Communion Rites in the Catholic Church

Holy communion

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When Christians of Protestant denominations attend a Catholic Mass, they are often surprised that Catholics only receive the consecrated Host (the Body of Christ represented by the edible wafer or bread), even when the consecrated wine (the Blood of Christ) is consumed during the Holy Communion portion of the mass. In Protestant Christian churches, it is standard practice for the congregation to receive both wafer and wine as symbols of the holy blood and body of Christ. 

An extreme example occurred during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States in 2008 when as many as 100,000 Catholics received Holy Communion during the televised masses at Washington Nationals Stadium and Yankee Stadium. Those who watched those masses saw all the entire congregation receiving only the consecrated Host. Indeed, while wine was consecrated at those masses (as it is at every mass), only Pope Benedict, those priests and bishops who concelebrated the masses, and a small number of priests who were acting as deacons received the consecrated wine.

Catholic Views on Consecration

While this state of affairs may surprise Protestants, it reflects the Catholic Church's understanding of the Eucharist. The Church teaches that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration and that Christ is present "body and blood, soul and divinity" in both items. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:

Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace. For pastoral reasons this manner of receiving communion has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite.

The "pastoral reasons" referred to by the Catechism include easy distribution of Holy Communion, particularly to large congregations, and protecting the Precious Blood from being profaned. Hosts may be dropped, but they are easily recovered; the consecrated wine, however, is more easily spilled and cannot easily be recovered.

Still, the Catechism goes on to note in the same paragraph that:

". . . the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly." This is the usual form of receiving communion in the Eastern rites.

Eastern Catholic Practices

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church (as well as in Eastern Orthodoxy), the Body of Christ in the form of consecrated cubes of a leavened loaf of bread is immersed in the Blood, and both are served to the faithful on a golden spoon. This minimizes the danger of spilling the Precious Blood (which is largely absorbed into the Host). Since Vatican II, a similar practice has been revived in the West: intinction, in which the Host is dipped in the chalice before being given to the communicant.

Consecrated Wine is Optional

While many Catholics worldwide, and probably most in the United States, receive only the Host at Holy Communion, in the United States many churches take advantage of a concession that allows the communicant receives the Host and then drink from the Chalice. When the consecrated wine is offered, the choice of whether to receive it is left up to the individual communicant. Those who choose to receive only the Host, however, are not depriving themselves of anything. As the Catechism notes, they still receive Christ's "body and blood, soul, and divinity" when receiving only the Host.

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ThoughtCo. "Communion Rites in the Catholic Church." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, ThoughtCo. (2021, February 8). Communion Rites in the Catholic Church. Retrieved from ThoughtCo. "Communion Rites in the Catholic Church." Learn Religions. (accessed April 1, 2023).