“The body/blood of Christ” vs. ***** [crickets]

Yesterday I served at one of the early morning Masses as the USCCB meeting and, as was the case last year, most of those present were concelebrating bishops.

What struck me this year, which for some reason did not strike me last year, was how odd it felt at communion simply to hand the cup to the communicant without a word (as one does with concelebrants). I know that the concelebrants are mirroring the principal celebrant’s way of receiving communion, signaling, I suppose, their status as “co-presiders.” But I found myself wondering if it did not also signal an odd sort of clerical (or priestly) privilege: the get to “take” communion, while everyone else “receives” it.

This led me to reflect further on the importance of the brief dialogue engaged in by minister and communicant—“the body/blood of Christ.” “Amen.”—to the whole experience and symbolism of communion. Somehow this exchange heightens for me the connection between Christ as substantially present in the Eucharistic elements and Christ as “ecclesially” present in the Eucharistic assembly.

I think there are lots of possible ways in which we might rethink our practice of concelebration in light of the experience of the past 50 years (e.g. Is it really good to divide up the different parts of the Eucharistic Prayer among concelebrants? Should concelebration be limited to the number of priests who can decorously stand around the altar?). One possible change that I would suggest is that concelebrants receive communion, not take it for themselves, as a reminder to all who minister of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

14 comments

  1. FWIW, while I’ve noticed this, it’s never struck me nor am I yet persuaded that this is a problem needing resolution, nor smacking particularly of clerical privilege as such.

  2. Likewise on Karl’s point. Additionally, I’m not sure the dialogue is so necessary for the reception of Communion. As with Baptism, the sacramental act of reception is preceded by a meaningful formula. Several, in fact. The exchange of consent is an important part of the Nuptial liturgy, but for the other sacraments … ?

  3. In the distant past even the Bishop of Rome received the holy gift before distributing to others. No one is above the gracious reception of the Lord. Perhaps that is something else to consider reinstating, just so that when the question, “How come?” is asked, the respondent would be able to remind the questioner that before the Lord we are all equal.

  4. In some regions in earlier times it was seen as problematic for a priest (even as the President of the liturgy) to take Communion himself and not have it administered to him by another priest. See the discussion in the late sixth century Persian Canons of Mar Išo’yahb I (available in Lawrence J. Johnson, Worship in the Early Church: An Anthology of Historical Sources (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, A Pueblo Book, 2009), Volume 4: pages 224-225).

  5. I am not much a fan of concelebration but if a priest does concelebrate then he is a celebrant and not just a communicant. Thus it is proper for him to “take” rather than “receive.” Perhaps we should look again at the question of concelebration and explore the distinction between a truly sacramental concelebration and a merely ceremonial concelebration. In the latter case the concelebrants are not true celebrants and it would be proper for them to “receive.”

    1. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
      Robert Taft wrote an essay many years ago (“Receiving Communion—A Forgotten Symbol?”) in which he argued that the practice of the first millennium, as far as we can know, was that all, including the celebrant, “received” and none “took.”

      I do think it all seems more incongruous when the “concelebrants” are filing up in a communion line from the front pews, looking an awful lot like lay members of the assembly (albeit vested ones).

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        What takes priority? The theology and action of the eucharist which at its core would be break bread, receive, and go on mission or the legal model in which clerical ordination takes precedence. (wonder if that legal approach really only pertains to the presider – not concelebrants).

  6. The “reception” is in the gesture of handing the cup over to someone else, as much as in the words “The Blood of Christ” “Amen”. What is odd is to perform the gesture but without accompanying it with the words that would naturally go with it.

    An alternative, for true non-reception, is to leave the cup on the altar, and each concelebrant in turn picks it up by himself.

    Last weekend I receined communion by intinction. We had the dialogue “The Blood of Christ” “Amen” but the priest was simply holding the cup without any gesture, and I was the one who dipped the Host into the cup. It also seemed a bit odd — because there was a disconnect the other way: the words were there, but not the gesture.

  7. I rather enjoy the following formulae, if only because they are prayers and not just tautologies:

    “The body of Christ which was given for thee preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

    “The blood of Christ which was shed for thee preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

  8. That according to the rubrics the concelebrating priests TAKE the consecrated bread and wine instead of RECEIVE them is pure clericalism. In the Lutheran liturgy also the presiding pastor is receiving the eucharist, because an assistent reaches him paten and chalice.

  9. Actually, in the Lutheran Service Book Liturgy the Presider can commune himself, though certainly a large majority of us are communed by an assistant. I communed myself first in my pre-retirement parish. Now when I fill in I tend to follow the local custom.

    We Lutherans do not concelebrate, which I would urge our separated brethren in Rome to consider as well…..

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