Communion under both kinds

The time has arrived to say something here about the imbroglio that began after news broke that his excellency Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison-Wisconsin) would follow the lead of his excellency Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix) and begin restricting the distribution of the chalice at Mass. Before we get to my comments on the issue, let me observe that Bps. Olmsted and Morlino have been on my radar for a while; I started praying daily for Olmsted last december, and Morlino shortly afterward after he received flack for standing by his orthodox priests against his dissenting flock. I say this to underscore that I have no axe to grind against either prelate; quite the contrary. I am grateful for their leadership. I believe, however, that they have called this one wrong.


Where shall we begin? Although Olmsted went first (see this), it seemed to escape widespread notice until last week when we heard from Monsignor Kevin Holmes, rector of Bp. Morlino’s cathedral parish. Msgr. Holmes claimed that “the widespread American practice of offering both species at most Sunday Masses began here under an indult … given by the Vatican in 1975, which expired in 2005. … The bishops of our country did apply for an extension of the 1975 indult, but that was denied.” The upshot, Holmes wrote, was that the diocese would begin to restrict the availability of the chalice beginning at the start of advent. (A questionable idea for reasons suggested here.)

This turned out to be exceedingly dubious; no one could find this supposed indult, or identify the need for it; nor were the request for or denial of its renewal to be found. Worse yet, everyone was painfully aware of a different indult that expired when the missing indult supposedly expired, and of the letter from CDW denying its renewal at the time when the missing indult was supposedly denied. (It had to do with EMHCs “doing dishes,” and you can read it here or here.)

Accordingly, we heard next from Bp. Morlino himself, writing to his priests. Watching matters unfold in real time, it seemed to me that the whole indult business was quickly discovered to have been a mistake, and so Morlino rapidly moved to reground the change onto sounder authority: His own. Like Olmsted, Morlino notes that the GIRM envisages the bishops governing reception under both kinds vel non, and articulates the concerns leading him to restrict communion under both kinds:

I have been told of, and have personally experienced, the reality that the provision both that the faithful be well instructed and that there be no danger of profanation of the Sacrament, is not being met.  As such, while recognizing the need for patient, prudent and practical steps according to your individual parishes, I’ve asked you [viz. the priests of his diocese] to move in this direction.

As I’ve said, over and over again, and as you know well, this requires catechesis.  So many do not understand the Eucharist as the memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice, his death and resurrection; nor the real presence of Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under both species of bread and
wine; nor the role of the ordinary and, if necessary, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.  …

. . . .

Thus, I cannot in good conscience, allow us to go forward without addressing these matters.  That’s specifically what I’ve asked you to do.  Please help your people to know and understand the beautiful gift we have in the Eucharist, to know our obligations of preparing for reception of the Sacrament, both in terms of our preparation through the Sacrament of Confession, our observance of the pre-communion fast, our attending to our attire as best we can, and the like.

Taking Holmes’ and Morlino’s comments in sum, communion under both kinds will not cease in the diocese, but it will be limited—the chalice will not be available to the laity at every Mass.


All this must be seen against the appropriate backdrop: For centuries, the Church did not allow the laity to receive the chalice at Mass. That changed after Vatican II, and I must say that I regard it as a wholly positive development. 1 Christ said that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn 6:53). And the Church accordingly teaches that receiving both His flesh and His blood is, while not strictly necessary (e.g. Council of Trent, 13th sess., can. 3), better (e.g. CCC ¶ 1390). “Better” is, of course, not prejudicial to countervailing interests, and I suppose that the Church stopped distributing the chalice for fear that it might be spilled. But to invert Father Z’s comment here, while Communion under both kinds may not be strictly necessary in the ordinary course of events, there are other factors to consider as well, other goods to be upheld.


Father Z is not alone in seeing the issue of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion lurking in the background, but his post can be asked to speak for them:

I wonder if the high dudgeon about Bp. Olmsted and Bp. Morlino is less about Communion under both kinds and more about having as many lay people involved as EMHCs as possible.

