Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: During a concelebration for an ecclesial event, the bishop who was the principal celebrant and the priests who were on the raised platform close to the altar took Communion in the usual manner, under both species, whereas the 20 or so priests who were at the foot of the stage did not receive from the chalice. Is this not an abuse? I know well that the Lord is fully present under both Eucharistic species, but he has said, “Take and drink.” In Christ’s Blood there is a sacrificial “sign” of the new and eternal covenant, an eschatological “sign.” The principles and norms of the Roman Missal do not foresee any exceptions to this general law. — G.M., Italy
A: Our reader is correct. All celebrants are obliged to communicate both species, and except in some very particular circumstances, it is a grave abuse if they are unable to do so.
Fairly recently the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has addressed the question of large concelebrations, and its principles would be applicable in this case. This document, “Guidelines for Large Celebrations,” issued on June 13, 2014, has so far been published only in Spanish and Italian on the Vatican website. I have been unable to find an official English translation.
With respect to major celebrations these guidelines say that they are designed to offer bishops some assistance in preparing similar rules for their own dioceses. The document speaks of the need for remote and proximate preparation for these large celebrations, the need to be able to achieve a praying community in spite of large numbers, the spirit of conversion where confession is available, and some indications for the use of large screens when they are needed.
Regarding the theme of the location of the concelebrants and their communion, the guidelines have several indications. The following is a personal translation and in some cases a summary.
“9. If Mass is chosen, the question of admitting priests to the concelebration must be addressed. The Mass’s elevated value, especially when the diocesan bishop presides surrounded by his priests and deacons, must take into account that problems have arisen with respect to the sensible expression of the unity of the presbyterate, above all during the Eucharistic Prayer. Often the elevated number of concelebrants does not allow for them a place close to the altar, leaving them so distant as to cause some perplexity in relation to the altar. In accordance with law it falls upon the bishop to regulate the discipline of concelebration within his diocese. Therefore, after an attentive evaluation, so as not to prejudice the sign of Eucharistic concelebration, it appears most suitable for the number of priests to be adjusted to the capacity of the sanctuary or equivalent area. One criterion appears to be that of admitting a significant representation of priests. For the other priests it is suggested to provide concelebrations in churches or different places at suitable times of the day.
“14. If the people and their functions are not clearly distinguishable through their vesture, there can easily be a confusion of roles. Therefore it is necessary that each ordained minister wear his proper vestments. Even when the concelebrants are numerous, it is praiseworthy to do all that is possible so that each one can wear the chasuble, especially considering that it may always be white. The other ministers, with respect to liturgical garb, shall follow the legitimate customs of the place.
“18. [….] There should be only one altar. Therefore the multiplication of altars or tables around which the concelebrants may gather is to be absolutely avoided — likewise, an exaggerated extending of the altar within the space so that numerous concelebrants may gather around it, impeding thus the faithful’s vision of the altar.
“19. [….] The chairs for the concelebrants are placed in the presbytery. If the celebration takes place in the open, for example, in a vestibule or a public square, an area should be delimited in which the priests may be accommodated so as to make their unity visible….
“29. It is important to foresee well the communion of the concelebrants, which requires careful preparation and attention. ‘The communion of priest concelebrants should proceed according to the norms prescribed in the liturgical books, always using hosts consecrated at the same Mass and always with Communion under both kinds being received by all of the concelebrants’ (Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, 98).The concelebrants take Communion before distributing Communion to the faithful.
“Should the large number of concelebrants impede their communicating at the altar, they should come to especially prepared places so as to be able to take Communion with calm and piety. In a large church, such places can be side altars, whereas in open spaces, visible places should be set up that are clearly recognizable to the concelebrants. In such places there should be an ample and sturdy table. Upon this, on one or several corporals, the chalice or chalices together with the paten for the hosts are placed. If this proves too difficult, the concelebrants remain at their places and communicate the Lord’s Body and Blood presented to them by deacons or some concelebrants. Maximum care must be taken to avoid hosts or drops of the Lord’s Blood falling to the ground.
“When the distribution of Communion to the concelebrants has been completed, it is important to make sure that all the remaining Precious Blood is completely consumed and all remaining consecrated hosts are brought to the place of Eucharistic reservation.”
The cases where a concelebrant might legitimately take Communion under only one species are all specific to individual priests and not to the concelebrants in general. For example, some priests have received such permissions because of health issues such as allergies or addictions. In such cases they are usually requested to concelebrate rather than celebrate on their own as the presiding celebrant should always consume both species so that the sign of the sacrifice is complete.
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