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:

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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 In the case of an epidemic such as swine flu or meningitis, Communion from the chalice occasionally has been withdrawn in the past, but this should not be an issue in a normal winter.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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