Something caught my eye in Paul Inwood’s recent post on Communion under one form in Manchester, New Hampshire. Bishop Libasci has decreed that the chalice be withdrawn and Communion be given under only one form throughout Advent and until Holy Thursday. Treating “the doctrine of concomitance … vis-à-vis the admonition that receiving Holy Communion under BOTH forms is a ‘fuller sign’,” the bishop writes this:
It is my contention that our belief in the concomitant Presence of Body and Blood must be reiterated in these days. Our people need to know what we believe and hold as truth and, in this matter, the truth is greater than the “fuller sign”. Therefore to receive under ONE Form is a true reflection of our true doctrine. (emphasis in original)
Anytime anyone plays off “truth” against “fuller sign,” alarm bells should go off. Thomas Aquinas would be horrified, I’m sure, at the claim that “truth” is greater than “sign” when it comes to sacraments. He held it to be Catholic truth that sacraments work precisely by being signs.
Pray Tell reader Neil Xavier O’Donoghue put me on to the excellent 1963 study by Fr. James Megivern, C.M., Concomitance and Communion: A Study in Eucharistic Doctrine and Practice. With great clarify and command of the sources, Megivern traces how the Church arrived at the doctrine of concomitance (which of course he affirms) in interplay with its Eucharistic practice.
Herewith, a summary of Megivern.
In the first eight centuries (5ff), communion under both forms was the norm. When Manicheans withdrew the chalice and called for use of bread alone, Pope Leo called this abuse sacrilegious fakery (7), and Pope Gelasius called it superstition and great sacrilege (7-8). Exceptions were allowed (for example newly baptized infants receiving Communion solely under the form of wine) when there was no danger of doctrinal error. Other exceptions were Viaticum at the moment of death (14ff) or home Communion (17ff) – but such exceptions were only outside the liturgy of Mass, not within the liturgical celebration. And in the case of home Communion, so strong was the commitment to both forms that the practice in some places was to consume the reserved sacrament under the species of bread along with unconsecrated wine (18f).
The standard practice of drinking from a common cup was first altered by the introduction of intinction. But note, our first evidence of this practice, from seventh century Spain, is when the Council of Braga condemned the innovation (26).
In the 10th and 11th century, reception of Communion was becoming very infrequent (34-35). At a time when Communion under both forms was still the norm, the practice of intinction spread, although this was not permitted at Rome. (35) Pope Paschal II (d. 1118) wrote to the Abbot of Cluny to condemn strongly the practice of intinction because it is the command of the Lord that Christians “take” the Body and “take” the Blood of the Lord as separate acts. When Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) decreed that “The Body of the Lord is not to be taken without the chalice” (36), this probably indicates that the abuse was beginning to arise, hence the need for the decree.
William of Champeaux (d. 1121) contributed greatly to the development of the doctrine of concomitance (38). He considered it heretical to say that Communion must be received under both forms. As Megivern observes, this is as far cry from Pope Gelasius, who wrote that “Division of one and the same mystery cannot come about without a great sacrilege.” But significantly, William believed that Communion under both forms should be continued.
As the chalice began to be withdrawn, it was probably inevitable that some would ask whether anything was being lost. Achard of St. Victor (d. 1175) answered as follows: “Under either species both the Body and the Blood are received. There is no Body without Blood, nor Blood separated from the Body. But perhaps some grace is conferred under the sign (sacramento) of bread which is not conferred under the sign of wine, and indeed, perhaps under both signs some things are given more strongly under one than the other” (46). But not all theologians agreed, then or later.
By the 13th century, Communion under one form was the general rule in parishes, but with many exceptions (48). Eventually, the chalice came to be forbidden in many places. But interestingly, the “ablution chalice” was used, in which lay people shared in a common cup of unconsecrated wine. Megivern wonders how many laity grasped the distinction between this and sacramental consecrated wine (49).
Thomas Aquinas believed in concomitance, but in the context of his emphasis on the unity of passio and refectio, of sacrifice and communion meal. For Aquinas, as Megivern puts it,
“the consecrated bread does not contain Christ’s blood as he gave it, as he instituted it, as the drink of the faithful; hence it is not contained by reason of the sacrament but because of something in another order, viz., the natural unity of his body and blood” (215).
At the risk of becoming a bit technical: Aquinas denied that bread is changed into a bloodless body, but affirmed that it is changed into “body-without-the-blood-as-given-to-be-drunk-by-the-faithful” (216). For Aquinas, the starting point for understanding concomitance is not the doctrine of the presence of the whole Christ, but rather the nature of the sacrament as instituted by Christ.
Because of his starting point, Aquinas held that Communion under both forms is the ideal,
“since it is as both food and drink that the Eucharist is given for the use of the faithful” (so Megivern, 220-221).
For Aquinas, Communion under one form is not an ideal, but a concession. Megivern summarizes,
“If the peril of spilling did not exist, Communion would unquestionably be under both forms, since this is its integral form.”
Bonaventure had argued that Communion under both forms might lead to denial of the doctrine of concomitance. Aquinas knew of this argument, but significantly, he did not include it (222). For Aquinas, the doctrine of concomitance was not a reason for changing the form given by Christ and employed by the Church for at least eleven centuries.
The Council of Trent avoided the question of whether more grace is given under both forms, but simply affirmed the minimum necessary for orthodoxy, when it stated that nothing necessary for salvation is lost in the reception under only one form (234). Theologians were later to claim that Communion under one form gives the “fullness of fruits” but not the “fullness of sign,” but Trent avoided this formulation and left the question open. Megivern summarizes,
“The Council had no intention of claiming Communion under one species as the ideal” (254).
The majority of bishops at Trent had no objection to conceding the chalice to those who requested it, but they were swayed by objections such as those of the anti-Protestant King Phillip II. Though some bishops wanted to condemn the use of the chalice, the Council did not, and Pope Pius IV granted a partial concession of the chalice to Bavaria and nearby lands (247). But alas, use of the chalice came to be a marker of enemies of the Catholic Church, and the concession was not to last. Soon, in the context of Catholic-Protestant animosity, the doctrine of concomitance was given a new task, a polemical reason to reject Communion under both forms.
After this lengthy journey through history, Megivern’s conclusion is weighty:
“At no time has the Church in her official teaching or in her best theologians ever considered Communion under one species as the ideal” (254).
And this (emphasis in original):
“The Church today, as in the time of the Apostles, in the teaching of Aquinas, and in the doctrine of the Council of Trent, still sees Communion under both species, as instituted by Christ, as the unquestionable IDEAL that she strives for when extrinsic factors do not constitute an excusing cause” (256).
Except in New Hampshire?