Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: When the Blood of Christ has to be given to a number of communicants, the priest prepares three or four chalices with wine. Before consecration, some priests pour water only in one chalice, whereas some priests pour water in all chalices. What is the normal rule? Absence of uniformity in this might not be good, as it could create confusion in the minds of the faithful. — T.K., Mumbai, India
A: Liturgists have debated the proper practice in this case, but no definitive solution has been found as to the best practice. Nor has there been, as far as I know, an official position regarding this point.
The use of multiple chalices is found above all in concelebrations but also whenever Communion under both species is given to all those present.
The rubrics speak only in the singular, saying that the deacon or priest “pours wine and a little water into the chalice ….”
This specification regarding the principal chalice means that it would not be liturgically correct to mix water with wine in a large cruet or flagon at the offertory and then pour the tempered wine into several chalices.
Speaking of concelebrations, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not specify any particular rite:
“214. The Preparation of the Gifts (cf. above, nos. 139-146) is carried out by the principal celebrant, while the other concelebrants remain at their places.”
Nor do the norms published by the U.S. bishops regarding distribution of Communion under both kinds clarify this point, as they only mention chalices with wine:
“36. The altar is prepared with corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at a side table) by the Deacon and the servers. The gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the faithful and received by the Priest or Deacon or at a convenient place. If one chalice is not sufficient for Holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, several chalices are placed on a corporal on the altar in an appropriate place, filled with wine. It is praiseworthy that the main chalice be larger than the other chalices prepared for distribution.”
On the other hand, the Code of Canon Law, No. 924, says, “The most holy eucharistic sacrifice must be offered with bread and with wine in which a little water must be mixed.”
It is not clear, however, if this means that water must be added to each chalice or if it is sufficient to do so to the principal chalice.
Some experts interpret this canon as requiring water in each chalice for the purpose of liceity (it would not affect the validity of the celebration). Others hold that it is sufficient to place water in the principal chalice as representative of the one cup and forms a moral unity for the purpose of consecration.
In this case it is analogous to the fact that the priest would offer only one paten, even if there were several ciboria on the altar. Likewise, one chalice is representative of all the others. This argument is fairly solid from the theological standpoint and would mean that placing water only in the principal chalice is both valid and licit.
As we mentioned when dealing briefly with this topic on Oct. 9, 2007, this theological position “also solves the problem of the rather ungainly sight of a deacon or priest pouring a drop of water into several chalices already arrayed upon the altar.”
For those who interpret Canon 924 stringently, there are two simple possibilities: “If there are only a couple of extra chalices, then wine and water, or just water (if the extra chalices are already prepared) may be placed in all of them during the preparation of the gifts.
“If there are many chalices, then water and wine may be placed in all except the principal chalice when the chalices are prepared before Mass begins.
“This latter solution is generally practiced by the Vatican sacristans for large concelebrations at St. Peter’s.”
Lacking an official declaration on this issue, I would say that both practices, placing water only in the principal chalice, or in all chalices, may be legitimately carried out.
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Follow-up: Newly Ordained as Concelebrant
Related to our June 4 comments on concelebrated Masses, a question on file asked: “At some concelebrated Masses the main celebrant will ask one of the concelebrants to say the prayer before the sign of peace. Is this appropriate?”
This point is covered in No. 208 of the General Introduction of the Roman Missal. To wit:
“If a deacon is not present, his proper duties are to be carried out by some of the concelebrants.”
Since the invitation to the sign of peace is normally a function of the deacon, then naturally in his absence it will be carried out by one of the other concelebrants.
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