Question about a Roman Rite liturgical practice

As a priest with an academic assignment, I rather frequently find myself in new liturgical assemblies on the weekend, each of which has its own particular method of celebrating the Roman Rite. Thus I experience communities who mark the epiclesis and the showings of the newly consecrated bread/hosts and cup/wine during the Institution Narrative with ringing of bells or sounding of what appears to be a metallophone, while still other communities have no corresponding auditory signals. I experience communities who vest their music ministers in “choir robes” (usually black, red, or blue), others in albs (with or without cinctures), and still others who do not vest their singers and/or instrumentalists. Similarly I experience communities who vest their acolytes in cassocks (black or red) and surplices, others who vest them in albs, and still others who do not vest them at all.

Since one of my principles is to try simply to fit into the ritual pattern established for Lord’s Day worship in these varying communities (unless something so egregious occurs that it might impinge upon the validity of the celebration), I never impose my own preferences in cases like the ones listed above. I do find it interesting that a minority of worshipers discover or impose meanings on the practices mentioned above: in each case the first is seen as the most “conservative”, the second “middle of the road”, and the third “liberal.”

Recently I have experienced a practice in some of the communities to which I’ve been assigned that is new to me, namely the provision of a small paten with a single largish host and a chalice holding only enough wine and water for the priest’s use designated for the priest/presider in isolation from the other eucharistic breads/hosts and wine. While I don’t think this practice invalidates the Mass being celebrated, I wonder where the practice comes from and what reasons are adduced for introducing it. Steeped in a eucharistic theology that makes much of the symbolism of one bread and one cup at eucharist, I would see no need for a separate paten and chalice for the priest/presider; in fact I might go so far as to say that doing so strikes me as an embodiment of the clericalism against which Pope Francis inveighs. On the other hand, I seem to remember an argument that the priest must commune from elements consecrated at the Mass over which he presides; perhaps supplying eucharistic bread and wine separate from the congregation’s guarantees that the priest will follow that precept.

I invite Pray Tell readers to tell me how common this practice is in their own communities of worship and what reasons are given for introducing or maintaining it.


  1. In my parish (a cathedral) the large ‘priest’s host’ is placed in a large paten together with the small hosts. At communion time the priest breaks the large host into several pieces which are given to the first few people to come up for communion. This practice avoids the appearance that the large host is ‘reserved’ for the priest.

  2. Unfortunately, the former pastor instituted a *celebrant* chalice after more than 40 years of doing the opposite.
    And yes, it supported his theology of clericalism – I am separate and above – ontologically different.
    IMO, it is a symbol of division.

    1. There’s another widespread “clericalizing” practice that always bothers me, and I consider that its effect may be all the more regrettable and deep for being subliminal. That is for there to be reverential silence for the celebrant’s communion, with the singing (or other music for the Communion Procession) beginning when there is movement of the sacrament towards the lay people. This is not just a personal insight, the Roman Missal clearly instructs: “While the Priest is receiving the Body of Christ, the Communion Chant begins.” That singing, and its procession, should thus unite the mutual communion of all orders and functions present.

      (Relatedly, is there any reason why the communion procession itself mustn’t start until the celebrant and other ministers, if present, approach the “people,” as though giving them permission to come to the Lord’s table now that Father is finished?)

      1. I think this practice of not beginning the communion song until after the celebrant has received is abetted by the practice of some celebrants of saying the words at their own reception (May the Body/Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”) aloud (usually changing “me” to “us”). I find this practice annoying and never respond “Amen.” It would send a quite different message if the music started immediately after the congregation said “my soul shall be healed.”

  3. The only positive reason I recall for a celebrant-alone chalice that was visually distinct was for communities that offer the Blessed Sacrament under both species to the faithful in general, as an extra form of assurance that the chalice with the Fraction did not inadvertently end up being offered to faithful with celiac disease. That’s not the only way to assure that, of course, and normally said chalice is not very distinct visually from the rest.

