Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I’m a member of a religious community, and a question came up about reservation of the Eucharist. We were discussing situations where, despite current guidelines, the presider at Sunday Mass consecrates a single host, for himself, and then distributes Communion to the faithful from pre-consecrated hosts. We recognize that the guidelines say that the faithful should ordinarily receive from hosts consecrated at the Mass in which they are participating. Someone, however, was interpreting that to mean that all hosts should be consumed at the Mass at which they were consecrated, that is, that — besides the large host reserved for Benediction and Eucharistic adoration — no remaining hosts should be returned to our tabernacle. The question arose because some wanted hosts reserved for the sake of sick calls, etc. It was suggested by some that in such cases we would need to go to the local parish to obtain the consecrated hosts, but others saw no reason in principle why we couldn’t keep at least a few hosts reserved in our own tabernacle (thus eliminating the need to disturb the local pastor, sometimes at inconvenient times). Would this question be covered by an earlier reply you gave, that enough consecrated hosts should be kept reserved to ensure that no one is deprived of Communion? – S.P., Nairobi, Kenya
A: I must first underline that we are in the context of a religious community where the number of communicants is fairly constant. This would not be the case of a parish where, in any case, hosts would always be reserved for the sick.
There is no norm stipulating that all hosts must be consumed after communion. Rather, there is an option that depends on the concrete situation. Thus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:
“163. When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.”
The choice whether to consume or reserve will depend on such factors as the number of extra hosts and the need for a reserve. In some cases, such as when Mass is celebrated in a place without the possibility of reserving the hosts, then consuming them is usually the most viable option.
The Rite of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass lists the purpose of reservation. To wit:
“5. The primary and original reason for reservation of the eucharist outside Mass is the administration of viaticum. The secondary reasons are the giving of communion and the adoration of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present in the sacrament. The reservation of the sacrament for the sick led to the praiseworthy practice of adoring this heavenly food in the churches. This cult of adoration rests upon an authentic and solid basis, especially because faith in the real presence of the Lord leads naturally to external, public expression of that faith.
“6. In the celebration of Mass the chief ways in which Christ is present in his Church gradually become clear. First he is present in the very assembly of the faithful, gathered together in his name; next he is present in his word, when the Scriptures are read in the Church and explained; then in the person of the minister; finally and above all, in the eucharistic sacrament. In a way that is completely unique, the whole and entire Christ, God and man, is substantially and permanently present in the sacrament. This presence of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine ‘is called real, not to exclude other kinds of presence as if they were not real, but because it is real par excellence.’
“Therefore, to express the sign of the eucharist, it is more in harmony with the nature of the celebration that, at the altar where Mass is celebrated, there should if possible be no reservation of the sacrament in the tabernacle from the beginning of Mass. The eucharistic presence of Christ is the fruit of the consecration and should appear to be such.
“7. The consecrated hosts are to be frequently renewed and reserved in a ciborium or other vessel, in a number sufficient for the communion of the sick and others outside Mass.
“8. Pastors should see that churches and public oratories where, according to law, the holy eucharist is reserved, are open every day at least for some hours, at a convenient time, so that the faithful may easily pray in the presence of the blessed sacrament.”
It must be noted that the second paragraph of No. 6 above reflected the situation of 1973 where it was still common to have a tabernacle upon the altar of celebration. This situation is no longer common, and the GIRM dissuades the practice in No. 315: “It is more appropriate as a sign that on an altar on which Mass is celebrated there not be a tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved.”
It foresees, however, the possibility of a tabernacle in the sanctuary and indicates how to proceed in such cases:
“274. A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
“During Mass, three genuflections are made by the Priest Celebrant: namely, after the elevation of the host, after the elevation of the chalice, and before Communion. Certain specific features to be observed in a concelebrated Mass are noted in their proper place (cf. nos. 210-251).
“If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is situated in the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.
“Otherwise, all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession. Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.”
Therefore, returning to our original question and in consideration of the fact that the primary reason for reservation is viaticum, I would say that it would be prudent for a religious community to always have some hosts in reservation besides that one used for Eucharistic adoration. The number of such hosts would depend on the concrete situation of the community.
As our reader mentioned, this would be necessary if the priests of the community could be called upon to attend to the sick. It could also happen that a member of the community is unable to attend Mass due to illness or might need viaticum and the other sacraments of the Church at short notice.
It could also happen that a legitimate request for Communion outside of Mass could be made even by those who are not ill.
Such hosts, in accordance with liturgical Law, should be renewed every 15 days or so.
It is clearly preferable for the faithful, by reason of the sign, to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass. However, an occasional exception to this general rule in order to renew the hosts would not undermine the overall good liturgical practice.
In very exceptional cases there could be a monastic community composed entirely of priests, in which no faithful attend the community celebration. In this case one of the priests could consume the old hosts and replace them with new ones, but only after having first taken his Communion of both species consecrated in the Mass.
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