Part 3 Structure and Elements

Chapter e36 The Communion Rite

Preliminary Questions


EJWU #7 Communion Rite

Ten Finger History


Structure and Elements

Receiving Communion More Than Once A Day

Theological Considerations

Pastoral Issues

To Think About

 The Emmaus story reveals the meal "shape" of the Eucharist
1.  Gathering -- Chapter 21
2.  Story Telling -- Chapter 22
3.  Meal Sharing
3a.  Setting the Table -- Chapter 23
3b.  Saying Grace -- Chapter 24 & 25
3c.  Eating and Drinking -- Chapter 26
4.  Commissioning -- Chapter 27

Preliminary Questions

Why does the Communion Rite start with the Lord's Prayer? Theologically, what is the difference between receiving "Bread" or "Bread and Wine"? Have you always received Communion from the Cup? Why don't more people drink from the cup?

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Joseph Dougherty, From Altar-Throne to Table: The Campaign for Frequent Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. ATLA Monograph Series, Scarecrow Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 0810871645 $84.00

Leo Hay. Eucharist: A Thanksgiving Celebration, pp 91-103.

Lawrence Johnson. The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of Mass, Chapters 41-53, pp 91-121.

Davies, Michael. Communion under Both Kinds, an Ecumenical Surrender. Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1980.

Huels, John M. “Trent and the Chalice: Forerunner of Vatican II?” Worship 1982 56(5), 386-400.

Nathan D. Mitchell.  The Amen Corner "Communion:  The Power of Emptiness"  Worship 2004  November 78:6,  540-550.

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Communion With the Lord and the Church

Eucharist Jesus With Us #7, September 2005. Q0905

The following is a draft of a published article ©2005 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 w. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.  1-800-488-0488.  The article may not be reproduced or sold without written permission from the publisher.

In my experience, the Communion Rite—which begins with the Lord's Prayer and ends with the Prayer after Communion—is one part of the Mass that has not changed at all. Yet, in another sense, it has changed very much! 

I still remember that Sunday morning in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1940s when I received Holy Communion for the first time. From that day until this, Holy Communion has been a climactic moment in the eucharistic celebration for me. It always was and still is a time of prayer and intimate union with Christ. This has not changed. But there are elements of the Communion Rite that have changed a lot over the decades.

External changes/internal changes

When I compare my experience of the Communion Rite today with my first Holy Communion, I find that there are several observable, external changes in the ritual. I can name at least six: (1) We can receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.(2) We receive standing up rather than kneeling down. (3) We can receive both the Bread and from the Cup. Formerly we were only permitted to receive the host. (4) Today the majority of Catholics attending Mass receive Holy Communion. As a child, my mother took me to Mass every day, and I received Holy Communion daily. But not everyone at Mass went to Communion in those days. (5) We now see non-ordained ministers distributing Communion. When I received my first Holy Communion, only the priest (or deacon) was permitted to touch the Host and distribute the Eucharist; (6) And today in many churches the host is larger and thicker than when I received my first Holy Communion. The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “the material for the eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food” (GIRM, #321).

Those of you reading this article who do not remember the Communion Rite before the 1969 revision of the Mass probably don't notice these changes because for you today's Communion Rite looks like it always has. But for Catholics my age and older, these changes are “new.” Some of us welcomed them; others were less than happy.

I could take each of these changes and explain their purpose and function. But rather than discuss these observable, external changes in the Communion Rite, I think that it might be more productive for us to look at some changes that might not be visible at all. I want to consider three internal changes in the way we think about the Eucharist and understand what it is we are doing during the Communion Rite.

How would you answer these questions? 1) When you think about Holy Communion at Mass do you think in terms of “receiving Holy Communion” or do you think in terms of “sharing a sacred meal”?  2) Do you think first about the physical and spiritual implications of the act of eating the host, or do you also think of the symbolic and sacramental dimensions of the action? 3) How do you imagine or picture Christ present at the Eucharist?

Receiving Communion/Sharing the Lord's Supper

1) Do you experience Holy Communion as a private, individual act (receiving Holy Communion) or as a communal act done with the other members of the worshipping community (sharing a sacred meal)?

I must admit that for most of my life I thought of Holy Communion primarily as a private act. Communion was the moment when I received Jesus into my heart. It was a moment of intense personal and private prayer. But there is a problem here.

If I am to have a personal encounter with the Risen Lord in Holy Communion, by inference that encounter would also be private and individual.  Yet we know that the liturgy is not a private prayer but a communal action—even though it is at the same time personal. The liturgy—and Holy Communion—is a personal-communal act.

