Religious Receiving the Chalice at the Altar

And More on Reserving the Blessed Sacrament

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ROME, OCT. 19, 2004 ( 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.

* * *

Follow-up: Reserving the Blessed Sacrament

To a question from Malta about exposition (Sept. 28), I responded that reserving the Blessed Sacrament before Mass and exposing again after Mass with the minimum of ceremony was «perfectly correct.»

Since the question doubted the propriety of the simplicity of the ceremonial, I concentrated on this aspect and in this respect the answer was correct.

However, as a kindly reader, a nun from Denver, Colorado, correctly pointed out to me, this answer could be interpreted to mean that it is all right to expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament during Mass several times a day. She said this would not be according to the mind of the Church.

«Eucharistiae Sacramentum,» No. 83, forbids the celebration of Mass during exposition although if the exposition is to continue for one or more days, then it is interrupted during Mass.

No. 86 says that prolonged expositions should be held only if there is a congruous number of faithful so that the Blessed Sacrament is not left unattended.

No. 88 allows for brief interruptions in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a simple manner should there be insufficient adorers during the day. It also limits these interruptions to a maximum of twice a day, for example, at midday and at night.

Although No. 88 does not directly address the question of reserving during Mass, taken together with No. 83 I think that it is clear that it would not be correct to be constantly reserving and exposing the Blessed Sacrament on a Sunday, especially for brief periods between Masses.

It would be better to suspend the exposition completely during the most intense periods. In most parishes, that would mean the whole morning or, in very busy parishes, the whole day.

However, again based on the fact that No. 88’s limit of two reservations refers to the lack of adorers and not reservation because of Mass, I would say that, at least hypothetically, in a parish that practices adoration for several days at a time, with sufficient adorers, and with several hours between Masses (for example, a parish with Eucharistic celebrations at 9, noon and 6 p.m.), then it should be possible to continue the exposition during the day even if it were necessary to reserve three times.

Another correspondent, from Houston, Texas, asked about the ritual for exposition immediately following Mass as she noticed that sometimes the dismissal and final blessing were omitted.

This would be the correct procedure for expositions after Mass.

The Host, usually consecrated in the same Mass, is placed in the monstrance after Communion.

Following the customary period of silence for thanksgiving after Communion, the priest recites the closing prayer and, omitting the blessing and dismissal, passes to incense the Blessed Sacrament while an appropriate hymn is sung.

After a brief period of adoration he withdraws in silence and no closing hymn is sung.

The omission of the blessing forms part of the Church’s tradition in which no blessings are imparted by a minister in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed.

Another reader asks if it sufficient to draw a curtain separating those adoring the exposed Blessed Sacrament from the rest of the church while Mass and other activities are taking place.

I would say that this would be insufficient since the silence necessary for adoration would be well nigh impossible and it would undercut the purpose of adoration itself.

Finally, a reader from British Columbia presented an interesting dilemma: «In our parish, perpetual adoration takes places in a special chapel as described in your latest column. We have the hour of adoration immediately preceding one of our parish Masses. Since the Blessed Sacrament is never to be left alone … it brings up a hypothetical question, What if a person were attending perpetual adoration, intending to attend the last available Mass, and no one showed up to replace him? Should he attend Mass and leave the Blessed Sacrament alone or stay with the exposed Blessed Sacrament and miss Sunday Mass? In other words, which obligation is greater, to attend Sunday Mass or to maintain the constant presence of adorers in the perpetual-adoration chapel?»

Of course, attending Mass would be more important. In this case the person would be justified in briefly leaving the adoration chapel just before Mass and asking the priest to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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