by Rev. Matthew G. Suniga, Parochial Vicar
Well-meaning decisions sometimes bring about unintended, negative consequences. In 1963 Pope Paul VI published the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, widely known by its Latin name, Sacrosanctum concilium. Among other things, this document gives bishops permission to allow for the reception of Holy Communion under both kinds, i.e., under the species of bread and wine. Sacrosanctum concilium states:
“The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism” (SC, 55).
From these 83 words came the practice of receiving Holy Communion under both forms, which is now common at parochial Masses throughout the Catholic Church in the United States.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) elaborates further on this practice, saying, “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds” (no. 281). The GIRM conditions that statement with the following directive to bishops and priests: “[T]hey should instruct the Christian faithful that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and hence that as regards the resulting fruits, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any grace that is necessary for salvation” (no. 282).
Such universal norms are applied through particular norms issued by the bishops of a given country, with the approval of the Holy See. In the document called Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, the bishops of this country say: “[T] he need to avoid obscuring the role of the Priest and the Deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species” (no. 24). Clearly, the bishops desire that the sacramental theology of Holy Orders and the clergy’s proper role as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion be upheld in the ministrations of the Eucharist.
There have been some unintended, negative consequences resulting from the frequent practice of receiving Holy Communion under both kinds. Some Catholics now believe that they are not receiving Christ “whole and entire” unless they receive Holy Communion under the appearance of bread and wine; this notion is simply false. In some places, the large number of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion is so common at weekly Masses that many children grow up without learning or observing the distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, which has implications for their understanding of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The sign-value of Holy Communion under both kinds is important, but it was never intended to be promoted at the expense of the Church’s perennial teaching that Christ is really present even in the smallest crumb or most miniscule drop of the Blessed Sacrament. Over the years I have been at many liturgies in which the Precious Blood was accidentally spilled on the floor or on clothing, and I have been in a church with visible stains on the carpet where the Precious Blood was spilled time and again over several years. If the Blessed Sacrament can be so easily put in danger of mishaps and profanation, is it any wonder that the Catholic Church in the United States has many good-hearted, faithful people who nevertheless believe that the Blessed Sacrament is merely a symbol, a sign of Christ? The sign-value of receiving Holy Communion under both kinds—which often requires a great number of extraordinary ministers at Sunday Mass—is not more important than the reality that in a particular way, in His bishops and priests [and with the help of deacons associated with them], it is Christ Himself who feeds the flock with the fullness of His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, even when the faithful receive Holy Communion under the appearance of bread alone or, as is common among those with celiac disease, under the appearance of wine alone.
If we desire to instill in our children a right understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, then we must think critically about certain commonplace liturgical practices—always doing so in accord with the mind of the Church and with obedience to the diocesan bishop—in order to help our children develop a deep sense of the sacred and eucharistic awe, or else we will do them a great disservice. Our children deserve the best; the greatest gift we can offer is to help them know, love and serve Jesus Christ who comes to them truly, really, and substantially in the Blessed Sacrament.