            Some years ago, a statement by the United States Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy reminded us that our American “cultural emphasis on individuality and competition has made it more difficult for us to appreciate the liturgy as a personal-communal experience. As a consequence, we tend to identify anything private and individual as ‘personal.' But, by inference, anything communal and social is considered impersonal. For the sake of good liturgy, this misconception must be changed” (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, #16).

My experience of Holy Communion has shifted from an individual and private act to an action that is communal and public—while still remaining intensely personal.  One of the ways I express the community dimension of this sacred action is by joining my voice in song with the voices of the others with whom I am sharing the Eucharist. We join our voices in a hymn and express common sentiments of devotion. We unite our minds and hearts in common prayer. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that the purpose of the Communion chant “is to express the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices” (GIRM, #86).

For me, singing during Communion time used to be a distraction from my individual, private prayer. Now I see singing as an expression of the personal-communal dimension of the Communion Rite.

A symbolic, sacramental action

2) When you think about the meaning of Holy Communion, do you think first in terms of receiving the consecrated Bread or do you also consider the symbolic dimensions of the action?

For many years, my attention was focused primarily on the implications of receiving the host. I was taught that ordinarily when I eat something, my body changes the thing eaten into my living body. But when I receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, the very opposite happens: I am changed into Christ's Body. At the Eucharist, in a very profound and unexpected way, the familiar saying is true: You are what you eat!

While this way of thinking is correct—and open to rich spiritual insight—in the past I did not always consider the wider, symbolic and sacramental aspects of Holy Communion. Here again we are shaped and formed by our American culture. The document on environment and art quoted above points out that “a culture which is oriented to efficiency and production has made us insensitive to the symbolic function of persons and things” (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, #16).

For example, if I am simply thinking in terms of efficiency, I know that Christ is contained whole and entire—Body and Blood—under the appearances of even the smallest piece of consecrated bread. There is no need to have a larger host, or bread that has “the appearance of food.” There is no need to receive “under both kinds” that is, to both eat and to drink.

It is only when I consider the importance of the symbolic, sacramental nature of the ritual action that I begin to see the significance of drinking from the Cup. At my daily “ordinary” meals I both eat and drink. The current directives for Mass state: “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident …” (GIRM, #281, italics added). Regarding the eucharistic Bread: “The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food” (GIRM, #321, italics added).

On Holy Thursday, when we recall the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, we pray: “As we eat his body...we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean” (Preface for Holy Thursday). When we share the Bread, we become his Body. When we drink his blood, we give the sign of how we become his Body—by pouring out our lifeblood in generous love, even as Christ did.

Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ

3) How do you imagine or picture Christ present at the Eucharist? I am not sure why I picture the historical Jesus of Nazareth the way that I do; but if I close my eyes and try to picture Jesus, he looks a lot like the Sacred Heart statue that stood by the side altar of St. Anthony Church where I worshiped as a child. Of course, I know he didn't actually look like that; it is improbable that Jesus had blond hair, blue eyes and German features.

But the important thing to remember is that Jesus of Nazareth has passed through death and is now the Risen Christ. “Christ's Resurrection was not a return to earthly life… In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #646).

St. Paul's first experience of the Risen Christ is recorded the Acts of the Apostles (9:3-5): “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Paul's insight was that the Christian is so united to Christ that what we do to one another we do to Christ himself. The early Church remembered that Jesus had promised “a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours” (CCC, #787)

It is this “real communion” with the body of the Risen Lord that led St. Augustine to give this explanation of the Eucharist: “If then you are the Body of Christ and his members, it is your sacrament that reposes on the altar of the Lord... Be what you see and receive what you are” (Sermon 272). “There you are on the table and there you are in the chalice” (Sermon 229).

Three ritual actions

When you image the Risen Christ, does the image include his Body, the Church?

The petition of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass asks God to change us into the Body of Christ: “by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer IV). As we move from the Eucharistic Prayer to the Communion Rite, we reinforce that petition through three ritual actions: 1) We pray the Lord's Prayer and ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray that we might be able to forgive all those who have in any way injured us so that nothing can divide the Body of Christ; and we ask pardon of all whom we have injured. 2) We offer a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation—the Sign of Peace. The meaning of “peace” is found in the Hebrew word “shalom” which means “wholeness.” The Kiss of Peace is our promise that all brokenness and division is to be healed. 3) We come forward to share in the Lord's Banquet, conscious of the deep religious tradition that sharing a meal with someone is a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In the Communion Rite, the petition of the Eucharistic Prayer is accomplished: we who eat and drink his Body and Blood are transformed into that Body. We become Christ's presence in the world.  We are commissioned to go forth to continue the mission of Christ to reconcile all things to his Father.  And this brings us to the fourth and final movement of the Mass, the Commissioning Rite---the subject of our next newsletter. 

