On July 2nd the Church celebrated the Feast of the Most Precious Blood, leading in to July as the month of the Precious Blood. We set aside the Sunday after Trinity Sunday to celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ, but this July feast often goes unremarked. No mention of it in my parish, despite this being the year of the Eucharistic Revival.
Why a special feast—or month, for that matter—to celebrate this one element of the Eucharist? From ancient times the blood of sacrifice has had special significance, beginning with the sacrifices of Jewish worship, and culminating in the Passover, the time when the angel of death spared those who had sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled its blood upon their doorpost. (Another Catholic 365 author, Gary Sullivan, has written on the significance of blood in both Old and New Covenants, and is worth a read.)
Wine, as a sign of that saving blood, has played a prominent role in the Passover supper, both at Jesus’ time and today.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., in his book The Precious Blood of Christ, recalls that “The Church was born from the pierced side of Christ, and sacraments brought forth from his blood.” He goes on to call us to increased devotion to the Precious Blood.
Early Christians regularly received both body and blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine during the first millennium of the Church. It was sometime during the 11th Century that the practice of receiving from the chalice was discontinued—perhaps due to the Black Death. By the Council of Trent the practice had not been revived, but the fathers of the Second Vatican Council saw fit to reinstate it on condition that it could be done reverently.
Most of us had been catechized to realize that Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, under each of the species separately due to his resurrected body which is not divided. This is known as the doctrine of concomitance. So why would we want to return to receiving communion under both forms?
Fr. Dustin Dought of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship, writing for NCR, writes: “While the distribution of both host and wine “more perfectly expresses Christ’s gift of himself at the Last Supper, the fullness of sacramental grace is present in each form.” There are circumstances when only one form can be given—Good Friday, for example. Fr Dought goes on, in the one species, “the sign is less full; the expression is less full; but there is no deprivation of grace.”
That being said, do we want a pared down sign in a sacrament, where sign is of the essence?
As we move out of the acute phase of Covid, the USCCB has lifted the restriction on communion under both kinds, and some dioceses are beginning to return to administering the chalice to the faithful. Among them are the Diocese of New Orleans and that of Baton Rouge. In both cases, the bishops have left the choice of implementation to the individual pastors.
Permission is given by the bishop; choice to implement is left to the pastor. This will depend on whether there are enough ministers available to take this on in a reverent way. It may also depend on the people’s openness to returning to the chalice after three years of concern over contagion.
Although even before Covid the chalice was sometimes withheld during particularly prevalent ‘flu seasons, and communicants were urged not to take the cup if they were ill, Catholic doctors have assured the faithful that it is highly unlikely one would catch a disease from the communion cup. In fact, research has shown rather that involvment in religion is beneficial to health.
Considering all of this, would this July not be a time to consider whether we could move back to the practice of communion under both species—at least for those who wish to participate that much more fully in the Eucharist? Here we are, praying for Eucharistic Revival. Part of that revival would aim to bring back those who have stayed with virtual liturgies, forgoing any reception of the Body and Blood of Christ; but another big part should be returning to the fullest expression of the Eucharistic signs by bringing back communion under both forms. For those whose grasp of the True Presence is weak, does not this fuller expression speak more loudly of that reality?
Bishops may be waiting and discerning when to make this possible. We may pray for discernment as to whether to ask our bishops to take this step. If we treasure the Sacred Blood, if we venerate all it stands for, can we show this devotion by taking the next step?
Please speak to your pastor about this! Write to your bishop!