Last week we saw, yet again, what might be a surprising teaching for many regarding participation for the faithful in the Mass. The Second Vatican Council insists that a principle way of encouraging participation is by ensuring that the faithful are able to say and sing their parts in Latin. This allows for a degree of unity amongst people of every place and time.
This week we encounter a couple of different ideas in paragraph 55 of the document, both of which are symbolic in nature. First we read this short line: “That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest’s communion, receive the Lord’s body from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.” Here we encounter the Church’s preference that the faithful receive from the Eucharist that was consecrated in the Mass which they are attending, as opposed to the Eucharist from the tabernacle. The Church sees a greater symbolic value in this, though it becomes more or less realistic depending on the size of the congregation, the frequency of the Mass, and other considerations.
The second and larger part of paragraph 55 has to do with receiving communion under both ‘species’ or kinds. “The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact, communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.”
The reference to the Council of Trent has to do with the fact that, whether we receive just the chalice or just the host, we receive Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, completely in either one. Someone who receives just under the appearance of bread receives Christ just as fully as someone who receives under the appearance of both bread and wine. The Church encouraged the practice of using both species with more frequency only for its symbolic value (i.e. it was what happened at the Last Supper).
It is interesting to note that this document does not give permission to use both forms of communion at Sunday Mass (or daily Mass for that matter). What began at Vatican II, however, was broadened in subsequent documents. That being said, giving communion under both species is still considered to be exceptional and not preferred at Sunday Mass; in many place in the world, this is not done. For example, communion under both species is never offered by Pope Francis when he celebrates Mass.
The reason why communion under both species is not recommended for all Masses is twofold. First, it is a practical consideration. The Most Precious Blood is more likely to be spilled, harder to clean, more likely to be an occasion for sharing germs, and requires many more people to distribute. Second, the Church is always concerned that people may fall into the error of thinking that one has not fully received Jesus if he or she has only received Him under the appearance of bread. This occurred in a previous assignment when there was insufficient Precious Blood for everyone at a particular Mass. A man was very upset and said, “because there was not enough Precious Blood, I have not fully received Jesus.” He would not be convinced otherwise. For both these reasons, the Church is hesitant to have communion under both species at every celebration of the Mass.
Next week we will se how Vatican II emphasizes the dual importance of both the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Word.