My first real job as a teenager was in the cafeteria at a summer oceanographic laboratory in the San Juan Islands. My duty at breakfast was to stand at the buffet line offering oatmeal. “Oatmeal?” I would repeat to each tray-bearing breaker of the fast. “No, thanks!” was the usual answer.
This experience has sometimes come back to me as I stand with the chalice and purificator in waiting for communicants. Or did, before Covid.
Now that the USCCB has given dioceses of the U.S. permission to begin offering communion under both forms once more, I have written urging those for whom this practice is a way of more fully experiencing the signs of bread and wine in the Eucharist to ask pastors and bishops to renew the practice.
A caveat here, however. When we resume receiving the precious blood from the chalice—or not, if you prefer to limit your reception to the host—let it be done with due reverence.
What do I refer to as reverence?
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal in paragraph 160 clearly states that the reverence before communion consists of a bow of the head.
This is not a full body bow, which IS done at the line of the Creed, “…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Before receiving communion under either form, we respond to the minister’s words “Blood of Christ” with a simple bow of the head. Even if we choose to forego the chalice, we acknowledge it by stopping to bow our head. Some people, after a bow of the head and acknowledging “Amen!” will take the chalice in both hands, lift it, and then return it to the minister, even if they do not choose to take the wine.
So, I’ll get back to the times when I served as an extraordinary minister of the Precious Blood, offering the chalice to people from all over the world who came to mass at the Carmel Mission in California. How extraordinary the experience of witnessing the joy on the faces of those who took Christ’s blood to their lips. There was radiance there in that moment of sacramental encounter. It was a sacramental moment for me as minister as well, to be touching the chalice at that moment of grace.
Knowing the power of Jesus’ presence in the sacred vessel and its consecrated wine, I was often shocked by those who received the host, but then breezed past the chalice without any recognition. People who would actually kneel to receive the host would then ignore the chalice on their way to get back to their seat.
I’m not advocating that people also kneel before the chalice—especially if they do not intend to partake. This is not the gesture the Church asks of us, first of all, and it slows down the communion line, and may confuse other communicants as well. But it is important to recognize that Jesus is fully present in the Precious Blood. (In fact, people with celiac disease are allowed to receive the Precious Blood alone, since they receive there the fullness of the Eucharist.)
I’m always sorry when people pass up the chalice, considering the monumental opportunity of taking the Most Precious Blood of Jesus onto one’s tongue. With the oatmeal it was a question of taste; some people just don’t like mush. With the blood of Christ, taste should be seriously questioned. Is my queasiness about sipping from a common cup well-enough founded that it’s worth forgoing this heavenly opportunity.
“Eat my flesh and drink my blood, and I will raise you up on the last day,” goes a verse of the hymn “Eat This Bread,” which comes from John 6.
This is something to pray about. As we return to having both forms of communion available to us, would this be a time to begin receiving both?
Even if your prayer leaves you still hesitant, please remember to give that sign of your devotion as you pass before the chalice. Stop and bow your head. Better still, take the chalice in your hands and lift it as you pronounce your amen, showing that you believe Jesus truly present there.
Blood of Christ, only-begotton son of the Eternal Father, save us!
P.S. Read James Moore's article on God's patience as Jesus shed his blood.