Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In a recent video of a Mass from St. Peter’s Square with the Holy Father I was surprised to see that all the clergy, including the vested cardinals who had a speaking part in the Eucharistic Prayer, received Holy Communion only by intinction. Is this new? May we use intinction as a regular option in the parish? – D.W., Toledo, Ohio
A: It is not new but is a possibility already foreseen in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal. This option, however, is rarely used in the United States.
The GIRM presents several forms of concelebrants’ communion in Nos. 237-249. With respect to intinction it says:
“249. If the concelebrants’ Communion is by intinction, the principal celebrant partakes of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the usual way, but making sure that enough of the precious Blood remains in the chalice for the Communion of the concelebrants. Then the Deacon, or one of the concelebrants, arranges the chalice together with the paten containing particles of the host, if appropriate, either in the center of the altar or at the side on another corporal.
“The concelebrants approach the altar one by one, genuflect, and take a particle, intinct it partly into the chalice, and, holding a purificator under their mouth, consume the intincted particle. They then return to their places as at the beginning of Mass.
“The Deacon also receives Communion by intinction and to the concelebrant’s words, Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) replies, Amen. Moreover, the Deacon consumes at the altar all that remains of the Precious Blood, assisted, if the case requires, by some of the concelebrants. He carries the chalice to the credence table and there he or a duly instituted acolyte purifies it, wipes it, and arranges it as usual.”
On June 13, 2014, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a document entitled “Guidelines for Large Celebrations” – which is the usual scenario for choosing the option of intinction. So far it has been published only in Spanish and Italian on the Vatican website. I have been unable to find an official English translation. With respect to the communion of concelebrants it states:
“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 specially 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.”
Therefore, the reason why our reader probably saw this option of intinction used at the Vatican would have been the very large number of concelebrants which at times can be several hundreds and even exceed a thousand.
The practice is uncommon in the United States because most bishops have generally encouraged the separate distribution of both species as the preferred method even for the communion of the faithful. While intinction is allowed, it is rarely promoted and occasionally actively discouraged.
Thus, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued the following “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.”
These are the overall norms in the United States. Most dioceses limit themselves to repeating the above in their diocesan instructions. Now and again a brief comment is added to stress the preference for the separate distribution. For example, the norms for one major archdiocese states:
“If the parish chooses to use intinction as the method for distributing the Eucharist, then both the assembly and the extraordinary ministers must be properly instructed on how this is to be done in accord with liturgical law. It should be noted that administration of the Sacrament in this fashion is not the preferred method in the dioceses of the United States.”
Since this preference for separate administration is true for distributing Communion under both kinds to the faithful, then it can be easily understood that it is very exceptional for priest concelebrants. So much so that our reader believed it was a novelty.
The use of intinction as a means of distributing Communion under both kinds is far more common in some other countries. Therefore, while most priests from these countries generally prefer to take directly from the chalice, they are comfortable with intinction in large concelebrations.
* * *
Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.