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Liturgy Q & A: Communion by Intinction

And More on Location of Tabernacles

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: My question regards the mode of distribution of Communion to religious sisters or brothers under both specious. The priest takes the sacred host and gives it to the religious sister or brother, saying, “The Body and Blood of Christ,” and the religious sister or brother receives the sacred host in the hand and dips it in the Precious Blood and consumes it. Or the priest takes the host and dips it in the Precious Blood and gives it on the tongue, saying, “The Body and Blood of Christ.” Which is proper? — S.K., Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India

A: Substantially, the second form is correct although with some possible variations.

The first form is essentially forbidden as it would constitute a mode of self-communion. At Mass, everybody except concelebrants must always receive the sacrament through a minister. In the case of communion outside of Mass due to the absence of a priest, ministers who distribute Communion to the faithful can themselves take Communion.

With respect to the first form that was presented by our reader, the Congregation of Divine Worship officially replied to a question in 2002. To wit:

“Whether, in distributing Holy Communion under both species, it is permissible for Christ’s faithful to approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist and dip for themselves a particle which they have received in the hand into a chalice held by a priest or deacon?

“R. In the negative.

“The General Instruction of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal explicitly affirms: ‘Then the priest takes the paten or the ciborium and goes to those who are to receive Communion, who customarily approach after the manner of a procession. It is not permissible for the faithful to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and still less to pass them hand to hand among themselves. The faithful receive Communion kneeling or standing as the Conference of Bishops establishes. When, however, they receive standing, it is recommended that they make a due sign of reverence, to be established by the same norms, before the reception of the Sacrament’ (n. 160); to which is added something regarding this case: ‘If Communion from the chalice is done by intinction, the one to receive Communion, holding the paten beneath his mouth, approaches the priest, who holds the vessel with the sacred particles and at whose side assists the minister who holds the chalice. The priest takes the host, dips part of it in the chalice and while showing it says, “The Body and Blood of Christ.” The person who is to receive Communion responds, “Amen,” receives the Sacrament from the priest in the mouth, and then goes back’ (n. 287).

“Moreover, the practice in which the faithful receive in the hand a particle that has already been dipped in the Most Precious Blood of Christ is to be regarded as an abuse. (Notitiae 38 (2002) 490)”

I think that is clear enough, but the theme was taken up again in the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum with further specifications:

“103. The norms of the Roman Missal admit the principle that in cases where Communion is administered under both kinds, ‘the Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.’ As regards the administering of Communion to lay members of Christ’s faithful, the Bishops may exclude Communion with the tube or the spoon where this is not the local custom, though the option of administering Communion by intinction always remains. If this modality is employed, however, hosts should be used which are neither too thin nor too small, and the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue.

“104. The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.”

Since the first form described by our reader is not acceptable, we are left with the second. However, except in very small chapels, it is not practical for the priest to distribute under both species alone as he cannot hold a chalice and ciboria at the same time. This means he must usually leave the ciborium on the altar and hold the chalice in his hand although in some places they have special ciboria which incorporate a small chalice and are designed specifically for intinction.

In most cases, however, the rite for communion under both species implies the presence of two ministers, the priest and a minister of the chalice. If there is a deacon, and only one point of distribution of Communion, he would usually take the ministry of the chalice.

In the case that our reader presents of a religious community and only one priest, it would be possible to ask permission from the bishop so that one or two members of the community may be designated as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion so that they may assist as ministers of the chalice.

If this permission is granted, then Communion under both kinds may be administered by intinction, with the priest saying, “The Body and Blood of Christ” or by drinking directly from the chalice with the priest distributing the host and the extraordinary minister offering the chalice, each one presenting the Body and Blood of Christ separately.

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Follow-up: Location of Tabernacle

Pursuant to our September 24 article on tabernacle location in a Canadian diocese, a reader pointed out a resource of which I was unaware. He wrote, “Since the writer seems to in Canada, it may be helpful to consult Our Place of Worship published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

This is an 87-page booklet published in 1999.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, although issued under the aegis of the Canadian bishops’ conference, it seems to be the work of two qualified authors, and it is unclear if it was discussed or voted upon by the full conference or approved by one of its offices. Since this area principally falls under the authority of the Holy See and the local bishop rather than the conference, the booklet may contain valuable suggestions but is not legally binding.

The same can be said for the U.S. guidelines “Built of Living Stones” although this document is slightly more recent (2003) and was the fruit of many years of debate among the bishops. The bishops themselves preferred the formula “guidelines” due to the nature of the subject and because a legally binding document would possibly have required a drawn-out approval process before the Holy See.

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 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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Fr. Edward McNamara

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

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