FR. JACOB STRAND
SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
My resilient parishioners frequently point out to me the silver lining of the coronavirus. Eating family dinners, enjoying walks outside and praying the rosary daily are several ways that they are profiting from the restrictions.
As parishes return to public Masses this summer, parishioners will be asked to make yet another adjustment: partaking of Holy Communion by receiving only the consecrated host. Like any COVID-19 induced challenge, receiving the Eucharist under one form also has a bright side.
In the 16th century, the Council of Trent taught the doctrine of concomitance: “Under only one of the two species the whole and entire Christ and the true sacrament is received.” Whether one receives the Eucharist under the form of bread, wine or both, one receives the fullness of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. For centuries, this belief was reinforced by the practice of the faithful only receiving the consecrated host.
Today, with a bishop’s permission and a pastor’s approval, Holy Communion can be distributed under both forms when various conditions are fulfilled. In the past 50 years, Catholics in the United States have become accustomed to receiving in this manner.
Because such reception may lead a Catholic to believe both forms are actually necessary, the current guidelines for Mass demand that pastors instruct the faithful about “the Catholic teaching on the form of Holy Communion as laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.”
Do the faithful understand this teaching? From my experience teaching Catholics of all ages, many unfortunately do not.
During this time when distribution chalices will not be offered in parishes due to health concerns, shrewd pastors will capitalize upon this opportunity to reinforce Catholic doctrine for the benefit of the faithful.
Furthermore, modifying how Holy Communion is distributed may also emphasize another oft-neglected teaching of the Council of Trent, namely, the sacrificial dimension of the Mass.
The Church teaches, “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form, the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident.” From my experience, many Catholics understand the dimension of the Mass as a sacred banquet. However, an exaggerated emphasis on this dimension may detract from the understanding of the Mass as a sacramental re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ, without which there would be no communion.
The tendency to disconnect and bracket the Sacrifice from the Sacrament is especially present in parts of the United States heavily populated with Protestant faith communities, which reduce Eucharistic celebrations to mere re-enactments of the Last Supper. The distinctiveness of receiving Holy Communion under one form alone provides the opportunity to remind the faithful that the Mass is a participation in the One Sacrifice of Calvary — a uniquely Catholic belief.
Rather than allow the absence of the distribution chalice to disappoint, my hope is that parishioners would see the catechetical opportunity and benefit from it. Though the experience of receiving may be different, the One Whom we receive remains the same, yesterday, today and forever. And that is what is most important.