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Ten Finger History
The Communion Rite

1. Apostolic [0-399] Originally after the Eucharistic prayer, they broke the bread, ate and drank, and went home. (Some Catholics continue this ancient tradition today.)

2. Patristic [400-799]


3. Early Medieval [800-1199] Larry Johnson in Mystery of Faith, says that the Communion Rite during this period was a "complex ritual somewhat devoid of inner logic..."  e.g. addition of the The Lamb of God

4. Medieval [1200-1299]  By 13th century, communion by the faithful was on the point of disappearing. Saints and other holy people received four times a year.  Church commanded that all receive at least once a year during Easter time.

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499] Saint Clare instructs her sisters to receive seven times a year.

6. Reformation [1500-1699]
The reformation continues the (then) current practice of Communion four times a year.

7. After Trent [1700-1899]
Few people receive Holy Communion at Mass, even on Sundays. 

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959] Pope Saint Pius X encourages frequent Communion.  But no one listens.  Parishes create special "Sodality" Sundays to encourage Communion of the members of the Sodality.  Pius X lowers the age for First Communion.  For the first time in history some people receive First Holy Communion before Confirmation.

9. Vatican II [1960-1975] 
Holy Thursday recovered from the "attic."  The shape (sacramental sign) of the Eucharist is that of a meal.  Communion is the logical completion of the Eucharist. Restores the Cup.  Encourages "Real Bread."   Everyone (nearly everyone) attending Mass receives Communion.

10. Today and Tomorrow [1975-2050] The question of "Infant Communion."   Questions of non-Catholic Christians receiving Communion.  "Read Bread" comes and goes(?). 

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Function  The petition of the Eucharistic Prayer is that we be one in Christ.  We now do three actions which "act out" this petition (Sacraments are "worded sign.")  Namely:  The Lord's Prayer, the Kiss of Peace, and Sharing a community Meal.

The role of the presiding priest  To break the Bread; To invite to Communion; To pray the prayer (Prayer after Communion) in the name of all.

Primary elements  Lord's Prayer; Breaking of the Bread; Procession and meal sharing; Prayer after Communion.

General Overview: from A Walk through the Mass

Our Father and Sign of Peace — We prepare to eat and drink at the Lord's table with those words taught us by Jesus: "give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." As Communion (the word means "union with") is the sign and source of our reconciliation and union with God and with one another, we make a gesture of union and forgiveness with those around us and offer them a sign of peace.

Invitation to Communion — The priest then shows us the bread and wine and invites us to come to the table: "This is the Lamb of God . . . Happy are those who are called to his supper." The members of the assembly now approach the altar in procession.

Communion — As God fed our ancestors in the desert on their pilgrimage, so God gives us food for our journey. We approach the minister who gives us the Eucharistic Bread with the words "The Body of Christ" and we respond "Amen". We then go to the minister with the cup who gives it to us with the words "The Blood of Christ," to which we again profess our "Amen." During this procession we usually sing a hymn which unites our voices, minds, and thoughts, even as the Body and Blood of Christ unites our bodies. Then we pray silently in our hearts asking for all that this sacrament promises. The priest unites our prayers in the Prayer after Communion to which we respond "Amen."

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Structure and Elements

1.  Invitation to the Lord's Prayer  Invitation: In these or similar words.  Note the  role of the "cue." 

2.  The Lord's Prayer    (Primary Element) The primary reason for placing the Lord's Prayer at this point of the eucharist it the phrase "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  After the Epiclesis for Unity we then do three actions which act out this petition.  We say the Lord's Prayer in which we forgive our forgiveness even as God forgives.  Two, we exchange the sign reconciliation, wholeness, Shalom, a kiss of peace.  Three, we eat and drink together, share a meal of reconciliation.

The priest says the invitation and the People say: Our Father, who art ....  (The priest should not usurp the first words, especially the word "Father.")  Translation. not the ICET text but the ICET doxology.  Ecumenical considerations. 

TraditionalELLC Translation
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
 on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.

