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: The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum appears to make it clear that the distribution of Communion to the lay faithful via intinction is done by a priest, but it is silent on the possibility of deacons. Are deacons able to distribute Communion via intinction? — G.P., Ann Arbor, Michigan
A: Before attempting an answer I would like to review the most salient official texts regarding intinction. First, the most important document is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. This says:
“191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the Priest in distributing Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, in the absence of a Deacon, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.
“245. The Blood of the Lord may be consumed either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.
“285. For Communion under both kinds, the following should be prepared:
“a) If Communion from the chalice is done by drinking directly from the chalice, a chalice of a sufficiently large size or several chalices are prepared. However, care should be taken lest beyond what is needed of the Blood of Christ remains to be consumed at the end of the celebration.
“b) If Communion from the chalice is done by intinction, the hosts should be neither too thin nor too small, but rather a little thicker than usual, so that after being intincted partly into the Blood of Christ they can still be easily distributed.
“287. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest, and then withdraws.”
Second, the texts mentioned by our reader from the 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:
“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.
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.”
Third, in the wake of Redemptionis Sacramentum, the U.S. bishops updated their 2002 document “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America”:
“42. Among the ways of ministering the Precious Blood as prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Communion from the chalice is generally the preferred form in the Latin Church, provided that it can be carried out properly according to the norms and without any risk of even apparent irreverence toward the Blood of Christ.
“43. The chalice is offered to the communicant with the words ‘The Blood of Christ,’ to which the communicant responds, ‘Amen.’
“44. The chalice may never be left on the altar or another place to be picked up by the communicant for self-communication (except in the case of concelebrating bishops or Priests), nor may the chalice be passed from one communicant to another. There shall always be a minister of the chalice.
“45. After each communicant has received the Blood of Christ, the minister carefully wipes both sides of the rim of the chalice with a purificator. This action is a matter of both reverence and hygiene. For the same reason, the minister turns the chalice slightly after each communicant has received the Precious Blood.
“46. It is the choice of the communicant, not the minister, to receive from the chalice.
“47. Children are encouraged to receive Communion under both kinds provided that they are properly instructed and that they are old enough to receive from the chalice.
“Other Forms of Distribution of the Precious Blood
“48. Distribution of the Precious Blood by a spoon or through a straw is not customary in the Latin dioceses of the United States of America.
“49. Holy Communion may be distributed by intinction in the following manner: ‘Each communicant, while holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says: “The Body and Blood of Christ.” The communicant replies, “Amen,” receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest, and then withdraws.’
“50. The communicant, including the extraordinary minister, is never allowed to self-communicate, even by means of intinction. Communion under either form, bread or wine, must always be given by an ordinary or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.”
As our reader observes, the deacon is rarely mentioned except to note that he would, in normal circumstances, carry out the role of minister of the chalice. This is probably the reason why the official documents only consider the priest as distributing the host.
The above norms, however, also take into account the reality that several extraordinary ministers will usually be required when Communion is distributed under both kinds in a parish setting. Rarely will there be more than one deacon available. Thus the generic term “minister” is preferred to deacon to denote the person holding the chalice for intinction.
The documents are silent as to how to organize the distribution of Communion under both kinds when both a deacon and extraordinary ministers are present.
My personal view is that both options are legitimate. The deacon could act as the minister of the chalice accompanying the priest. This would be normal if the celebrant were a bishop.
The deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. Therefore, it is also perfectly reasonable, when several extraordinary ministers serve, that both priest and deacon distribute the host and intinct the Body of Christ in the chalice with the Precious Blood.
Finally, although there are no fixed rules, my personal experience is that the most practical way of distributing the Body and Blood of Christ by intinction is that the minister of the chalice stands to the priest’s left holding the chalice slightly inclined toward the priest.
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