No Precious Blood for the laity in Manchester, NH

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, New Hampshire, appears to be an unusual mixture. A recent letter/instruction from him takes up a very reasonable stance on ad orientem celebrations, which are not to take place without the bishop’s specific permission and then only after adequate catechesis. Similarly, it adopts a praiseworthy position in line with the documents regarding the decoration of the altar during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and regarding planning of liturgical music. One wonders if the bishop’s reflections have been prompted by particular incidents or problems he has encountered in his diocese.

However, the central part of the letter is very different. From the 1st Sunday of Advent until Holy Thursday the bishop has effectively banned Communion from the chalice in his diocese (except for those who can only receive through a straw or feeding tube). See the full document here:

Download (PDF, 178KB)

Bishop Libasci voices two main concerns. The first is the fear of contagion during the cold and flu season, whereby germs are transmitted via drinking from the chalice. Clearly ministers of Communion in the diocese of Manchester have not been properly trained in the administration of the chalice:
• wipe the rim inside and out (to know how hard to grip, it should be possible to hold a full chalice between thumb and two forefingers without dropping it);
• use a fresh part of the purificator for each wipe (this will normally mean opening the purificator, not using it folded, and moving it along in your hands to an unused area while the communicant is drinking from the chalice);
• turn the chalice a quarter turn after wiping, before offering it to the next communicant.

If all this is done properly (and it requires practice), taken in conjunction with the precious metal of the chalice and the antiseptic qualities of the wine, few if any pathogens should be present and the transmission of disease is unlikely. In the case of an epidemic such as swine flu or meningitis, Communion from the chalice occasionally has been withdrawn in the past, but this should not be an issue in a normal winter.

A major problem is that the majority of priests and deacons have never themselves been taught these basic techniques of administering the chalice, and so they do not pass them on to their lay ministers. It is also a fact that, from the point of view of hygiene, receiving under the form of bread is far more risky than from a properly-administered chalice.

Bishop Libasci’s second concern seems to be that people do not know about the doctrine of concomitance, a doctrine developed in the Middle Ages as lay people were progressively barred from receiving under the form of wine. The doctrine says that the complete Christ — body, blood, soul and divinity — is present under either form. Bishop Libasci’s opinion is that this doctrine needs to be promoted in preference to the “fuller sign” of eating and drinking as the Lord commanded us to do and as GIRM recommends. This seems very strange, given that the bishop is himself bi-ritual: his diocesan website says that he “celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church”. Communion in that Church is always given under both forms (using a spoon to drop the elements into the communicant’s mouth).

The bishop and his office for worship will prepare a “renewed catechesis” ahead of the reintroduction of Communion under both forms. This is of course laudable, as is his stipulation that ad orientem Masses cannot take place without prior catechesis. The bishop clearly takes his role as a teacher seriously. But I wonder if he is correct in supposing that people do not understand that they receive the whole Christ under one form alone.

In the wake of the AIDS scare, many stopped receiving from the chalice altogether. Those people certainly understand about concomitance, though they may not recognise the word itself. (Incidentally, it is tragic that no one has thought to tell them that modern medical science now knows that you cannot contract AIDS by receiving from the chalice because the enzymes in your mouth will kill off the fragile AIDS virus at first contact, before it has a chance to enter your system. The only people at risk from the chalice are in fact those with AIDS, who might come into contact something that their deficient immune system cannot handle.)

The bishop’s banning of the chalice is also certainly going to affect all those people who cannot receive under the form of bread because of gluten intolerance and who habitually receive under one form only — from a chalice. There are more of them in our parishes than we realise, and they certainly understand that they receive the whole Christ under this form. Inexplicably, no mention is made of them as an exception to the ban.

I do not know whether the ban will actually be implemented by the clergy of Manchester, NH, but I respectfully suggest that it should be rethought.

