As has already been well publicized, Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has decided to restrict the reception of Holy Communion under both species to “important occasions,” i.e., “the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, the Feast of Corpus Christi, retreats, spiritual gatherings, weddings, and more.”
A question and answer has been published for those who would like further explanation of these restrictions. That can be found at diocesephoenix.org.
The legitimacy of this decision comes from the 2003 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, # 283:
283. In addition to those cases given in the ritual books, Communion under both kinds is permitted for a. Priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate Mass; b. The deacon and others who perform some duty at the Mass; c. Members of communities at the conventual Mass or “community” Mass, along with seminarians, and all who are engaged in a retreat or are taking part in a spiritual or pastoral gathering.
The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason.
The communications office for the diocese of Phoenix stresses the conditions for reception under both forms: First, if the faithful have been well instructed. Second, if there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament. Under “conditions,” the release continues by emphasizing “the practical need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon” by having too many extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.”
As a Jesuit, I suppose that I should be agreeing with attempts towards liturgical minimalism. However, in this case, I cannot honestly see the purpose. The Bishop has the legitimate authority to expand the reception of both species at every Sunday Mass, and so his appeal to the authority of the GIRM to implement norms “in keeping with new universal Church standards” is a personal decision, not one required by Church law.
For the most part I don’t agree with the reasons given for the restriction. In my 29 years of going to daily Mass, I have only seen the chalice spill once. The level of “difficulty” here is disproportionate to the tremendous value of the full sign of the presence of the body and blood of Christ. While it is true, as the statement repeatedly affirms, that the the whole Jesus is received when only one species is consumed, that attitude seems to foster a fast food mentality of going to Mass. You receive Jesus under only one species, so why have two?
The reasons to use both species are many. First of all, it plants us firmly in the Jewish roots of the liturgy. A good article on this can be found here. Second, it reconnects us, as Vatican II attempted to do, to the whole rich history of the early Church. For the first thousand years, Christians received under both species. This is not to say that they had any less respect for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Tertullian notes in the 3rd century: ” The possibility of letting either our cup or our bread fall to the ground makes us painfully anxious.” Yet that did not prevent the reception under both species. It was more the effect of the Gregorian Reforms of the 11th century that created a more rigid class distinction between priest and assembly than any theology that began restricting the reception of the Eucharist to one species.
This leads directly to my second concern. Why are seminarians singled out for special reception of both species? This only fosters the documented growing trend among young priests to shy away from lay collaboration in their ministry. The seminarian has no special place in the congregation. He is another member of the common priesthood of the faithful who offers along with the priest the sacrifice of Christ on the altar. Singling him out is particularly dangerous. More than half of the laity in recent polls say that priests don’t want them to be leaders, but only followers. The laity want to help their priests. They want to be a part of the parish and participate in its functions. They want an active part in the liturgy. Yet there is a decreasing interest among young priests to collaborate with the laity in their parishes, possibly out of a renewed emphasis in many seminaries on the “cultic” identity of a priest. The danger of the new guidelines is to reinforce that tendency and to downplay the common priesthood of the faithful at Mass.
Listen to the following response to question 7:
“After the priest’s prayer of consecration at Mass, there is neither bread nor wine on the altar, only their appearances; for Christ is now present.”
My concern here is with the emphasis and the tone. I believe that what the response intends to say is: “for now Christ is present on the altar.” Vatican II emphasized the four-fold present of Christ in the Mass: In the word, in the priest, in the congregation, and in the Eucharist. Thus, Christ is already present at the Mass, even before the “priest’s prayer” (though it is not only his prayer).
Thus, while the Bishop is fully within his rights, I have a hard time seeing the value of the move towards a greater liturgical minimalism. While Christ is still fully present under one species, human beings are a symbolic animal. Symbols wedge themselves more deeply within our psyche than do concepts. It is therefore important to keep the rich symbolism of our liturgical history present in the Mass so that the full presence of Christ can be experienced as present rather than focusing simply on his legal presence.