I am guessing those who object to the decisions of the aforementioned bishops have figured out that by curtailing Communion under both kinds, the occasions and numbers of Extraordinary Ministers will also be reduced.  Some people have the false notion that “active participation” means “doing stuff”.  They want lots of lay people in the sanctuary doing things, stepping into the role the priest is supposed to fulfill.

There’s some truth to that, quite frankly—if it’s just about catechesis and belief in the real presence, why is communion available under either species?—but with some caveats.

First is the asymmetry issue. It follows that if you are a trendy liberal liturgist who thinks that the congregation isn’t participating if a number of them aren’t serving as EMHCs, then you’ll resist moves that threaten to reduce the need for EMHCs, including elimination of regular communion under both kinds. It does not follow, however, that if you are against eliminating regular communion under both kinds, then you are a trendy liberal liturgist who wants lots of EMHCs. I caution against the assumption that those who oppose this change are advancing an agenda; certainly I am not.

Second is the symmetry issue. The door swings both ways; pace Father Z., I wonder if the high praise for Bps. Olmsted and Morlino in certain quarters is less about communion under both kinds and more about doing away with EMHCs. And I am guessing those who support the decisions of the aforementioned bishops have figured out that by curtailing Communion under both kinds, the occasions and numbers of Extraordinary Ministers will also be reduced. Fair to say? Would those who support this change be supporting it if every parish had three priests, a deacon, and no EMHCs? And if this is about EMHCs, why not simply ban EMHCs? The bishops can do that at least as effectively as they can do this.

Everyone seems to recognize that some—some—opponents of the restriction are opposing it because they see it as an attack on EMHCs, and it seems quite obvious that some—some—proponents of the restriction are supporting it for precisely the same reason. But addressing the problem indirectly isn’t simply inefficient, it risks turning the precious blood of Christ into a surrogate into an intramural liturgical spat. If the problem is too many EMHCs, deal with that problem. Say that communion under both kinds is just fine when there’s a second priest or a deacon, but that EMHCs will not be used, even for the precious blood. I could support that. 2 I do not support this.


Finally, having stated a preference about the availability of communion, I want to cabin what I’ve said above with a tangential observation about the frequency of receiving communion. We are required to attend Mass every Sunday. We are required to receive communion at least once every year. The Church certainly doesn’t discourage us from receiving at every Mass, but she does not presume that we will, and that juxtaposition suggests to me that the faithful would do well to think twice before receiving. When one takes into account 1st Corinthians 11:29, it strikes me that the best advice is “when in doubt, keep your kneeler!” Better to skip communion for a Mass or two than to receive unworthily. There are any number of circumstances in which I would not feel it appropriate to receive (starting with the obvious: Not having had the opportunity to visit a confessional). While it is my view that communion should be available under both species, I want to suggest that we rethink what appears to be the default preference of many Catholics to receive under either species at every Mass.

Post facto:

MP: The laity and the chalice in Phoenix (Nov. 22, 2011)
MP: The merit of the Blessed Sacrament (March 3, 2012)


  1. Far too many people who rightly perceive serious problems in the postconciliar Church seem to carry it too far, giving the impression that they see nothing positive in what has happened. This mindset believes the Church made a wrong turn at Vatican II and that everything she’s done since is poisoned fruit to be ignored and discarded. Indicia of that mindset include rejection of things that have been taught by or after the council, and resisting anything from the postconiliar era by citation to, in particular, the Council of Trent. It is the mirror-image of the liberal mindset that sees everything before the postconciliar era as bad, that rejects virtually everything that was done before the council, and which resists anything from the anteconciliar era as “going back.”
  2. If the precious blood can’t be distributed at a given Mass because no ordinary minister happens to be available and we decide to get rid of EMHCs, that is very different from withholding the chalice from the laity. It can only be seen as the same if we inappropriately and myopically focus on the bottom line question of whether I can receive at any given Mass that I happen to attend.

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  1. The laity and the chalice in Phoneix < MOTU PROPRIO on Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    […] month, I had my say about the decisions by Bishops Olmsted (Phoenix) and Morlino (Madison-Wisconsin) to restrict the […]