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34 comments

  1. One could not blame Christians who wish to obey the command of Christ to “take and eat, take and drink” for wondering if the teaching about concomitantce was an attempt to justify the withholding of Christ’s precious blood. Catholics who are concerned about spreading germs through the sharing of the cup simply refrain from doing so either when they are ill or during the flu season. Methinks the good bishop may be throwing a bone to his priests who would love to adopt ad orientam and who also question the practice of offering the common cup. The command of Jesus seems clear enough to me.

  2. I could see an instance where a pastor would periodically remind parishioners on how to receive properly from the cup. The pastor might opt for more frequent reminders when necessary. I am thinking of instances where the Precious Blood is profaned (someone drops chewing gum from their mouth into the cup, or someone swigs the entire cup of Precious Blood.) I don’t think that these instances would necessarily require a hold on receiving from the cup, but in extreme instances to be decided between the pastor and the bishop a brief pause might be necessary if profane reception of the Precious Blood continues.

    As I have said earlier, I find the Anglican custom of a minister tipping the cup into the communicant’s mouth to be a superior option. Then, there’s a diminished chance that a person might profane the Eucharist. Then again, this maneuver is difficult when both the minister and the communicant are standing.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      There was a famous Anglican instance back in the day when Samuel Johnson went up to receive communion from a clergyman with whom he had severe disagreements. He drained the entire chalice, necessitating a new consecration of the Cup. Not known if he was disciplined for this!

  3. When, because of wide-spread illness in an area (e.g., flu), other dioceses have suspended the distribution of Communion from the Chalice, usually the Bishop has prescribed two other related practices: (1) distributing the Body of the Lord only into the hands of a communicant, and (2) no hand-to-hand contact at the Sign of Peace (between non-family members). To suspend Communion from the Chalice without referencing other precautionary measures seems odd.

  4. Rather odd reasoning and conclusion on the part of the bishop. It seems very much a reaction… but to what will remain unknown.
    Perhaps.
    I wholeheartedly agree with him, though, on the practice of decorating for Christmas. Using the altar as the backdrop to the Nativity scene, and the rest of the sanctuary as the space through which various figures are traveling is awful. I fear, however, that he/they will have more compliance with banning the cup at communion than with the arrangement and appointment of space.

  5. “In the wake of the AIDS scare, many stopped receiving from the chalice altogether.”

    I remember the Plague years that most prefer to forget these days, and there were multiple reasons, including one reason almost everyone has forgotten (but that persist for those who have family who are immuno-compromised): prudent and charitable caution to reduce risk *TO* those with compromised immune systems. To this day, it’s not imprudent or uncharitable to avoid the chalice if you have reason to believe you yourself have an illness than could be passed onto other communicants.

    That said, I wonder how many parishes in the diocese of Manchester regularly offer the chalice to communicants to begin with. After the pandemic influenza scares a few years ago, it seems to have become less common in New England than it formerly was. (As well as a Pax with body contact.)

  6. That’s too bad, but Precious Blood will be opening for Cannibal Corpse in Boston right before Advent starts, so maybe people will drive down to see them then.

  7. Oh, and here I have been wondering if we should even commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation because, after all, hasn’t Vatican II and the LRC Dialogues advanced the understanding of the Roman Catholic Church……oh, and I guess I should be worried because when we were in Wittenberg this summer the Communion Assistant had nary a purificator anywhere around as we 200 folks shared the one chalice at the distribution of the Eucharist…YIKES….oh, and the fact that there has never been a documented transmission of a communicable disease from the Eucharist…..hey, what’s wrong with having some confidence in the protective effects of the Eucharist…..or, I suppose you all could go to those dastardly individual plastic cups that Autom sells…..Lord save us!

    1. @Padre Dave the Lutheran:
      “what’s wrong with having some confidence in the protective effects of the Eucharist”

      Well, Catholics as a church don’t believe that, in the sense that the accidents remain what they were/are. Including the germy bits.

