Religious Receiving the Chalice at the Altar

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Religious Receiving the Chalice at the Altar

ROME, 19 OCT. 2004 (ZENIT)

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

Q: [A bishop from the Philippines asks:] I had a session today with a missionary institute of sisters of diocesan right. One of them asked why they should not be allowed to receive the consecrated wine at the altar table itself during special occasions such as jubilees of the congregation. I told them that another table for the same purpose may be placed at a lower level for them to partake of the Sacred Blood. But they said that in the past it had been the practice here and that the lay people did not mind the sisters' going to the altar to partake of the Sacred Blood. Please tell me when the sisters (and brothers) or the lay people may be allowed to receive the Sacred Blood at the altar.

A: The point is covered, among other documents, in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 94, which states:

"It is not licit for the faithful 'to take ... by themselves ... and, still less, to hand ... from one to another' the sacred host or the sacred chalice. Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a Nuptial Mass."

Thus, it would be incorrect for the sisters to take the chalice at the altar; nor may they take the chalice themselves from another table.

A minister is always required to administer the chalice as well as the cup.

This minister should be a priest, deacon or instituted acolyte. Should none of these be available, then one of the sisters, the Mother Superior for example, may be designated as an extraordinary minister of Communion and could assist you in administering the chalice to the other sisters.

The reason for this is that Communion is always a gift received from Christ through the ministry of the Church and this is indicated by always receiving through a minister.

Only the celebrating or concelebrating priest may normally take Communion by himself.

Even the deacon and extraordinary ministers of Communion must usually receive Communion from the priest before distributing it to the faithful.

Even the Pope has observed this norm in recent years when he has assisted at some Masses without celebrating. He received Christ's Body and Blood through the ministry of the deacons and celebrant.

It is clear that the mind of the Church does not foresee any occasions when anybody except celebrating or concelebrating priests may receive at the altar itself. ZE04101923

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Follow-up: Religious Receiving the Chalice [from 11-02-2004]

Following our reply to a Philippine bishop's question regarding religious taking the chalice at the altar (Oct. 19), a New Jersey reader suggested that I had misread the question. What was really asked, the reader said, was on what occasions could a religious receive, rather than take, Communion at the altar as is specifically foreseen in some rites such as during a Mass of perpetual profession.

I don't believe I misread the question since the bishop specifically mentioned that he had suggested the use of an alternative table from which the religious could partake of the chalice. And this suggestion would have been useless if they were receiving through the hands of a minister.

However, I welcome the suggestion, as it has afforded the opportunity to mention the possibility of a religious receiving at that altar on some very significant moments of his or her life, especially those which express a definitive self offering to God.

A member of an association of Catholic university graduates from an African country, perhaps Nigeria, wrote that they frequently share our column among themselves. One of whom wrote some "posers" to our piece.

Not wanting to be a source of discord, I will attempt to answer his doubts.

— Is Communion in the hand not the same as taking the host by oneself?

Not exactly, because a minister still presents the host to the communicant who then receives it. What differs is the mode of reception (on the tongue or in the hand) not the fact of reception.

— What is the difference between "cup" and "chalice"?

Actually both terms should be equivalents, as the Precious Blood should always be offered in a chalice. The term "cup" is used in the current English translation of the Mass to refer to the chalice, although it is possible that the new translation now being prepared will return to the more traditional term.

He also suggests that I should have taken issue with other issues such as extraordinary ministers and desecration of the Eucharist.

I can only observe that I usually try to stick to the question at hand. The limits of space do not allow me to range widely.

We have dealt with the subject and norms regarding extraordinary ministers of holy Communion on several occasions.

Also, the original question referred to an error of knowledge regarding a liturgical norm. There was no hint of the least disrespect for the Eucharist on the part of the persons involved, much less a question of desecration. ZE04110223

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