Nathan said some important things about Bishop Olmsted’s recent decision in his post on Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix. I’ve got some different thoughts that I share here.
Even in this section of the GIRM dealing with “Communion Under Both Kinds” (281-287), there is much anxiety for the proper catechesis of the people about Eucharistic doctrine.
Rightly so, for the expansion of communion under both species was a stunning capitulation, in liturgical practice if not in theology, to Protestant arguments in favor of communion in both species. The Catholic Church vigorously opposed these arguments for over 500 years, since the practice was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 in response to the Utraquist controversy prompted by John Wyclif and John Hus. Martin Luther listed the denial of both species to the faithful as one of three “captivities” of the sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifical understanding of the Mass (James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2005, 130-135).
The GIRM is concerned above all that the faithful be properly instructed on the lynchpin of the Catholic response as formulated at the Council of Trent, namely that:
“Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation” (282).
Some thirty-five years after the introduction of communion under both species, it’s worth evaluating whether this catechesis has been successful. More to the point, however, is the question of whether the liturgical practice in the United States of de facto (contra ius) universal administration of the Precious Blood supports this catechesis. Actions speak louder than words, and the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi specifies that our liturgical practice will form our belief. I think that the universal practice of communion under both forms in the U.S. has far exceeded the spirit and expectations of legitimate liturgical reform and has not deepened faith in the classic Eucharistic doctrine that Christ is present whole and entire (body, blood, soul, and divinity according to another formulation) under either species.
The reaction to Bishop Olmsted’s decision is ipso facto the best evidence that belief in this doctrine has suffered: widespread outrage, at least among religious professionals, that the laity is being deprived of something. The doctrine in question specifies the opposite: communion under one species deprives no one of anything, there is absolutely no difference. (One can only marvel at the inconsistency: bishops are free to suspend the chalice for the sake of public health during last year’s flu epidemic, but pilloried to do so for the sake of catechesis!) But one cannot read the condemnations of Bishop Olmsted without getting the sense that people do, in fact, think they are being deprived of some grace.
The current U.S. practice of communion under both species has two other troubling aspects. In the first place, it again invokes a liturgical American exceptionalism. A reading of the universal law of the Church, and any familiarity with liturgical practice outside of the United States, shows that the U.S. is way outside the arc in its practice. The principles of the GIRM are exactly what Bishop Olmsted is trying to implement: communion under both species in a rather limited set of situations. However one evaluates the current status of the U.S. norms and the discretion of bishops to set their own norms, it’s clear that the U.S. practice is far afield from the basic intent of Church law and actual practice in other countries, which is problematic in a Church that seeks to be united in a universal liturgy.
The other troubling aspect follows closely, for the option of receiving from the chalice divides us locally as well. It’s an option that is very irregularly chosen by the faithful. The number receiving under both species is usually directly proportional to the religious professionalism of a congregation (not to be confused, necessarily, with piety and devotion): at a theological school, almost everyone receives the Precious Blood, in a parish something less than half, at Mass with the football team, pretty much no one. But the football team has not participated less fully in the sacrament than those at the theological school, nor have they been deprived of any of the grace of the sacrament. However, the rather sporadic choice to receive the Precious Blood leads to a division within the congregation that can lead to some rather uncomfortable interpretations, on either side: who is holier? Who is more pious? Who is participating more fully?
Which leads to a final point: comparisons with the liturgical practice of the East are not fair or accurate. In the first place, there is no option in the East: everyone who receives communion receives under both forms by intinction. Secondly, the physical grammar of reception by intinction is fundamentally different than actually taking the chalice. I’d be interested if anyone can answer the question (my brief researches failed me) of whether there is any precedent in the tradition (after the first centuries) for the laity drinking directly from the chalice. Even when receiving the chalice from a minister, the mechanics of drinking directly from the chalice are virtually indistinguishable from self-communication. There is no such confusion in communion by intinction: one is clearly receiving, not taking. It strikes me that drinking directly from the chalice was a Protestant innovation, and that Catholic tradition would argue for reception of both species by intinction if it is to be done at all.
I think it’s hard to overstate the dramatic reversal in Western liturgical practice represented by universal communion under both kinds. The anxiety that the GIRM shows in its presentation of the practice, even under the very narrow set of circumstances envisioned there, shows that an honest evaluation of its fruits is well warranted.