Real Presence and participation

By Matt Miller

Special to The Message

As many of the pandemic-driven liturgical restrictions have scaled back, one question that remains – and was present even prior to COVID-19 – regards reception of Holy Communion under both species (i.e. bread and wine). With the return of Holy Communion from the chalice still in flux due to ongoing COVID concerns, it may be helpful to make a couple of theological distinctions about the Eucharist and Holy Communion.

First, we have to talk about Christ’s sacramental presence in Holy Communion. The Church teaches us that Christ is present – body, blood, soul and divinity – under the forms (or “species”) of bread and wine. The word the Church uses to describe this is concomitance. The resurrected and glorified Body of Christ cannot be divided or separated. When one receives the consecrated host or wine, they “receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace,” in the words of the Catechism (CCC 1390). All of Christ is present in both the Eucharistic bread and the Eucharistic wine.

So if this is the case, why does one even need to worry about receiving both species? This leads to our second theological distinction – Holy Communion as an act of faith and responding to Christ’s invitation. At the Last Supper, when he instituted the Eucharist, Christ invited the disciples to both “take and eat” and “take and drink.” In addition, there are other instances in the Gospels where Jesus either speaks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood (see John 6) or talks about drinking from the cup as part of participating in his life (see Mark 10:38, Mark 14:36, or Matthew 20:22, for examples).  

The Church teaches us that our own participation in the Mass is about participating in the saving work of Christ. It is Christ’s action that the faithful are invited to join in a sacramental way. The faithful are invited to more fully express this by responding to Christ’s invitation to both eat and drink by partaking of Holy Communion under both species. The sign value of what it means to receive Holy Communion at Mass takes a fuller form when both the host and chalice are offered. As was noted above, one still receives all of Christ in both species. But this way of participating reflects more deeply what we are invited to do by Christ, be it in the Mass or when we “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” after Mass.

The Church’s promotion of Holy Communion under both kinds has changed through the centuries. It does recognize that there are times when it may not be possible to offer both kinds to all the faithful. We have seen this prior to the pandemic during some intense flu seasons. In addition, the faithful are never obliged to receive from the chalice – it is a practice available for those who desire to participate in this way. What has not changed, however, is the truth of what the Eucharist is and what it means for us.

The situation will continue to be reviewed and adjusted as appropriate. During our diocesan Eucharistic Renewal, let us give thanks for the opportunity to continue to receive the fullness of Christ in the Eucharist. May we be open to Christ’s invitation, strengthened by participation in the sacraments, and live out that response as fully and richly as possible.  

Matt Miller is Director of the Diocese of Evansville Office of Worship.