The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

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.

16 Responses to The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

  1. Bob says:

    Fr. Matt-
    If one is to be considered the leader of a flock in the 5th largest city in the U.S., this might have been considered with greater pastoral care and concern, rather than issuing a 2 page Q&A followed by “no comment” when asked to elaborate. If you live in Phoenix and understood how this bishop has led the faithful, you might have a different perspective. Just one month ago, he forbid the presence of girls as alter servers. There is a more than the perception of an increasing divide between the lay community and Bishop Olmsted. What is really disturbing is the profound distraction from what needs to be the real work of healing and building up of the Church, the Body of Christ. While Bishop Olmsted stands outside the walls of Planned Parenthood decrying abortion, he says nothing about the executions taking place here.
    As a catechist, we have just started the process of Inquiry leading to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. We have much work to do–sadly this issue seems to be drowning in the details rather than a process of education and dialogue. But one doesn’t have that opportunity of dialogue with Bishop Olmsted. Just ask the priests in this diocese. After 35 years we get a press release. And now we have to look forward to our local priests asking permission (negotiating) to celebrate a feast day with the Blood of Christ.

    • Matthew Monnig, SJ says:

      Bob, I hope it was evident that I was trying to engage the issues, not the person, in my comments. That’s only fair, since I don’t know Bishop Olmsted. In any case, I would be careful to ascribe only the best motives to him. He raises issues that are important for the whole Church, and I’m glad for the occasion to engage them. I hope that this discussion will bear fruit in Phoenix and beyond.

    • Joe Lemieux says:

      Your comments are not at all accurate.

      A priest from the worship office, presumably responsible for the liturgical norms, responded in the Republic story, as well as on camera for a few of the local TV newscasts. Hardly a “no comment.”

      Additionally, the bishop had little if anything to do with the policy change regarding altar servers at the cathedral. That was well publicized.

      Furthermore, to your point about executions, he just issued a statement last month about the death penalty.

      • Bob says:

        I stand corrected, thank you regarding the bishop’s “statement” on the death penalty. It does not however demonstrate the same level of visibility on matters of life and death–to protest outside Planned Parenthood and in contrast issue a press release on the death penalty. Joe, do you seriously think the faithful in Phoenix believe that a “priest from the worship office” is responsible for this change? The bishop is leading this change-a more honest dialogue with the community is in order.
        Again, nothing would happen at the Cathedral of Saints Simon and Jude without the tacit approval of the bishop. And really, what is the reason for not allowing girls to be altar servers? Please help me understand that?

        • Bob, Please give Bp Olmstead the benefit of the doubt! I know him personally & can attest to his love for his Bride, the Church, & his fidelity to Her. Perhaps it’d be helpful if you re-read Ignatius of Antioch’s admonishments re: following the guidance of your bishop. Personally, I prefer to receive Jesus in both species but I prefer fidelity to Church teaching & leadership more because I know obedience comes from listening & listening comes from humility & Jesus is most pleased by humility.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Bob, no disrespect, the church is not a democracy. The Q&A was much more than was needed. The good bishop showed his reasoning was very sound based on church tradition and theology. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “heal the divide”; HE (bishop Olmsted) did not cause this, his predecessor did. Why are you holding him responsible?

  2. Jeff Johnson, S.J. says:

    There are several interesting turns of logic in your post on this issue. I’d like to focus on one in particular. You ask if anyone can shed light on whether or not reception from the chalice by the laity exists in the tradition of the church. In your parenthetical qualification you exclude the “first centuries” of the church from consideration. I find this baffling. Since when does the tradition of the church not include the first centuries? How many centuries are we to include within your “first centuries” qualification? When does the official tradition of the church begin–the 5th century, the 13th, the 16th, the 19th, or are we free to choose?

    Let’s say that the laity’s reception of communion from the chalice was only extant during the first three centuries of the church, would that qualify it as part of the tradition? Let’s say there are only examples of this practice from the first two centuries. Do we count it, then, as part of the tradition. How bout if it’s only a practice of the first 100 years of the church, would it then qualify? Even better question, why do certain traditionally minded catholics seem intent on excluding the experience of the early church?