3.  Embolism  Embolism.  em - ballo; em - belishment:  Deliver us from... 

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

4.  Doxology  When? Always? Only at Mass? Hours? Rosary?

King James TranslationELLC Translation
For thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory
forever.  Amen.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours,
now and forever.

5.  Priest's Private Prayers of Preparation

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles:
I leave you peace, my peace I give you.
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom
where you live for ever and ever.
All: Amen.

6.  Rite of Peace.  Structure.  Prayer.  To whom? Sign of? invitation.  action.  Relation to Eucharist as Reconciliation.  forgive us as we forgive....   kiss of reconciliation.   Com-union — Union with Body of Christ.  Union with the Church.  1 Corinthians:  "If you eat without discerning the body..."

The peace of the Lord be with you always.
All: And also with you.
[Deacon:] Let us offer each other the sign of peace.

7.  The Breaking of the Bread  (Primary Element) In the early Church this rite gave the name to the whole rite! "They gathered for the breaking of the bread.  Luke 24:35. "Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."  Acts 2:42. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Acts 20:7. On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight." GIRM 283. The nature of the sign demands that the material for the eucharistic celebration appear as actual food. The eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and traditional in form, should therefore be made in such a way that the priest can break it and distribute the parts to at least some of the faithful. When the number of communicants is large or other pastoral needs require it, small hosts may be used. The gesture of breaking of the bread, as the eucharist was called in apostolic times, will more clearly show the eucharist as a sign of unity and charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family.

8.  Commingling.  See FERMENTUM in the glossary.

9.  Preparation of the Wine (if this has not be done at the Preparation of the Gifts)

10.  Lamb of God.  Litany in form.  Length: to cover the action.  form, text: eschatological (e.g. Book of Revelations).  [The Lamb of God was not used in Rome before the end of the seventh century.]

11.  Private Preparation Prayers.  [The three prayers recited before communion and the prayers in the post communion prayer are also recent and did not come from Rome.]  Private prayers to Jesus; Liturgical prayer = prayer of Christ.   Sub secreto means sub secreto.  Mystery of Faith Study responses and "saying things we can't hear."

14.  Invitation to Communion and the People's Response  Literary genre of "invitation" and literary genre of "homily".   Age quod agis. Invitation to Communion, not a homily, not a warning, not a prayer, etc. What are you doing?   Theology: What "Jesus"? "This is Jesus who lay in the crib at Bethlehem...  

Words of John the Baptist... at the baptism of Jesus.  Meaning of eucharist associated with Baptism. Every eucharist begins with baptism. Baptism is the way eucharist starts. Eucharist is the repeatable part of baptism. Eucharist is how our baptismal promises are sustained. Baptism is not something that happened once, long ago. Baptism is something that happens every day; indeed it is operative every waking decision.

Mystery of Faith Study responses: rite is too negative at this point. [compare Byzantine "Holy things for Holy People."]

15.  Procession to eat and drink (Primary Element) God's people on the move.  Pilgrim church.

15a.  Reception in the Hand. 

15b.  Children's Communion.  Directory for Masses with Children, 54. Everything should be done so that the children who are properly disposed and who have already been admitted to the eucharist may go to the holy table calmly and with recollection and thus take part fully in the eucharistic mystery. If possible, there should be singing, suited to the children, during the communion procession. (Note 48. See SCR, Instr. MusSacr no. 32 [DOL 508 no. 4153].)

16.  Eating and Drinking 

16a.  Communion Ministers.  A friend wrote: Why not have the priest offer the cup some times rather than always the bread? Right now it looks like the wine is lower level (suitable for lay eucharistic ministers but not the priest) and optional. Although the customary pattern has often been for the priest or deacon to minister consecrated bread while other ministers minister consecrated wine, there is nothing to prevent the priest or deacon taking their turn in ministering consecrated wine while other ministers minister consecrated bread and wine. The practice of placing lay people in the center with a ciborium or paten while the priest or deacon ministers a chalice at the side is increasingly met with, and has been used in the past to accustom people to lay ministers of communion and accept them. If it is always the priest who ministers consecrated bread in the center, this may indicate that this form of communion is somehow superior to communion under the form of wine ministered by a lay person at the side. We should be focusing on the elements being ministered, rather than the persons who are ministering.

17.  Communion song   Processional music.  Strophic hymns less appropriate.  Note the difference between "Communion" texts and "Benediction" texts

18.  Purification of the Vessels   Model of symbol: greet guests, talk, eat and drink, clean up.  GLP: The theological importance of a rite is relative to the amount of time, energy and commotion spent "celebrating" it. 

