Mentioning Names at Communion

And More on the Focus at Mass

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ROME, AUG. 30, 2011 ( 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: Central Focus at Mass

Pursuant to our Aug. 16 piece on the central focus of the Mass, an Indiana reader asked for a clarification. To wit: «Based on [the General Instruction of the Roman Missal] GIRM 274, it seems you are saying that it is not appropriate to genuflect at the tabernacle in the sanctuary during Mass except for when the clergy and ministers initially approach; i.e., the entrance procession, and depart; i.e., the recessional. Hence, following Communion, when the priest or deacon reposes the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, it is not proper to genuflect at that time since Mass is still under way and the cleric and ministers are not yet departing. This would also be the issue when approaching the tabernacle just prior to distributing Communion, to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament. […] Is this an accurate reading of what you stated? On this particular point I seek clarity since that is the practice of every Mass I have ever participated with a tabernacle in the sanctuary — to genuflect when retrieving or reposing the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle during Mass. I also realize it is a different issue if the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary.»

The reference in our original piece, and the situation contemplated by the GIRM, was not this particular situation but regarded ceremonial actions and processions during Mass that might require passing in front of the tabernacle.

The situation of what to do when opening the tabernacle to obtain extra hosts for distribution is a separate question.

The overarching principle is that a genuflection is made whenever the tabernacle is opened and also before closing it after having reposed the Blessed Sacrament. This would also be true during Mass, especially if the tabernacle is at some distance from the altar of sacrifice.

However, I would be of the opinion that the genuflection should be omitted when hosts are taken immediately before communion in those cases where the tabernacle is located close behind the altar. This would not be in virtue of GIRM, No. 274, but because Christ is already really present just a few paces away upon the altar. Even in this case, the genuflection should be made before closing the tabernacle door when the ciborium is replaced there after communion.

Another case of genuflection during Mass is when the torch bearers and thurifer leave the sanctuary after the doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer. In this case they do not genuflect toward the tabernacle but toward Christ really present upon the altar.

* * *

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. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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