Communion concerns

Question: What are the main practical objections to Communion under both kinds — and how would you answer them? 

Name and city withheld, Wisconsin

Answer: There are seven:

First: Laypeople don’t belong in the sanctuary — and lay ministers are not part of our Catholic tradition. Actually, there were many laypeople in the sanctuary in the early centuries of the Church. Eventually, clergy took over mostly all lay roles. Even in modern times, laymen acted as servers at Mass, and women were allowed to clean the altars and sanctuary. There is no solid theological basis for saying that laity don’t belong in the sanctuary.

Second: The Church doesn’t like the proliferation of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. That’s correct. There should never be more extraordinary ministers than necessary. But this principle is relativized by a more fundamental one: the value of Communion under both kinds for the laity. If Communion is to be distributed from the chalice, then a certain number is needed. 

Third: Lay ministers of Communion often don’t seem to know what they are doing: They are badly trained, dress too casually and fall over each other. That’s right, and these are major problems — and they hurt the cause of the use of extraordinary ministers. Ministers should (in my opinion) be in white albs (the alb is the basic vestment for all liturgical ministers); process at the beginning of Mass; sit together in one of the front pews; process to the altar together at the correct time; perform their ministry according to the letter of the official norms; and return to their places in an orderly fashion. 

Fourth: There is danger that, in the people drinking from the chalice, the Blood of Christ will be irreverently handled and even profaned. There is, indeed such a danger, and that, too, is a problem. But it represents a challenge to be studiously avoided. The host can also be profaned and handled irreverently. Excessive reverence (by which I mean a fearful reverence) would mean that people would rarely, if ever, go to Communion. Careful catechesis of the congregation — and careful training of lay ministers — are absolutely essential. 

Fifth: Drinking from the chalice spreads germs and is generally unhealthy. So is being in the same crowded space with other people. Going to Mass has all kinds of health hazards. The sign of peace is certainly unhealthier than the chalice. People with infectious maladies (and very poor immune systems) probably should not receive from the chalice. However, studies by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (accepted by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy) and by the Church of England have shown that the common cup is not a significant health hazard. 

Sixth: Priests should not be forced to give the chalice to the people or to use extraordinary ministers of Communion — at least not more than is needed to distribute the hosts. Nobody I know is talking about forcing priests in this matter. However, priests who do not grasp the significance of the chalice for the people and do not want extraordinary ministers should be educated and cajoled by their bishops. Seminary training of future priests is crucial. 

Seventh: Extraordinary ministers are often used while priests just sit there and do not distribute Communion. That’s true — although, in my experience, not to the extent that some critics claim — and it’s an abuse. It should never happen. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.