More on Communion under Both Forms and Concomitance

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 Bishop Libasci has decreed that the chalice be withdrawn and Communion be given under only one form throughout Advent and until Holy Thursday.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?




  1. Well, if you focus on Eucharistr as a sacrifical offering, you can get away with any travesty of interpretation. But if you regard Eucharist as a communal meal in which memories are shared and thanksgiving offered, then doe it make sense to say ‘here’s the food, but there’s nothing to drink’ And if thi were to be the case, we should omit the second half of the Institution Narrative as being irrelevant. According to Liberation Theology, ‘theology has to be relevant in the lives of the people, otherwise it is just verbiage’. Perhaps Libasci is planning to jump on the Burke band wagon and try to turn time backwards.

  2. If the bishop wanted to teach the doctrine of concomitance a pastoral letter would have been enough.
    This smacks of a certain loveless kind of parenting where things are withdrawn from children so they learn the value of them.
    It’s not teaching, it’s control.

  3. The Lord did not say “Take and sip,” though the chalices are barely half filled in nearby parishes and their contents consumed before all have the opportunity to partake. That is the rule for ordinary Sundays. On the more solemn days when the gatherings are larger (when we would expect a more generous table spread), our parishes switch to concomitance. I extend my observation to masses at which the pope presides during his world travels, when concomitance is again the norm. Why is kitchen convenience allowed to overrule so often the vision of abundance of which scripture speaks?

    1. @Paul Schlachter:
      Re papal mega Masses – I believe the issue has to do with risk (of spillage) rising in proportion with distance to be traveled by ministers of Communion (especially in outdoor areas where ground surface is not regular).

      Then again, were I Pope, mega-Masses would be something I’d love to ditch, because I believe they of necessity too intermediated by technology to be the kinds of FCAP assemblies envisioned by the conciliar liturgical reforms.

  4. In Saint Thomas’ hymn Sacris solemniis, the final two stanzas of which (Panis angelicus) are better known than the rest of the hymn, there is a beautiful couplet which states that Jesus gave the food which is his body as a remedy for those who were weak and the drink which is his blood to those who needed cheering up.

    Dedit fragilibus corporis ferculum
    dedit et tristibus sanguinis poculum.

    While the Manchester faithful may be weak, clearly their ordinary judges that there is no sadness among them .

  5. I’m puzzled as to why “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk 10:9) is an imperative, but “Drink from it, all of you” (Mt 26:27) is not.

  6. Thank you and thank the good Vincentian – like Vincent DePaul, educating not only laity but also focused on the parish priest and on-going education (for Vincent this meant retreats for parish priests and teaching Council of Trent documents on proper/appropriate liturgy, sacraments, etc.)

  7. Again another example of the ignorance of the shepherds regarding liturgical practice throughout the ages. When will we get m ore bishops who are grounded like Augustine and Ambrose and not ignorant like Burke or Manchester.

  8. If there’s one thing I have learned with regard to those who often boast about safeguarding the sacred is their readiness to embrace minimalism. We might spread germs, withhold the cup. We might spill the Precious Blood, withhold the cup. Too many communion ministers might obscure the privileged role of clergy, withhold the cup. Mass takes longer with both species, withhold the cup. The doctrine of concomitance must be upheld, withhold the cup. Every Catholic knows that they are receiving the whole Christ whenever they must or choose to receive under the form of bread. What every Catholic is less sure of is why it is imperative that under most circumstances we are to take and eat and take and drink. In normally offering communion under both species these past forty years we have earnestly taught how important this is. Yet some call for stepping back. Sad.

  9. I presume the good bishop demanded that the presiding minister receive in one form also – following the same reasoning?

  10. I think it’d be interesting to examine the practice of the Eastern rites of the Body and Blood of Our Lord being placed on the tongue via a golden spoon.

    If I were pope, I would institute distributing the Precious Blood via a fistula – at the altar rail, of course. More hygienic to have the Precious Blood dropped into your mouth through a straw. I think most people pass on receiving the Precious Blood out of hygienic concerns rather than theological reasons.

    1. @Jay Edward:
      I have distributed the Holy Eucharist at our National Youth Gathering, of some 15,000, one of 40+ stations and we used the chalice exclusively and it went fine. I understand the “mega-Masses” but we Lutherans have some 500 recent years of experience, if you don’t count the last 50 when some of us wanted to be “like those Presbyterians” and went to the dastardly little plastic cups. In my last parish, I purchased a pouring chalice so that the Blood of Christ was administered from a chalice. I did have another Deacon administer my altar chalice for those wishing to commune that way, and he regularly and very judiciously replenished it from the flagon on the altar (the remnants of which were always reserved). It can work!

  11. Could it be that the New Hampshire bishop has been noticing that there are too many “alls” receiving the cup and not enough “manys” partaking. The Alice is treated as the red headed step child and the importance has been symbolically enforced. I go to a lot of Masses, never once have I seen the presider distribute the from the chalice. The Church speaks volumes as to how expendable the Blood of Christ can be treated by this move alone. Learned people who see this as a troublesome devolpment quoting Aquinas are a gift to the people who say, “well if I get the host” I’ll be OK. I suspect the majority of New Hamshire Catholics who heard this rule were not phased and met it with the theological stance of “whatever.” It is the Church talking to itself and if the Bishop wants growth, challenge the people to have at least one aquantance of theirs as “why are you so kind and merciful?” From Advent 1 to Holy Thursday. Then the Chalice will be missed…by the many.

    1. @Ed Nash:

      I go to a lot of Masses, never once have I seen the presider distribute the from the chalice. The Church speaks volumes as to how expendable the Blood of Christ can be treated by this move alone. Learned people who see this as a troublesome devolpment quoting Aquinas are a gift to the people who say, “well if I get the host” I’ll be OK.

      And don’t forget GIRM 284: “the chalice is usually administered by a Deacon or, in the absence of a Deacon, by a Priest, or even by a duly instituted acolyte or another extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or by one of the faithful who, in a case of necessity, has been entrusted with this duty for a
      single occasion”

      In other words, if you don’t have a deacon, it’s the priest who needs to do it. I know several priests who from one Mass to the next vary their practice so that the people don’t know in advance if they will be ministering from the paten or from the chalice on one side or the other. This helps people to focus on the elements they are receiving, rather than on the person who is ministering to them, and acts as a good counterbalance to those who switch lines so that they can receive from Father.

      NB: This also means that if you have a deacon, he should always be ministering at one side from the chalice, not in the centre from the paten, standing next to the priest. This paragraph reminds us that the deacon is “the ordinary minister of the chalice”.

  12. 17 Paul Inwood.

    My typing is bad on my entry …should say Chalice instead of Alice, oops.

    And it should also say “ask” instead of as toward the end.

    But to your response Paul, thank you for your note on distributors. I think it is that visual that your ministers are addressing that will hopefully give pause to the importance of the gesture of distributing Communion. The visual is strong.

  13. Paul Inwood :NB: This also means that if you have a deacon, he should always be ministering at one side from the chalice, not in the centre from the paten, standing next to the priest. This paragraph reminds us that the deacon is “the ordinary minister of the chalice”.

    I almost always administer the chalice, while the priest and an EMHC administer the hosts. This past Sunday the priest was sick so I administered the hosts in his place; I was struck by how infrequently I do this.

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