Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cup of Holy Communion: Reverential and Hygienic Considerations (Fr. Paul Ward)

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I have one explanation to offer for today’s Mass. Today, and whenever I celebrate Mass, I usually offer communion under one species, which has been the practice of the Church for many centuries even to the oldest times. I offer communion in this way for several reasons, but for now I wish to present to you only the most obvious one, and it is a concern of health. You know that only the priest or deacon may purify the vessels after communion. Purifying the vessels means consuming the remainder of the precious blood or of the particles of the host. This is a reserved act, because it involves giving oneself holy communion.

I have found that when after communion I receive the remainders of the chalices which are distributed to the congregation, there is not only the precious blood, but plenty of saliva, lipstick, eyelashes, and other unidentified floating objects in the precious blood. This has posed, shall I say, an objective challenge to my health. It is even a threat to the health of all at large; you know that occasionally in the world, bishops prohibit drinking from the chalice, either indefinitely or for a period of time, and in certain regions, when epidemics break out. It is no sin to receive from the cup, but the health risks are too high. Those extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who help with only the hosts should come up at the proper time as is your custom.

Yet you know that there is no difference between receiving the host alone, or the host and the precious blood – notice, I do not say “wine,” but rather “precious blood.” For in every crumb of the host, each person receives the entire body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If you receive half a host, you have not received half of Jesus, but all of him. And you lose nothing, absolutely nothing, by refraining from drinking his precious blood. So, those who are properly disposed, come at communion time, and enter into communion with your crucified God, and let your hearts burn with love for God and neighbor. Amen.

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Fr. Paul added in private correspondence to me (I have his permission to post it):

What I didn’t say was the more important reason why I don’t distribute the cup; yet being more important, it is often less persuasive. And there are two other reasons, in fact, not just one:

- We are making our Catholics binarists again, after fighting against this during the times of the Council of Trent.

- I know of many real-life, not hypothetical (which would be enough), cases of spillage, dropping the chalice, drops falling.

To this we can add the popular impression that it’s “wine.”

These are the real reasons. The health thing is true, but small down on the list of hierarchy.

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