    As one of the other comments suggested, this issue that’s been raised in Phoenix has virtually nothing to do with doctrine, catechesis or faith. This is about the exercise of power and who gets decide such things as when tradition begins.

    Lastly, if the real issue, as you suggest, is one of failure of catechesis regarding the doctrine of the eucharist, then why don’t we step up our efforts at teaching people about the faith. We wouldn’t have to get neurotically anxious about people receiving communion in the wrong way.


    • Matthew Monnig, SJ says:

      I didn’t mean to imply that the first centuries were excluded from the Church’s tradition, only that I consider it established that in the earliest liturgies the chalice was shared by all the faithful. Given that, my curiosity is about what happened next… when did that practice stop? (Certainly by 1415, when it was condemned, but I haven’t seen anything more specific than “several centuries before that.”) And within the universal tradition of the Church (East and West), what’s the nearest precedent for all the faithful drinking directly from the chalice? Has the Eastern Church always practiced intinction, or did that practice replace something else (and when)? I’d love to dig into these questions, but I can’t really get to it right now. So maybe someone else knows.

      But given that the tradition of the Church is an organic unity, beginning with the teaching of Christ (and one could even extend that into the Old Covenant as well), the first centuries of the Church are not necessarily decisive. If the tradition and practice of the Church has moved beyond decisively beyond the primitive Church, that needs to be taken seriously. A millennium of subsequent development and practice can hardly be overturned on a simplistic assumption that what they did first was better (assuming, of course, that we understand the primitive practice as well as we think we do). The desire to return to a putative pristine form of Christian worship is nothing new: the Council of Constance in 1415 was also dealing with a primitivist fallacy that wanted to resurrect an “agape meal” context for the Eucharist.

      I’m allergic to interpretations of power politics in theological matters. It hardly seems fair to one’s interlocutors, to say nothing of its fairness to one’s bishops, to accuse them of a power grab when they are making proposals for liturgical reform. A more charitable interpretation surely is possible.

      Finally, you misunderstand my point about catechesis. Sure, catechesis will help. But not if our liturgical practice undermines that catechesis. And current liturgical practice in the U.S. gives the message: if you don’t have both forms of communion, you’re missing something, and the laity are being deprived of the full form of the sacrament. All the explicit catechesis in the world won’t be able to counteract the implicit catechesis of the lex orandi.

  3. Qualis Rex says:

    Hello Matthew (aka “new kid”). I really applaud your well-written piece here. First – you are absolutely correct to hold the first 3 centuries of Christian liturgy in a different regard, since life in the catacombs/persecution was quite different than what was practiced “above ground”. Meaning, the liturgy that was practiced during persecution was often one of accommodation and expediency and cannot be held as the lithmus test for all subsequent liturgy. This would be as foolish as looking at any number of liturgies performed by priests (or laity) as prisonersin Auschwitz and using this as a guide for how to perform the liturgy in Westminster Cathedral.

    Second, with regard to the precious blood, I will point you South East; namely to Egypt and Ethiopia (i.e. the Oriental church). I often attend Coptic divine liturgy and can tell you they do NOT use intinction as the Eastern church does, but DO provide both species separately. HOWEVER, in BOTH cases the priest 1) inserts the holy body of Christ into the recipients mouth, and 2) the next priests holds a spoon to the recipient’s and pours the precious blood – the recipient doesn’t touch anything. No chalice is passed around. It should also be noted that VERY FEW people receive communion in the Oriental church (generally priests, deacons, their wives and infants). It’s not a process or event that is made for nor can accommodate an assembly line of recipients.

    Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that the advent of recieving under both species in the US has NOT led to an increase in church attendence or understanding of church teaching. This “Americath” church practice was clearly one of accommodation to the surrounding Protestant sects (one needs only look at the shape and style of church buildings post-1965 to see this was the intent). The Americath church is unfortunately virtually indistinguishable from any other mainstream Protestant sect. The sooner good bishops like the VERY good Bishop Olmsted can correct the disasterous course of their predecessors, the sooner we can regain our Catholic identity and re-catechise the church and faithful.

