I sometimes attend Mass in a Catholic university in Quezon City and my attention has always been caught by the way that Holy Communion is not administered by the priest celebrant, but rather taken by the faithful communicants from the ciborium which is just left on the altar. Quite often, not only is the ciborium left with the sacred hosts, but the chalice with the consecrated wine is left beside it, so that the communicants may receive the Eucharist under both species, either by dipping a host in the consecrated wine (intinction) or by simply sipping from the chalice . But what took the cake was when during a closed retreat conducted by the school and attended by my son, the participants received Holy Communion under both species by intinction and by the hand: the priest celebrant dipped the sacred host in the consecrated wine and laid the host soaked in the Blood of Christ in the open hand of the communicant. I would assume that whatever drops of the Blood of Christ would have remained in the palm of the communicant. Are these practices licit?
The Norms of 1973
The present norms regarding the reception of Holy Communion were originally contained in an instruction published in 1973 by the then Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, entitled Immensae Caritatis. When dealing with Communion in the hand this document made no mention of the option of the faithful taking the host from the ciborium but simply stated:
“Ever since the Instruction Memoriale Domini three years ago, some of the conferences of bishops have been requesting the Apostolic See for the faculty to allow ministers distributing communion to place the eucharistic bread in the hand of the faithful. The same Instruction contained a reminder that ‘the laws of the Church and the writings of the Fathers give ample witness of a supreme reverence and utmost caution toward the eucharist’ and that this must continue. Particularly in regard to this way of receiving communion, experience suggests certain matters requiring careful attention.
“On the part of both the minister and the recipient, whenever the host is placed in the hand of a communicant there must be careful concern and caution, especially about particles that might fall from the hosts.”
On June 21,1973, the same dicastery, through a document entitled Eucharistiae Sacramentum, promulgated the new Rite for Eucharistic Worship and Communion Outside of Mass. The document insisted very clearly that whether the Eucharist is received on the tongue or in the hand, “Holy Communion must be distributed by the proper competent minister, who presents and gives the consecrated host to the communicant saying the formula The Body of Christ …”.
The Norms of 1985
In 1985 the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to the president of the U.S. bishops' conference, drawing attention to the following points:
“1. Communion in the hand should show, as much as communion on the tongue, due respect towards the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For this reason emphasis should be laid, as was done by the Fathers of the Church, upon the dignity of the gesture of the communicant (…): the left hand is to be placed upon the right hand, so that the sacred host can be conveyed to the mouth with the right hand.
“2. Again following the teaching of the Fathers, insistence is to be laid upon the importance of the Amen said in response to the formula of the minister, ‘the Body of Christ’; this Amen is an affirmation of faith.
“3. The communicant who has received the Eucharist in the hand is to consume it before returning to his place, moving aside yet remaining facing the altar in order to allow the person following to approach the minister.
“4. It is from the Church that the faithful receive the Holy Eucharist, which is communion in the Body of the Lord and in the Church; for this reason the communicant should not take from the paten or container, as would be done for ordinary bread, but the hands must be stretched out to receive from the minister of communion. [Underscoring mine.]
“5. Out of respect for the Eucharist, cleanliness of hands is expected. Children need to be reminded of this.
“6. It is necessary that the faithful receive sound catechesis in this matter, and that insistence be laid upon the sentiments of adoration and respect that are required towards this most holy sacrament. (cf. Dominicae cenae, n.11). Care must be taken that fragments of the consecrated host are not lost (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2.V.1972: Prot: no. 89/71, in Notitiae 1972, p.227).
“7. The faithful are not to be obliged to adopt the practice of communion in the hand. Each one is free to communicate in one way or the other.” [Underscoring mine.]
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum of 25.IV.2004
At the Solemn Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday of 17.IV.2003, John Paul II signed his 14th encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, in which he stated that the Holy Eucharist “stands at the center of the Church’s life” (n.3), that “it unites heaven and earth” and “embraces and permeates all creation” (n.8), being “the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history” (n.9).
To translate the theological and pastoral doctrine contained in that beautiful encyclical, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum on 25.IV.2004. This is the latest and most complete Instruction regarding the celebration, administration and reservation of the Holy Eucharist. True to its juridic nature─an instruction─it does not really legislate anything new, but rather gathers in one heading erstwhile scattered legislation on the matter, exhorting those occupying capital executive offices (the territorial and personal Ordinaries in this case) to put them into practice.
The relevant texts are as follows: [Underscorings are mine.]
1) “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference, with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should be given in the hand to the faithful.” [n.920]
2) “It is not licit for the faithful to take by themselves and, still less, to hand from one another the sacred host or chalice. Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a Nuptial Mass.” [n.94]
3) “The communicant must not be permitted to instinct 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 of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.” [n.104]
4) “The chalice should not be administered to lay members of Christ’s faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is danger that more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration.” [n.102]
5) “Furtheremore all will remember that once the distribution of Holy Communion during the celebration of the Mass has been completed, the prescriptions of the Roman Missal are to be observed, and in particular, whatever may remain of the Blood of Christ must be entirely and immediately consumed by the Priest or by another minister, according to the norms, while the consecrated hosts that are left are to be consumed by the Priest at the altar or carried to the place for the reservation of the Eucharist.” [n.107]
The Grave Responsibility of the Bishops and Superiors
From the foregoing liturgical laws, it is quite clear that all the practices mentioned in the consultation constitute grave abuses to the most august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Furthermore, since all of them are specifically mentioned in an Instruction from the Holy See─which of itself is specifically directed to those in capital executive offices─there is an equally grave obligation on the part of the local Ordinary or the Ordinary of a religious Institute or Society of Apostolic Life concerned. We can end with the relevant norms of the Instruction:
1) “Whenever a local Ordinary or the Ordinary of a religious Institute or of a Society of apostolic life receives at least plausible notice of a delict or abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, let him carefully investigate, either personally or by means of another worthy cleric, concerning the facts and the circumstances as well as the imputability.” [n.178]
2) “Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.” [n.184]