Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Communion under both kinds and EMHCs (1): Communion under both kinds

In the development of the Liturgical life of the Church in England and Wales there are two questions that have been, in practice, interrelated but are often treated distinctly. One of the questions is that of Holy Communion being received under both kinds and the other is that of the use of lay people as ministers of Holy Communion. I think I am right in suggesting that my experience - that the receiving of Communion under both kinds has been a major driver in the expansion of the use of lay people as ministers of Communion during the celebration of the Liturgy - is not untypical.

Much comment on this focusses around the question of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, which I reserve to the second of these posts. However, the other aspect is that of the Liturgical meaning of Holy Communion received under both kinds, and that is what I would like to discuss in this post.

Two preliminaries should perhaps be recognised. The first is that the priest celebrant always has received Communion under both kinds, so one can see a restricted sense in which receiving under both kinds is always "intrinsic" to the celebration of Mass, even when the people only receive under one kind. The second is the teaching of the Council of Trent, referred to by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal n.282, that Christ, whole and entire, is received under one kind only, so that a person who receives only under the form of the Sacred Host does not "lose out" in terms of the grace of Holy Communion. The General Instruction is explicit in identifying the value of Communion received under both kinds as lying in its sign value, receiving under both kinds being "a fuller form as a sign" (n.281); and in encouraging the practice of receiving under both kinds (n.282):

...the faithful should be encouraged to seek to participate more eagerly in this sacred rite, by which the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident.
So what are the different parts that make up this value of Communion under both kinds as a "fuller form as a sign"?

1. "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world". The invitation to Communion draws attention, through its reference to the Lamb whose Blood is shed, to the Scriptural roots of the sign value of Communion under both kinds. To briefly describe three moments in this Scriptural rooting of the sign value of Holy Communion received under both kinds ...

It is the blood of the Passover lamb, painted on the door of their houses, that saves the people of Israel from the destruction of the first born in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14): "Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten".

St Paul teaches the reconciliation of the Jews and the pagans in terms of the blood of Christ: "... you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close by the blood of Christ .." (Ephesians 2:11-18); and St John, in his account of the Passion, lays great emphasis on the blood and water that flow from the side of Christ: "..This is the evidence of one who saw it - trustworthy evidence .." (John 19:33-37).

And the book of Revelation offers us the image of the saints in heaven, worshipping he Lamb in the Eucharistic banquet of heaven: "... because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God's throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary..." (Rev.:7:9-17).

2. The tradition of the Church also offers examples of a recognition of the salvific meaning of the blood of Christ. There is the reading from the instructions of St John Chrysostom to catechumens used at the Office of Readings on Good Friday. St Catherine of Siena's Dialogue also speaks frequently of the blood of Christ: "How was heaven opened? With the key of His Blood .."

3. From an ecclesial point of view, there are three reflections that can be added to these Scriptural and historical dimensions. The washing from sin that is represented in the Blood of Christ, and is an aspect of the grace of receiving Holy Communion is also represented in the washing with water of the sacrament of Baptism. Receiving under both kinds brings out more clearly the way in which the Eucharist is the "destination" to which the other sacraments of initiation lead; it reminds us of the baptismal character of Eucharistic communion. The second reflection is suggested by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (n.281) - receiving under both kinds gives a clearer expression of the way in which "the new and everlasting covenant is ratified in the blood of the Lord". It draws our attention to the covenantal nature of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary and the covenantal nature of the Eucharistic celebration. The third reflection is also suggested by the General Instruction (n.281) - receiving under both kinds gives a clearer expression of the relationship between the banquet of the Eucharist celebrated in the world of today and the eschatalogical banquet in which we will take part in the future in heaven. The language of the General Instruction is that of "banquet" and not of "meal" - trying to draw attention to its sacral nature rather than reducing it to the mundane and every day, pointing us towards heaven from earth. These ecclesial reflections are, of course, rooted in the Scriptural considerations already referred to above.

If these ecclesial reflections are taken seriously, they bring to the fore the profoundly sacral, indeed heavenly, nature of Holy Communion.


Whilst all of this suggests that we should be keen to receive Holy Communion under both kinds when the circumstances allow, it leaves us still with the question of the appropriateness of using lay ministers as the way of making this possible. And it leaves, too, the question of doing this in such a way that the due sacredness, emphasised by the underlying meaning of receiving Communion under both kinds, is actually reflected in the practice. These questions are for my second post, but one can perhaps finish this post by asking: does the way in which priests in parishes make provision for Communion under both kinds, and the disposition of the lay faithful as they receive Communion under both kinds, as a general rule, reflect the reality outlined above?

1 comment:

Paul Mallinder said...

I do not really understand why anyone would want to deny a person to do what Our Lord asked. I also do not really understand why people should object to Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.