Must we take Communion under both forms? - Catholic Courier

Must we take Communion under both forms?

Q. At the Last Supper Jesus consecrated the bread and wine into his body and blood, and told us to take and eat and drink. Why are we not compelled to receive both species at Communion instead of only the host? Is Communion from the cup just not that important?

Also, since we receive the host without the cup sometimes, we should be able to receive the wine without the bread. I’ve heard, however, that the consecrated wine should never be taken alone or without the host first. Is this true? (New Jersey)

A. Perhaps a bit of history will help put it in perspective for you. For most of the history of the church (about 12 centuries) Communion under both species was standard. Much spiritual and theological significance was placed on the symbolism of receiving the Lord under the form of both bread and wine.

Even during this time, however, Christians understood that one did not need to receive both forms in order to receive the living Lord. It was never assumed that one received only the "body" in the bread and then the "blood."

Communion under one species, therefore, was not at all uncommon from the beginning. The Eucharist was taken to the sick at home, for example, and no one doubted that the individual received the whole sacrament. Infants and young children and the sick were often given Communion only in the form of wine.

The same is true today. Receiving only the consecrated wine is not forbidden. It is done often, in fact, for example when Communion is given to patients who cannot swallow even a small part of the host.

Around the 12th century a few Christian communities began to claim that the faithful did not truly receive the Eucharist unless they received under both forms. The trend prompted the church to look more favorably on Communion under the form of bread alone.

Later, as some Protestants promoted the belief that the whole Christ is not present under only one species, the church increased its emphasis on the ancient teaching: Anyone who receives only the form of bread or wine receives the living Christ in Communion.

Today, of course, the danger of that doctrinal error is past, so the church has resumed its insistence that receiving both species is the ideal, symbolically whole way to receive.

The point is made numerous times in official documents. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends Communion in both species "because this clearer form of the sacramental sign offers a particular opportunity of deepening the understanding of the mystery in which the faithful take part" (No. 14).

"It is most desirable", says the GIRM, that the faithful "partake of the chalice so that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated" (No. 85). Through this form of receiving, the sign of the eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident (see No. 281).

For us Catholics, and one would hope for all Christians, it comes down to this: Jesus, living in his church through the Holy Spirit, is the best interpreter of those teachings and commands assigned to him in the Gospels.

Two points seem clear then. To insist that one must receive both the bread and wine in order to receive the Eucharist contradicts the belief and practice of Christianity from the beginning.

Second, to insist that Communion with both forms is merely a liturgical frill is out of touch with the long eucharistic tradition of the church, not to speak of present liturgical directives.


A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.

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