As Pray Tell readers may have noticed from my reports on the Universa Laus 2013 gathering I have spend the last two weeks out of the United States and away from my home computer system. Now that I am back home, I am able to resume the postings in our close reading of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Vatican website translation:

55. That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest’s communion, receive the Lord’s body from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.

The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact (40), communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.

Latin text:

55. Valde commendatur illa perfectior Missae participatio qua fideles post Communionem sacerdotis ex eodem Sacrificio Corpus Dominicum sumunt.

Communio sub utraque specie, firmis principiis dogmaticis a Concilio Tridentino statutis (40), in casibus ab Apostolica Sede definiendis, tum clericis et religiosis, tum laicis concedi potest, de iudicio Episcoporum, veluti ordinatis in Missa sacrae suae ordinationis, professis in Missa religiosae suae professionis, neophytis in Missa quae Baptismum subsequitur.

(40) Sess. XXI, Doctrina de Communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, capp. 1-3, cann. 1-3: CONCILIUM TRIDENTINUM, ed. cit., t. VIII, pp. 698-699.

Slavishly literal translation (kindness of Jonathan Day):

55. The more perfect participation in the Mass by which the faithful, after the Communion of the priest, receive the Body of the Lord from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.

Communion under each kind may be granted to clerics, religious and lay faithful, based on the judgment of the bishops, in cases to be defined by the Apostolic See, and with the dogmatic principles set out by the Council of Trent remaining constant (40) – as, for example, to the [newly] ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the [newly] professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptised in the Mass that follows their baptism.


Two issues concerning the reception of holy communion at the Eucharistic liturgy are addressed in art. 55.

First, without forbidding the practice by which holy communion could be distributed to the faithful at any point during Mass (with the exception of the consecration), the Council Fathers express a preference that the communion of the faithful be associated with the priest’s communion at the same Mass. This is one of the more successful of the conciliar reforms insofar as the almost universal present practice is to have both priest and people receive holy communion during the communion rites prescribed in the reformed form of Eucharistic celebration. This certainly falls in line with the principle articulated earlier that the meaning of the individual parts of the liturgy and their interrelations be made more clear. It would be difficult to see how the faithful’s reception of holy communion during the Mass of the Catechumens (Introductory Rites and Liturgy of the Word) or during the Dismissal Rites expresses the fundamental meaning of these portions of the rite. Calling this form of liturgical participation “more perfect” (perfectior) raises some conceptual questions, but probably refers back to earlier distinctions between “interior,” “exterior” and “sacramental” participation in the liturgy. An extension of this principle will appear in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal’s call for people to commune from elements consecrated at the Mass they attend rather than from pre-consecrated hosts reserved in the tabernacle, if possible.

Second, the Council Fathers extend the reception of Holy Communion under both forms of consecrated bread and consecrated wine to clerics, religious and lay faithful. Contrary to popular belief, the Council of Trent had not forbidden communion under both species to the laity as a doctrinal principle but simply as a prudential judgment, and the Fathers of Vatican Council II here state their prudential judgment that situations have arisen that would make reception under both forms appropriate if not preferred. The three examples in which communion under both species would be given should be seen as a minimum on which most of the Fathers could agree rather than a definitive and final listing of the only situations in which communion under both forms would be appropriate. Wisely, the judgment about implementing communion under both forms is left to bishops’ conferences in cooperation with the Apostolic See.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss how the prescriptions of art. 55 have been implemented in their communities over the last fifty years, what we have learned from this implementation, and what further reforms might be appropriate.

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