Straight Answers: Why Is the Precious Blood Not Distributed at Every Mass?

Why is the Precious Blood almost never distributed at Mass? By not distributing the Precious Blood, the priest would seem to be disregarding the command that our Lord gave us when He initiated the Eucharist at the Last Supper: "Take and eat: this is my Body. Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it all of you, for this is my Blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." — A reader in Front Royal In the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," Vatican Council II stated, "At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. This He did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until He should come again, and so entrust to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (No. 47). While presenting the grace importance of the Holy Eucharist and the Mass in our Catholic spirituality, Vatican II also exhorted the faithful to actively participate in the offering of the Mass. One of the most beautiful and intimate ways we participate in the Mass is through the reception of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must remember that "the whole and entire Christ and the true sacrament are received under either species" (Council of Trent, "Doctrine on Communion Under Both Species and on Communions of Little Children). A person receives the fullness of grace of the sacrament whether just receiving the Sacred Host alone, or the Precious Blood alone, or both together. (Confer the Catechism, No. 1390). While affirming this teaching, the "General Instruction on the Roman Missal" (No. 240) did assert that the "meaning" of Communion is most clearly signified when given under both species — both the Precious Blood and the Sacred Host. Here the imagery of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ and of being joined with the Messianic Banquet becomes most clear. Nevertheless, since a person receives "the whole and entire" Christ under each species, the Church is obedient to the command of the Lord to eat His Body and drink His Blood by just offering one species to the congregation, even though this partaking is best signified when both species are offered and consumed. For this reason, the Church has not mandated that both species should always be offered. (Please note that in the Eastern Rite, the priest regularly administers Holy Communion with a spoon, distributing the Sacred Host soaked with the Precious Blood.) Granted, in the very early Church, Holy Communion under both species was distributed. The practice, however, gradually changed to avoid "some dangers and scandals," according to the Council of Constance (1415). These reasons ranged from the spillage of the Precious Blood in its distribution, to health concerns from sharing the same cup, to inebriation, and to absconding with the sacred vessels. However, some areas of the Church continued to offer Communion under both species even into the 12th century. Some objected to the restriction to just one species on the very grounds mentioned in the question: Did not Christ Himself order the reception of both species? The Nestorians, an heretical group arising in the early 400s and who denied the mystery of the incarnation, stated that the Sacred Host contained only the Body of Christ and the Precious Blood only His Blood. In their logic, one only validly received the sacrament when receiving both species. Here lies the danger when someone focuses on the imagery of the reception rather than on the substance of what is being received. The Nestorians were condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431). In the 1400s, the problem again arose with the heretical teachings of John Wyclif, John Hus, and Jacob of Mies. They argued that if the Body and Blood of Christ are present under each species, then by receiving only the Sacred Host one is "eating" the Blood of Christ, not "drinking" it, and therefore disobeying the command of the Lord. They also argued that early Christian practice mandated the reception of both species. In the end, the asserted that reception of Holy Communion under both species is obligatory and necessary for salvation. These proponents became known as Calixtines (from the Latin "calix" meaning "chalice") or Utraquists (from the Latin, sub utraque specie, meaning "under each species"). The Council of Constance (and later the Council of Trent) condemned the teaching again affirming that Christ is fully present under either species, and that a person receives the fullness of the grace of the sacrament under either species. "The Council cited St. Paul, who seemed to attest to the valid reception of just one species: "…Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27). To mandate the reception of both species would imply that Christ is not fully present under one species alone, and then would deprive those who could not receive both for whatever reason. This teaching became very clear to me when I was a deacon. At my assignment in Philadelphia, I visited an elderly lady who had lost much of her mouth to cancer. She had a permanent feeding tube through which she poured liquid nourishment. When I brought her Holy Communions, I would bring a vial of the Precious Blood which had been consecrated at the morning Mass and which she then poured down the tube, followed by water for cleansing. Did she receive Christ? Absolutely. Did she receive as much grace as those who received the Sacred Host? Absolutely. If one receives either the Precious Blood, or the Sacred Host, or both, one receives the fullness of the grace of the sacrament. Nevertheless, in 1970, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship allowed the conferences of bishops to determine as to what extent, what motives, and what conditions Holy Communion could be received under both species. The "General Instruction" had already listed several circumstances where communion under both species was permitted, for example to the bride and groom at a nuptial Mass or the reception of converts into the Church. In 1984, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in America decided that the policy was left to the local ordinary of each diocese. Each bishop must weigh the spiritual needs of his diocese with any practical concerns. In the Diocese of Arlington, Holy Communion may not be administered under both species on Sundays and Holy Days. Whatever regulations a diocese issues regarding this practice, no one should construe the reception of just one species as a violation of what our Lord instituted at the Last Supper. Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria. Copyright ?1998 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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