continued [from 10-14-03]

In my reply to a correspondent last week who suggested that I follow the Holy Father's example in consecrating flagons of wine at youth gatherings, I observed that if memory served me well the only papal Mass where Communion had been distributed under both species was at St. Louis.

Father Thomas Keller, the archdiocesan master of ceremonies of St Louis, who assisted then Bishop Piero Marini, papal master of liturgical celebrations, in organizing the event, has kindly pointed out to me that the wine was consecrated in chalices and not in flagons and that the entire celebration was conducted according to the instructions received by the Holy See.

Another priest correspondent who assisted at the Mass informed me that in fact Communion was not distributed under both species to the entire congregation. I am very glad to be able to rectify any misunderstanding.

Likewise, in mentioning that some bishops had forbidden the distribution of Communion in the hand during outdoor papal masses, I was not referring to St. Louis, which did not make any such disposition. Communion-in-the-hand was barred, for example, by the cardinal archbishop of Bologna, Italy, when the Holy Father celebrated the concluding Mass of a national Eucharistic Congress in an open field attended by several hundred thousand people. ZE03101420

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