  8. Totally agree with Paul that many priests do not know how to properly administer the chalice. Opening up the purificator is pretty basic, yet how often not done. If you were ordained in the 50s or 60s, though, you didn’t need to learn this. I once worked for a pastor who not only did not offer the cup to the congregation, he also insisted his own purificator was good for the whole week and objected when the sacristan replaced it with a clean one.
    I also wish pastors and bishops would not withhold the chalice from me during flu outbreaks. It should be up to me to decide whether or not it is a risk I want to take. I don’t need daddy telling me when it’s too dangerous. Yes, asking people not to take the cup if they’re ill makes sense, as does encouraging them not to even come if they have the flu. (I have spoken to some who think they are obliged to attend Mass unless they are actually bedridden.)

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      I saw a woman receive from the chalice once at a Mass where it wasn’t otherwise offered to the laity. I imagine she told the priest/ushers/EMHCs beforehand.

    2. @Lee Bacchi:

      My previous church had gluten-free hosts for just such people.

      Which I thought was one of (if not) the most first-worldly Catholic things ever — not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that.

      1. @Elisabeth Ahn:
        While Catholic churches are forbidden to use gluten-free hosts for Eucharistic matter (if used, they are not valid matter and are not consecrated no matter how much ritual is made over them), many parishes do use very low-gluten hosts that don’t raise that problem, and they may be erroneously/casually described as if they were gluten-free.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:

        … very low-gluten hosts… may be erroneously/casually described as if they were gluten-free.

        ah, this may very well have been the case then, because no way that church, known as quite, eh, conservative, would have done something that is forbidden!

  9. Some priests have chosen to ignore this “request”. There’s no such thing as trying to dialogue with the bishop. We just live with this unhealthy situation.

  10. OK I’ll admit I have no idea why Advent 1 to Holy Thursday are the sacred days of cold and flu season.

    It is odd and only makes sense to me if there is an epidemic of cold and flu. I would rather see this request as one of power. It chooses to be blind to adults being able to make big boy and big girl choices as to the shared cup. There must not be any adults with brains in the diocese. Thank you for protecting the parishioners. Are there similar sanitation concerns when the child in front of me sneezes all over the pew.

    Please eliminate this practice also for the dreaded summer cold season of the Church days between Pentecost to the Assumption. I hate summer colds and now have the liturgical markers to use to set my boundaries.

    Admit the Bishop’s distaste for the practice of the reception from the chalice and move on in transparency.

  11. From last year’s (2015) Advent letter from Bishop Libasci:
    “Beginning the weekend of the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT and throughout the Advent Season the MUSIC AT MASS should INCLUDE TWO CHRISTMAS CAROLS THAT ENJOY THE QUALITY OF A LULLABY AND CENTER ON THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION AND BIRTH THAT DID OCCUR IN HISTORY. (Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come Little Children, The First Noel, Joseph is Well Married, etc.)”
    This quote is shown with original capitalization and punctuation.
    It is understandable that this letter caused a bit of consternation among music folks in the Diocese of Manchester last year, especially given that it was received in the week before Advent began, was distributed in a haphazard way and did not conform to most music ministry folks understanding of what the Church asks of us during Advent. I did my very best to obey the ‘letter of the law’ while maintaining my integrity as a Church musician.
    Bishop Libasci has a thing for Advent letters. 🙂

    1. @Anna Kovalcik:
      Required Christmas Carols during Advent? So much for keeping Advent! Why not songs, like The King Shall Come, Creator of the Stars of Night, etc.
      Kepp the Christmas songs for Christmas!

  12. It’s interesting that I hear about what’s going on down the street from a gentleman in England. I don’t recall seeing anything in the paper. I wonder if this is yet another illustration of the indifference towards religion in New Hampshire.

    What is going through my mind is Fr. Foster’s remarks in Latin class back in the nineties, to wit, the world is in flames and you’re worried about what!

  13. This limits or undermines Cardinal Sarah’s “Reform of the Reform” proposal for the Novus Ordo Mass, implying Pope Francis’ attitude toward the traditional Latin Mass as something “exceptional” and “nostalgic” and questioning a priest who may desire ad orientem possibly for having a “rigid,” “defensive,” “insecure,” and/or “fundamentalist” mentality.

