The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
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?

Wrong.

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 any drops.

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 ours.

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 initiative."

With Christ leaping down to meet us, why on earth would we hesitate to take the cup he offers into both hands and drink fully?


(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.)


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