Q. I have noticed that, at Communion, some people will take the host but not drink from the chalice. Is Communion complete when you consume the body but not the blood? Also, why do some churches still provide only the host at Communion? (Goose Creek, S.C.)
A. From the earliest days of the church’s celebration of the Eucharist, holy Communion was customarily received under both species — in accordance with Christ’s command to "take and eat … take and drink."
It was only in the late 11th century that it became commonplace for just the host to be distributed. The Second Vatican Council’s extension of the use of both species was, then, a return to the original practice.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is clear in stating in No. 282 that "Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species." But that same document clearly encourages more frequent use of both the consecrated bread and the wine since, in this way, "the sign of the eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident."
The general instruction, in No. 283, authorizes each diocesan bishop to set norms regarding the use of both species; that same section allows bishops to delegate to a pastor the determination as to when Communion will be distributed under both forms.
In our parish, which is blessed to have a number of willing and devout lay ministers, reception under both species is used for weekday Masses as well as on Sundays.
Q. I have some questions regarding a practice I observed as a child (in the 1970s). While they were passing in front of a church (either walking or in a car), I used to notice some people making the sign of the cross. I’m not sure whether this was just a personal custom or one endorsed by the church. Are you familiar with this practice and, if so, how did it originate? Is it an appropriate sign of reverence? (Des Moines, Iowa)
A. Yes, I am familiar with this practice. I’m not sure whether it was taught to me by my mother or by the nuns in school. Ever since I was a child, whenever I pass a Catholic church I make the sign of the cross with my thumb on my forehead, as a priest does to a child at baptism.
I do this as a sign of reverence for Jesus, present in the tabernacle. I’m not aware of any official "endorsement" of this practice by the church, but such a gesture of faith is a long-standing custom — particularly in Ireland but also in Italy and the Philippines.
I know that some people when passing a church make the complete sign of the cross, employing the entire hand on the forehead, breast and both shoulders, but more often, it seems, just the thumb is used.
Interestingly, that simple cross on the forehead seems to have been the original sign used to indicate a Christian’s belief in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus, before it developed into the wider gesture.
The theologian Tertullian, in the year 211 A.D., in a work called The Chaplet, wrote: "In all our actions, when we come in or go out, when we dress, when we wash, at our meals, before resting to sleep, we make on our forehead the sign of the cross. These practices are not commended to us by a formal law of Scripture, but tradition teaches them, custom confirms them and faith observes them."
I also am aware of gentlemen tipping their hats when passing a church and of people making the sign of the cross when passing a cemetery (as a "quick prayer" for those buried there) or when an ambulance or fire engine goes by (asking God for a favorable outcome to that emergency).
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.