  4. Matt,

    As you point out, the denial of both species in 1415 was a response. The restriction after the Reformation was a response. Those were contextualized acts that need not be viewed as normative in the tradition. As you are aware, Vatican II cast the doors wide open in regards to ecumenism and dialogue. Therefore, just as we reexamined many assumptions about ecumenism and the boundaries of the Kingdom of God, so also we did the same in regards to liturgy, or so it seems to me. While tradition typically works as a slow process, sometimes it speeds up when the need arises.

    “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.”

    Yes it is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it? Liturgy doesn’t have to be uniform in every way. A liturgy can be universal without be rigid.

    And I don’t think we should be as hesitant as you are about seeing power plays at work. Yes, the bishop has the good of his flock at heart, presumably. However, in the most basic of all love relationships, the love of a mother for her child, power is often at work. Power is one of the most basic constants of human action. Mothers who love their kids strike and hurt them and abuse their power on a regular basis. Bishops do that too. While not assuming power all the time, we can and should regularly examine its presence and, if found, renounce it. I would think this is an element of the “rights and obligations” of the faithful.

    • Matthew Monnig, SJ says:

      All valid points, here, Nathan.

      What you say about the responsive nature of the denial of communion under both forms, and the doctrinal definitions that accompanied it, is of course true. But it’s also true that pretty much every doctrinal definition and liturgical/disciplinary norm in the history of the Church has come in response to some aberration. Only things that are contested or in doubt are clarified. And of course, every doctrinal definition/disciplinary or liturgical norm is contextual, which is not the same as saying that its validity is limited to its original context. So I’m not sure how it follows that the decisions of an ecumenical council (either Constance or Trent) aren’t normative.

      That said, of course the decrees of Vatican II are normative, too. My reservations about current U.S. practice aren’t that communion under both forms is allowed. I’m glad that some space has been given for something that I see as a fundamentally positive development. My reservation is that I don’t see either the spirit or letter of Vatican II, or the subsequent legislation, envisioning communion under both forms being given at every single Mass, which has become pretty much the universal U.S. practice. To the contrary, the intent seems clearly that it be something for special occasions, either where there’s some intrinsic reason or according to a principle of progressive solemnity. By deviating form the intended practice, the U.S. Church is undermining the corresponding doctrine about the full presence of Christ in either species.

      Finally, I certainly agree that there’s room for legitimate liturgical diversity. I’m pretty relaxed about different liturgical styles. But communion under both forms is a pretty fundamental liturgical practice, and one with doctrinal implications, so I think it’s important for us be on the same page.

  5. Qualis Rex says:

    Protestants often use church councils as “proof” of the Catholic church abusing its power. They like to point to Trent, saying the church never REALLY accepted the canonized bible we use today UNTIL Trent (because that’s when they affirmed it). Others point at Nicea saying the church never REALLY believed in the Trinity; it was just something that big meanie emperor Constantine thunk up (because that’s when they affirmed it). So, too do other Protestants point at Constance, saying the church never REALLY only used on species for the laity (when in reality, this too, like the other councils, merely affirmed it).

    Not all liturgies are “uniform”; the Catholic church has in fact I believe 13 DIFFERENT rites which differ in rubrics and language (hardly uniform). Yes, this is about power; the power to impose personal preference and attitudes over the authority of the church (in this case Bishop Olmsted). Of course, many MANY have tried to accomplish this over the centuries, like Jan Hus. Maybe one of the objectives the good Bishop Olmsted is indeed trying perform is to push our modern day Protestants hiding within the church to be honest with themselves and the rest of the faithful.

  6. Sometimes it’s hard to read the power plays at work. I’m definitely not claiming that it’s only the Bishops who wield power indiscriminately sometimes. Lay people do also of course. We must carefully watch over the worship of the Church.

    I believe according to canon law there are 22 churches (including the Roman Church) and 6 rites (including the Latin Rite).

  7. Qualis Rex says:

    There are actually 7: Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, Chaldean and Latin…of which there are 6 other approved rites (Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Bragan, Dominican, Carmelite & Carthusian…so 13 in total). Quite a few to chose from without having to resort to invention or innovation.

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