Foundations of Faith|
Host isn't a 'chip-and-dip football appetizer'
Self-communicating is not allowed
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
At first I wondered if something was wrong, maybe something else
was in the cup. The woman, Eucharistic host in hand, reached out
and pulled the proffered Communion cup toward her and peered
inside. Then she quickly dipped her host, popped it in her mouth
and went back to her pew.
We've all seen it. The "dip in cup" routine.
So what's the big deal? Just another form of communion, right?
It's a form of self-communicating. And that isn't what people,
the community of Christ, do in sharing the Eucharist.
The U.S. Bishops reiterated this in their June document on the
norms of Holy Communion: "This Holy and Living Sacrifice."
Approved by a vote of 214-2, the document says, "the communicant
may never be allowed to self-communicate, even by means of
intinction. Communion under either form, bread or wine, must
always be given by an ordinary (priest) or extraordinary minister
of Holy Communion" (no. 54).
But what's so wrong with self-communication?
First, it misunderstands what participating in Eucharist means:
we receive Christ, we don't take Christ. Christ gives himself - body, blood soul and self - to us. It's a gift we receive, not
something we take. How could we take Christ's life? Yet, through
his ministers, Christ gives us his life, his very Body and Blood.
As Fr. Paul Turner, a Kansas City, Mo., pastor who holds a
doctorate in sacramental theology, explains it, "This simple
distinction helps us all approach the communion table with
reverence - like beggars, not thieves. We do not 'take' communion
so much as we 'receive' it."
Furthermore, what we are offered in the Communion cup is the same
cup that Jesus himself took and drank. It is the cup of life, the
cup of challenge. By the mystical gesture of it being offered to
us, we in turn take that same cup into our hands to drink fully.
That cup handed to us reminds us of our commitment to share in
Christ's own life. As liturgical minister Nick Wagner says,
"Jesus asks us to drink from the same cup he drank from - a cup
of blessing as well as a cup of persecution. If we cannot drink
from that same cup, we cannot share in his risen life."
And that is exactly what we do in receiving the cup: share in
Christ's very life - receive his body and blood, his very dying
and rising - into our own bodies.
That brings us to the second reason why dipping the host in the
cup - what Fr. Turner describes as "like chip-and-dip football
appetizers" - is not allowed. It risks dishonoring Christ's very
life's blood. Dipping the host in the cup leaves you with a
dripping host. But dripping with what? The U.S. Bishops answered
that in their recent booklet on the Eucharistic Presence: "the
wine ceases to be wine in substance, and becomes the Blood of
Christ." (The Real Presence of Jesus Christ, no. 4).
With a dripping host, where do those drops of wine become Blood
go? On the floor, on your shoes, down your shirt. Not only is it
messy, but we're dropping Christ's blood on the floor. The same
blood that was shed on Calvary.
This is why we still use patens at those rare times - approved by
the local bishop - when intinction is used to distribute
communion. Intinction is not self-communication. The dipping of
the host is done by the priest or Eucharistic minister, who then
offers the host and places it directly in the mouth of the
communicant - who holds a paten under his or her chin to catch
People sometimes forget this mystery of holiness - perhaps while
focusing on fears of germs (which studies have not been able to
prove are spread by the Communion cup) - when they look at the
elemental signs of the Eucharist. The bread and wine still appear
to be just bread and wine after consecration. But they are not.
The bishops remind us of Church teaching: "In order for the whole
Christ to be present - body, blood, soul, and divinity - the
bread and wine cannot remain, but must give way so that his
glorified Body and Blood may be present. Thus in the Eucharist
the bread ceases to be bread in substance, and becomes the Body
of Christ, while the wine ceases to be wine in substance, and
becomes the Blood of Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed,
Christ is not quoted as saying, 'This bread is my body,' but
'This is my body' (Summa Theologiae, III q. 78, a. 5)."
No wonder there was a long period in our history when people
hesitated to even touch a consecrated host. How could any mere
human, they wondered, dare to touch God?
Yet that is the beauty of the Eucharist. God wants us to touch
him and reaches out for our hands. Christ places his body into
our human hands in order to become one with us: his strength
joins to ours, his blood mingles with ours, his life enlivens
As Bp. William Weigand of Sacramento said in a pastoral letter on
the Eucharist: "We may say that the Eternal Word, incarnate in
Jesus Christ, leaps down into the assembly gathered for
Eucharist, leaps down again in word and sacrament ... God takes the
With Christ leaping down to meet us, why on earth would we
hesitate to take the cup he offers into both hands and drink
(Sources: "The Holy and Living Sacrifice: Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Communion Under Both Kinds in the
Dioceses of the United States of America"; "The Real Presence of
Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions
and Answers"; Modern Liturgy's Bulletin Inserts; Eucharist; "Open
Wide the Door to Christ: Reflections on the Eucharist" by Bp.
Weigand; Modern Liturgy Answers the 101 Most-Asked Questions
about Liturgy; and the Green Bay Diocese's worship department.)