Communion under both kinds the norm in Archdiocese of Baltimore

October 07, 2011

Q. I’m confused about receiving Communion under both kinds after reading about the Diocese of Phoenix (CR, Sept. 29) and its new Communion norms restricting the cup. Do they apply to the Archdiocese of Baltimore?

A. On December 8, 2010, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien sent the following (abbreviated here) to all priests of the archdiocese as part of a document on the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal. It remains in effect.

1. Holy Communion under Both Kinds

“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father’s Kingdom” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, GIRM 281).

The Archbishop may establish norms, within the limits of universal and particular law, for the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds in his own diocese (GIRM, no. 283). In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Holy Communion under both kinds is to be considered normative. Parishes that do not currently offer Communion under the species of wine should implement this practice. And those that stopped distributing Communion under the species of wine during the H1N1 Virus epidemic scare should now fully restore it and parishioners once again invited to share in it.

Of course, in specific circumstances and for a just reason (e.g., Masses involving large numbers of young children, such as school Masses, where parents are not present), the priest to whom a community has been entrusted may decide that Communion for that occasion is to be offered under the species of bread alone.

In ministering Communion, “The Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America” (with paragraphs 35 and 37 revised in light of “Redemptionis sacramentum”) are to be followed (cf. SC 50).

In particular, because the Eucharist is a precious gift that is given to us, Communion must always be received from a minister: deacons and the laity are not to self-commune and the practice of self-intinction is expressly forbidden (GIRM 160; NDRHC 44, 50; RS 94, 104). Likewise, ministers, whether lay or ordained, are to receive Communion before ministering the Sacrament to others (NDRHC 39; GIRM 159, 182). The ritual purification of the sacred vessels after Communion at or preferably after Mass must be performed by a priest, deacon, or instituted acolyte (GIRM 279, 284b).

The faithful have the right to receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue, and to receive under the species of bread or wine alone (GIRM 283-84; NDRHC 41, 46). In addition, given the large number of individuals with gluten sensitivity, the transfer of even a small amount of bread to the wine could pose a serious health risk for some. Therefore, distribution by intinction (very common in Europe) ought not be used in the Archdiocese of Baltimore; and it may never be used as the sole method of distribution. Likewise, self-intinction is never allowed (NDRHC 50; RS 104).

2. Communion from the Mass Being Celebrated

The full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic liturgy is most clearly expressed by the reception of hosts consecrated at the same Mass rather than by the reception of hosts reserved in the tabernacle. In modern times, the importance of communing from the gifts presented and consecrated at the same Mass in which one is present has been stressed by Pope Benedict XIV (“Certiores Effecti,” 1742), Pope Pius XII (“Mediator Dei,” 1947), and the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who stated: “That more complete form of participation in the Mass by which the faithful, after the priest’s Communion, receive the Lord’s body from the sacrifice, is strongly endorsed” (CSL 55).

This priority was echoed again in the GIRM: “It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do so, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the instances when it is permitted, they partake of the chalice (cf. no. 283), so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated” (GIRM 85; cf. RS 89).

As stated in the February 2007 issue of the Newsletter of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (page 54):

This participation [of the faithful] is manifested in the two great processions of the faithful at Mass (GIRM #44). In the presentation of the gifts first, the faithful present the bread and wine for the sacrifice—along with the gift of their very lives. The very same bread and wine which they have offered is then consecrated by the action of the Priest and returned to them as the Body and Blood of their Lord when they come forward in procession to receive Holy Communion.

Thus, the gifts of creation – become symbols of our work and our lives, returned in gratitude – are given back to us, transformed, as we are transformed in this holy exchange of gifts. Routine recourse to the tabernacle negates this powerful and active exchange, and risks reducing the assembly to passive observers. In addition, regular Communion from the tabernacle blurs the distinction between the Mass and so-called “Communion services,” further undermining the significance and meaning of the Eucharistic liturgy.

Therefore, pastors and those charged with the preparation of the liturgy should ensure that a sufficient number of hosts are consecrated at each Mass for all those wishing to communicate, so that routine recourse to the tabernacle for Communion during the Eucharistic liturgy is avoided. The faithful should be catechized as to the importance of their substantive participation through the presentation of the gifts and in their Communion from the very gifts presented (SC 47). Likewise, liturgical hospitality requires that a sufficient quantity of wine is consecrated so that all who desire to receive Communion under both species are able to do so.

Certainly, in the case of need, hosts consecrated at a previous Mass may be distributed. Also, should there be an overabundance of hosts in the tabernacle, in order to avoid the risk of spoilage pastors (assisted by others as needed) may either discretely and reverently consume the excess or, if necessary, distribute Communion from the reserved Blessed Sacrament (preferably at a weekday rather than a Sunday Eucharist). Over time, as communities become accustomed to preparing only the number of hosts that will be needed, such exceptions should become increasingly rare. If hosts from the tabernacle are to be used, it is preferable that they not be brought to the altar prior to Communion but instead be retrieved when it becomes necessary.

3. The Bread and Wine Used for Communion

“Following the example of Christ, the Church has always used bread and wine with water to celebrate the Lord’s Supper” (GIRM 319). It is the express desire of the Church that Eucharistic bread must be made only from wheat and water, be recently baked, and unleavened (GIRM 320; see also CIC c.924.4). At least a single host that can be broken must be used at Masses with a congregation, with at least some of the fragments from it distributed to the faithful (GIRM 321). Wine for the Eucharist must be made from grapes, and be natural and unadulterated (GIRM 322). “The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food” (GIRM 321).

Therefore, the pastoral leadership of each parish or community must ensure that the matter used for Holy Communion is in keeping with the legislation of the Church, and that the bread and wine used are protected from spoilage. Parishes or communities that are using invalid or even illicit matter for the Eucharist are to cease doing so immediately. If the decision is made to use substantial bread, the community ought to be carefully catechized and the use of valid and licit recipes ensured (see Eucharistic Bread Recipe on the Worship Website). As a sign of unity, only one type of bread should be used at any particular Mass (an exception would be on Holy Thursday, when substantial bread might be used for that Mass while hosts would be consecrated for use on Good Friday). Any remaining substantial bread, whether whole pieces or fragments, should be reverently consumed and neither reserved (in the tabernacle or elsewhere) nor disposed of in another manner.

If the decision is made to use hosts in the traditional form, parishes and communities ought to consider obtaining them from those communities of religious women whose life and ministry is centered on the Eucharist and on provision of Eucharistic bread for the Church. Consideration to the use of hosts from these communities is especially important when such communities are dependent on the income derived from that service.

In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of Catholics who are unable to receive Communion due to an intolerance to gluten (the protein in wheat; as in the case of gluten-sensitive enteropathy, or celiac sprue) or to alcohol (whether due to alcoholism or to an inability to metabolize alcohol). While the Church has the power to regulate and safeguard the Sacraments, it has no authority to change the substance of the Sacraments (GIRM 282). In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the question of what constitutes valid matter for the Eucharist (Prot: N.89/78-17498), and provided for ways to increase access to the Eucharist for individuals suffering from these conditions. Please see the Worship website for USCCB Resources for Gluten and Alcohol Intolerance.

Questions for this column should be sent to Catherine Combier-Donovan , 320 Cathedral Street, Baltimore Md., 21201, or email