    Nonetheless, the bishop allows the traditional Latin Mass (ad orientem) at two parishes for Sunday High Mass: St. Patrick’s in Nashua and St. Joseph’s in Claremont – as well as all Masses at the St. Benedict Center in Richmond and occasional Masses at Thomas More College in Merrimack and Northeast Catholic (formerly Magdalen) College in Warner. Both colleges offer all or most of their Novus Ordo Masses (Latin and English) ad orientem. Bishop Libasci has allowed the Fraternal Society of St. Peter to staff a formerly closed parish (St. Stanislaus in Nashua) with Sunday and weekday TLMs.

    Ironically His Excellency has bi-ritual faculties for the Byzantine rite, whose Divine Liturgy (Mass) is always offered ad orientem!

    1. @Warren Memlib:

      It is high time the term ‘Novus Ordo’ was retired from service. It has no official status and, when used by the Society of St Pius X and others of like mind, is always a pejorative. What’s more, an Order of Mass that is now almost 50 years old and the only one most Catholics under 60 can remember, is not ‘new’ in the sense in which most people understand the word.

  14. I wonder if bishops who ban the chalice have any understanding of the distress they are imposing on the laity who are deeply attached to the “fuller sign.” After all, such prohibitions never affect the clergy; they don’t have to go without. It feels like punishing the children, and we should not be treated like children.

    1. @Terri Miyamoto:
      I tend to view these occasions of arbitrary exercise of power or authority as occasions (“opportunities” may sound insincerely cheerful and partake too much of American self-improvement and self-actualization argot) to be in greater spiritual solidarity with other people lack choices we ourselves have become accustomed to have.

  15. Wanted to comment on your remarks over receiving the Precious Blood and your approach to limiting germ transmission – as a MD I admit I had to laugh…if you think repeatedly rubbing a container of (lets admit it – backwashed) anything with a soiled cloth doing cold and flu season limits viral transmission, you are way off. But as fallible as this particular argument is, it passes over the source of greatest transmission risk that EMOCs and liturgists miss – everyone who receives the cup comes up and grabs it in essentially the same place. Nobody washes their hands prior..whether they have recently sneezed, rubbed their eyes, touched/picked their nose, etc in the last hour. And no EMOC rubs clean the lower parts of the cup (as if that makes a difference). Make no mistake (divine intervention notwithstanding) reception from the cup, is an infection control nightmare. I wholeheartedly agree with the bishop

    1. @tom mctighe:

      So have the Centers for Disease Control ever issued an advisory concerning receiving the Precious Blood from a common cup? (I didn’t think so.)

      Certainly there are some sufferers of OCD who would not even touch a common doorknob in church for fear of lurking pathogens. What’s to be done? Have the ministers of hospitality pass out saniwipes in place of the sign of peace during cold and flu season>

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman:
        It’s not only people with OCD. It’s people with compromised immune systems OR who are caregivers for people with compromised immune systems. You might not notice the care with which they deftly reduce how their fingers touch handles and use of different sanitary things* they stash away and slyly apply out of your quick sight. It’s not about mental illness for everyone, and church ministers would be wise not to treat everyone who might have issues here as if they had mental illnesses. (Full disclosure: I’ve learned this by hanging around elderly and sick folks and their caregivers….)

        Direct or implied hectoring of the faithful to receive from the cup (including trying to make folks feel like they are being disobedient if they don’t) is an excellent example of doing Vatican II or III in a Vatican I way – which means it’s authoritarian, not progressive.

        * My periodic PSA on norovirus to a largely ignorant public: alcohol-based sanitizers are useless, must have a lipid-based soap and friction…and people who suffer norovirus (a good nurses’ slang for which is “throw-and-go”) are most contagious *after* their symptoms abate, so people who are recovering from norovirus should not be going out until at least 2-3 days after they are symptom-free and continue to be cautious as they can still be contagious another couple of days thereafter. (Ignorance of this is why norovirus becomes epidemic so quickly.)

  16. “If you think you are infectious or if you have been in close contact with someone who is, please don’t take the chalice. Christ is entirely present in the host.”
    That should do it.

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