Post-COVID, why can’t we use intinction rather than the communal cup?

By Jenna Marie Cooper

Question Corner

Q: With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and years without the precious Blood, I am not comfortable drinking from the communal cup now that it is offered. Why can we not go to intinction? Why is this forbidden? (Location withheld)

A: For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, intinction is a way of receiving communion under both species where the minister dips the host in the precious blood, which the communicant then -- for obvious practical reasons -- receives on the tongue. This is in contrast to the more familiar practice in the United States, where communicants first receive the host in either the hand or on the tongue and then drink from the chalice separately.

But even if intinction is less common, it is certainly not forbidden. In fact, the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops specifically allows for the possibility of intinction in its document “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America.” As paragraph 49 of this document, borrowing heavily from paragraph 287 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (i.e. the official instruction book for how Mass is to be celebrated) describes, “Holy Communion may be distributed by intinction in the following manner: Each communicant, while holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the priest, who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, dips it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says: 'The Body and Blood of Christ.' The communicant replies, 'Amen,' receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest, and then withdraws.”

I’m not sure why intinction is not a more frequent practice, especially since -- as you point out in your question -- some Catholics may feel more comfortable receiving by intinction in a post-COVID world. Speculating a bit, one of my thoughts is that since intinction is less customary, it may simply be too new to, and outside of the comfort zones of, many Catholics, clergy and laity alike. For regular Catholics in the pews, it can sometimes feel awkward to start receiving on the tongue, as intinction requires, if they have always only received in the hand. Receiving communion by intinction removes the communicant’s ability to receive communion in the hand if that is preferred.  When Holy Communion is received on the tongue, the priest’s or Eucharistic minister’s finger could touch the person’s tongue which could transmit any possible infection to the next communicant.  Therefore, intinction does not remove the possibility of infection.  By the way, the chalice does not go into the dishwasher for sanitizing because it is a precious vessel which has contained Our Lord’s blood; after communion, water is poured into the chalice, and it is wiped with a purificator cloth.  Additionally, from the priests’ perspective, there might be concerns with the logistics involved in instructing the faithful on how to receive communion is this relatively unfamiliar way, especially since such instruction may need to be last-minute and on-the-spot at Mass.

If the precious blood is only offered via a common chalice at your parish, and if you are truly uncomfortable with this, you are not required to receive under both kinds. As the Church has taught explicitly since the Council of Trent in the 1500s, Jesus’ body and blood are contained within each individual Eucharistic species; so you receive Jesus just as fully even if you only receive him under one kind.

Even though it’s not strictly necessary to receive communion under both kinds, the Church still regards doing so as praiseworthy when possible. Paragraph 11 of the above-mentioned Norms notes that, “sharing in both Eucharistic species reflects more fully the sacred realities that the Liturgy signifies.” The General Instruction tells us, “Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For, in this form, the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident; and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.” (GIRM 281)

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Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to [email protected].