18a.  Particles and crumbs.  Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Cum de fragmentis, on particles of the consecrated hosts, May 2, 1972, Notitiae 8 (1972) 277.  "After communion, the left-over hosts, as well as any particles that may have fallen from them and that still have the form of bread, ... [big enough to be recognized as bread, and big enough to be broken and shared and eaten]...  To "reverence" crumbs as the Body of Christ is a disservice to the congregation and to the eucharist. 

19.  Silence

20.  Song of Praise

21.  Prayer after Communion  (Primary Element)  Presidential prayer.  Literary genre, See: Opening Prayer.  Petition for effects of the sacrament. It is not a thanksgiving prayer. The Eucharistic Prayer (by its very name!) is a thanksgiving prayer.  Role of the saint on memorials?

"The prayer after communion serves as a conclusion to the communion rite. It refers to the mystery which the assembly has participated in and offers a generic petition for the effects of the mystery just celebrated (see GIRM, no. 56k). As one of the presidential prayers of The Roman Missal, is proclaimed by the celebrant in the name of the community (see GIRM, no. 10.) (ICEL, Comprehensive Revisions Program, Presidential Prayers of The Roman Missal, October 1982, p. 63.)

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Receiving Communion More Than Once A Day

QUESTION:  When one has received Holy Communion in the morning at Mass, can one receive Holy Communion again in the evening when it is distributed at benediction?  Does "Eucharistic Celebration" in Canon 917 mean only Mass or does it include Benediction?  Is it permitted to distribute Holy Communion at Benediction?  

1. One cannot distribute Holy Communion as part of Benediction.

2. Ordinarily, one may receive Holy Communion only once a day. The Instruction Facilitating Sacramental Communion (January 29, 1973) says that on those days when the faithful participate in two Eucharistic celebrations for two separate reasons the person can (and should) receive the Eucharist at both celebrations (because of the liturgical/theological relationship between the Eucharist and Holy Communion).  For example, one attends a wedding on Saturday at 2 p.m. and receives Holy Communion at the Wedding Eucharist and then attends the Sunday Parish Celebration of the Eucharist that evening at 8:00 p.m. In this case, the person may (and should) receive the Eucharist at the second Eucharist also.  The Instruction does not permit one to attend the parish 8:00 AM Sunday Mass and receive Communion and go back to the 10:00 AM Sunday Mass simply to receive Communion again.  Receiving Communion a second time simply to receive "additional grace" is an abuse.  However, if one went to the 8:00 because of an assigned liturgical ministry, e.g. reader, and went back to the 10:00 because a granddaughter was celebrating her First Holy Communion, one can and should receive at both Masses.  [This is the understanding of the Instruction that was presented in class at the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie, Institut Catholique de Paris.  See Thomas Richstatter, Liturgical Law: New Style, New Spirit, page 140-141.]

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Theological Considerations


GIRM 240. The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the eucharistic meal appears more clearly. The intention of Christ that the new and eternal covenant be ratified in his blood is better expressed, as is the relation of the eucharistic banquet to the heavenly banquet. (Note 62. See SRC, EM 32: AAS 59 (1967) 558.)

GIRM 241. Priests should use the occasion to teach the faithful the Catholic doctrine on the form of communion, as affirmed by the Council of Trent. They should first be reminded that, according to Catholic faith, they receive the whole Christ and the genuine sacrament when they participate in the sacrament even under one kind and that they are not thus deprived of any grace necessary for salvation. (Note 63: See Council of Trent, Session XXI, Decree on Eucharistic Communion, c. 1-3: Denzinger 929-932 (1725-1729).

They should also be taught that the Church may change the manner of celebrating and receiving the sacraments, provided their substance is safeguarded. In doing so, the church judges when such changes will better meet the devotion or needs of different times and places. (Note 64. Ibid., c. 2: Denzinger 931 (1928). At the same time the faithful should be urged to take part in the rite which brings out the sign of the eucharistic meal more fully.

Pastoral Explanation: (from a Catholic Update by Charles Gusmer on "Communion from the Cup" [revised 1989 by T. Richstatter]) The meal symbolism of the Mass appears more clearly when communion is received by eating the consecrated Bread and drinking the Precious Blood. From the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, eating and drinking have always been a part of every Mass. However, by about the ninth century, the laity began to be refused the cup and only the priest received communion by eating and drinking. This greatly diminished the meal aspects of the Mass.

