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1218: St Virgilius, Broad Channel, New York, USA

Read this report | Other comments

12 October 2006

Several comments on the Mystery Worshipper's reaction to the Catholic congregation's avoidance of the chalice at St Virgilius in New York. I think that the Mystery Worshipper (Miss Amanda) is simply showing her Protestant/Anglican prejudices here – I say this even if she happens to be, nominally, a Roman Catholic.

1. The first point to make is that communion under both species is (still) not the Catholic norm for laypersons. It is supposed to be limited to special corporate communions within a fairly intimate context – e.g. members of wedding or funeral party, a religious community's mass, etc.

2. Second, communion under both "species" or kinds was a Protestant rallying-cry of the Reformation and was supposed to signify that communion is a merely symbolic act and not, in any way, the partaking of the "real" body and blood of Christ. One who accepts the doctrine of transubstantiation will realize that he or she receives both the body and blood of Christ fully in the host because, as the living flesh of our Savior, it contains both. Communion under both species also was intended by the Reformers as a symbolic denial of the liturgical distinction between priests (who received communion under both species in the mass) and laity (who did not); by implication, it was intended as a denial of the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, which only a priest can confect.

3. Third, "receiving under both species" is the source of problems both of sanitation and of reverence for the blessed sacrament. The sanitary problems with many persons receiving from a common cup are obvious – particularly in "flu season". However, the possibility of spills of the precious blood is also a problem with respect to paying due reverence to the sacrament. Distributing a liquid to many persons simply presents a greater danger of accidents in this respect than does distributing properly baked people's host. Since Roman Catholic law does not permit the reservation of the precious blood, it must all be consumed by some person or persons as part of the ablutions and that, too, can be a problem.

4. Fourth, a reminder that the Roman Catholic Church does not have "open communion". Non-Roman Catholics can licitly receive the sacrament only in extreme circumstances. Visiting a Catholic mass and "wanting fully to participate" is not one of those circumstances. Indeed, even Catholics who are aware of having committing mortal sins for which they have not been sacramentally absolved may not licitly receive communion. Most of the missalettes used in American parishes specify the norms for receiving communion;  they say in substance what I have just said but do so more gently.

5. I have never received under both species at a Catholic mass and, in that regard at least, resemble most of the Catholics I know. I'm sure that some parishes have been brow-beaten by a "progressive-minded pastor" into doing so. But I think that what your Mystery Worshipper saw is quite typical and signifies nothing about the "warmth" or "coldness" of the communicants.

Professor Michael J. White


13 October 2006

Our Mystery Worshipper responds...

Why, then, does the pastor continue to offer the eucharist under both species? Broad Channel is a closed community, and if a delegation were to approach Father on the subject, I should think he would acquiesce to their wishes. If he had a reputation for brow-beating his flock, he would not last long in that setting.

We do not see hordes dropping of communicable diseases in churches where the faithful do as a matter of course receive under both species, nor do we see pools of wine staining the carpet. Spilling a drop by accident is not the same as deliberately pouring the contents of the chalice onto the floor. Surely the latter would be sacrilege whereas the former would not, but in any case it is not our blessed Lord who would suffer.

And if the majority of the precious blood is consumed by the communicants, then there is less left over for the celebrant to have to consume at his ablutions.

Finally, I would thank Professor White not to judge my conscience for me.

Amanda B. Reckondwythe

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