Giving More Than One Host to a Communicant

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: Is it ever permitted to give a communicant more than one Eucharistic host at a time? The question arose because when taking Communion to the sick in a nursing home, sometimes one of the people who were on the list to receive Communion do not receive for various reasons — physical inability to receive due to an upset stomach, or mental confusion such that they do not recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. Since the Communion distributor does not have a key to return the extra host to the locked church, would it be allowed to give two hosts at once to someone else who can receive? — G.D., Dayton, Ohio

A: I would say that there are no particular norms on this point and that rather a common sense solution can be applied.

While it is customary to give a single host to each communicant, there can be variations according to particular necessity.

For example, if more people turn up for Mass than the number of hosts that were consecrated or reserved in the tabernacle, then the priest or minister could well decide to break the small hosts into two so that all could receive Communion. Likewise, it is quite common for a minister of Holy Communion to use only a small fragment of a host for the sick who have difficulty swallowing.

In such cases Communion should usually be placed directly on the tongue, since once a host has been broken it is easier for tiny particles to fall off.

The underlying theological principle here is that Christ is fully present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in each part of the broken host that is administered as Communion.

If this is true for a broken host, it should also remain true for more than one host. A priest’s communion is not somehow more than that of the rest of the faithful because he partakes of the larger host, nor would a member of the faithful be more united to Christ if on some occasion he or she happened to receive two hosts.

There might be a subjective experience in which even a saintly soul might feel mortified at receiving half a host or joyful at receiving two, but there is no difference in the order of grace or of union with God.

Normally, if there are some hosts left over after Communion and there is no tabernacle to reserve them, then the priest would consume them himself before purifying the sacred vessels. There are, however, some situations in which a priest at Mass might opt to give out more than one host to the faithful. An example would be if the Mass is held in a place with no tabernacle and he foresees before distributing Communion that the number of hosts exceeds what he can consume with the necessary dignity and respect for the Eucharist. Another case would be if there is a need to leave the tabernacle empty or almost empty after Mass, such as during Holy Week in preparation for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which is celebrated with an empty tabernacle.

In such cases it is better to tell the faithful in advance that they might be receiving two hosts, as it can be a distraction to them if it happens unexpectedly and might disturb the fervor of the moment of receiving Communion. It has also happened that some people think the priest has made a mistake and they attempt to return the extra host to the ciborium.

In hospital and care situations such as those described by our reader, the same rule basically applies. The minister can give two hosts to any other communicant if it is not feasible to return the hosts to the tabernacle. Once more, the person should be told in advance so as to avoid a surprised reaction.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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