The Second Vatican Council restored the cup to the laity. As with many of the liturgical reforms, Holy Communion from the cup was introduced gradually: at first it was permitted only on special occasions when the groups were small and the restored practice could be adequately explained. Gradually the practice was extended. On October 13, 1984 the Holy See confirmed the decision of the Bishops of the United States to extend Communion from the Cup to all Masses, even on Sundays and holy days of obligation. At that time, the bishops stated in This Holy and Living Sacrifice, (the official document confirmed by the Holy See which accompanied this extended permission) "Communion under both kinds is to be desired in all celebrations of the Mass."

The General Instruction (no. 240) gives three reasons why communion is more complete when both the bread and wine are received:

a) "the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly" (Jesus instituted the Eucharist under the forms of both bread and wine);

b) "The intention of Christ that the new and eternal covenant be ratified in his blood is better expressed" (the words of the institution narrative: "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant");

c) the "relation of the Eucharistic banquet to the heavenly banquet" is better exemplified.

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Pastoral Issues

1.  Valid and licit. More is required than valid and licit. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 11. "But in order that the liturgy may possess its full effectiveness, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds be attuned to their voices, and that they cooperate with divine grace, lest they receive it in vain. Pastors must therefore realize that when the liturgy is celebrated something more is required than the mere observance of the laws governing valid and lawful celebration; it is also their duty to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects."

3.  Sign value.  GIRM 283. The nature of the sign demands that the material for the eucharistic celebration appear as actual food. The eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and traditional in form, should therefore be made in such a way that the priest can break it and distribute the parts to at least some of the faithful. When the number of communicants is large or other pastoral needs require it, small hosts may be used. The gesture of breaking of the bread, as the eucharist was called in apostolic times, will more clearly show the eucharist as a sign of unity and charity, since the one bread is being distributed among the members of one family.

4.  Particles and crumbs. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Cum de fragmentis, on particles of the consecrated hosts, May 2, 1972, Notitiae 8 (1972) 277. "After communion, the left-over hosts, as well as any particles that may have fallen from them and that still have the form of bread, ... [big enough to be recognized as bread, and big enough to be broken and shared and eaten]...

5.  Communion to the Sick.  You can always give a host to a sick person, even a person who has to be fasting and who is not permitted solid food.  Most doctors and nurses agree that the small white hosts contain no nutritive value and thus do not break the fast.

8.  Both Species.  Communion with Bread and Wine.

9.  Intinction or drinking.

10.  Communion from the cup and AIDS.

11.  Infant Communion.

12. Communion with Bread from the Tabernacle.

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To Think About

1.  At St. Henry's parish in Dayton OH, all those present at Sunday Eucharist are invited to come up for Holy Communion and they are instructed that those who are not Roman Catholic, or who are divorced, or who have not made their First Holy Communion, or who for some other reason cannot receive Holy Communion (e.g. if they are in the state of Mortal Sin), are to cross their hands over their heart and the priest or lay minister will place a hand on their head and give them a blessing. What is positive and what is negative in this practice?

2.  A comment I hear often as I travel around the country giving talks on the Eucharist is the following: "The ‘Kiss of Peace' just before Holy Communion [turning to the person in the pew next to you in order to shake hands and introduce yourself] interrupts the flow of the Communion Rite. Why isn't the ‘Kiss of Peace' part of the Gathering Rites?" How would you respond to this question?

3.  Communion as families -- Some pastors have families gather as a group in a semi-circle around the communion minister and the minister gives the family communion together as a family, and then they go back to their place and the next family, or individual approaches. What do you see positive and negative in this practice?

4.  The pastoral council at St. Anthony's Parish has asked the pastor to use bread for Sunday Mass that "appears to be actual food" or at least to use bigger hosts.  The pastor, Fr. Henry, told them that "real bread" isn't worth the trouble.  It is the same Jesus that is received in a tiny host as in a piece of bread and, moreover,  the graces are the same. And in addition, most of the "more substantial  bread" being used in the neighboring parishes is invalid matter for the Eucharist anyway.  And so at St. Anthony's Parish we will continue using the small hosts.   Discuss the pastor's decision.

6.  The associate pastor, Fr. Bob, told the people in a homily that the Eucharist forgives sins, even mortal sins. Some people told the pastor, Fr. John, and the pastor told Fr. Bob that he has to tell the people that mortal sins are forgiven only by the sacrament of confession.  Discuss.

7.  Know by heart the structure and elements of the Communion Rite.  Which elements are primary and which are secondary? What is the ritual function of each of the elements?

8.  Define: concomitance, valid, licit, fermentum.

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at