  4. When I was selecting my chalice before priestly ordination, I deliberately chose one that could be used for the communion of the people. I don’t carry it round with me, but it’s kept in the sacristy of the church I most often say Mass in (fellow academic priest checking in) and the sacristans always put it out for me.

    The custom in my religious community is to choose a chalice from our “Aladdin’s cave” of dead priests’ chalices and then family members pay for it to be refinished and add an engraving (I don’t know, but I presume other arrangements are made if a seminarian’s family are unable or unwilling to do this). As a religious who is in the medium term living outside of a house of his community (for doctoral studies) and whose nearest blood relatives are even further away, using this chalice is an important part of connecting me to my families (of origin and of vowed commitment) when saying Mass. It keeps me grounded and makes me feel less of an ‘independent contractor.’ All of that said, I completely agree with you on the strange symbolism of not then sharing that chalice with at least some of the people I’m praying with at that moment.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly, but in every parish in which I have presided, that is the practice. I used to have my own personal chalice, but no longer. I can’t believe how many parishes use large amounts of previously consecrated hosts for distribution of Communion. I do not use a paten with the “large host” on it, but insist that the “large host” is put into the one large ciborium. I see the importance of Karl’s point about the separate species for those with celiac disease, though.

    I agree that clericalism can be seen in that priest’s separate Eucharistic vessels.

  6. When I was ordained, Communion from the cup was not yet allowed on Sundays. I had a chalice designed that was large and prominent, so as to better signify the one cup, but could be easily handled by concelebrants. It was not in competition with other Communion cups, since there were none. I still use that chalice today, since it still has more sign value than the paltry ones used for the congregation. Again, I use it for sign value, rather than as “Father’s special chalice.” I doubt that any in the assembly are troubled by its use.

    I also wonder if some today may be overreacting in their zeal to root out signs of clericalism. The liturgy rightfully makes an effort to use signs that by their fullness better signify. Thus the priest reads prayers from a beautifully bound missal, while he could read from one of the assembly’s missalettes. I don’t see this as clericalism, any more than the use of the presider’s special chair or his liturgical vesture.

    1. Father Larson: Long-time fan, first-time responder. (Thanks for all your many great articles in the Progress of yesteryear. I miss them.)

      When I moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest about 20 years ago, I was shocked to discover so many parishes doing as Father Joncas described. I did my best to root it out (quite successfully!) at a few parishes where I had worked. I personally was always troubled by it, and when I saw it, I spoke up, made my case, and all of the parishes switched right away.

      Maybe I saw it as clericalism, but mostly I assumed it was more an historically sequential thing, as you described it, and presiders probably never pondered how it appeared “from the other side.” Personally I was offended, but probably because I came from the Midwest where I had never seen this custom, and I (right or wrong) assigned a meaning to it.

      I value a large enough enough “main chalice” that the entire assembly can see it. But let’s also remember the other post-GIRM change: pre-filling all of the chalices during the preparation of gifts, instead of a flagon of wine. This also changed how this action could be seen and understood.

  7. I received my liturgical formation from Benedictines. I was taught that the practice of a “special” host and chalice for the priest traces its origins to the prevalence of private Masses of priests offered for the deceased. During those times there was virtually no consciousness of the importance of an assembly of worshippers nor of liturgical roles distributed among the faithful. The sole purpose of the Mass, it appeared, was the consecration of the priest’s host and chalice. Few, if any people who might be present, received communion and if some did the priest simply reached into the tabernacle (right in front of him) to give to them. What we know clearly even from the texts of the Mass is that Jesus took some bread, broke it, and shared it with his friends, and he did likewise with the cup of wine. If this action is indeed the privileged manner of recalling the paschal ministry, its character as a sacrificial banquet that anticipates the supper of the lamb should be clearly evident and not obscured by rubrical idiosyncrasies of the priest.
    Some of the people at every Mass I offer with them partake of the One Bread and the One Cup. That’s what I experienced at St. Meinrad nearly fifty years ago and it’s what I have done ever since.

  8. The only time I use a separate chalice for myself as presider is if I have an infection from which I wish to protect other communicants. The larger host comes in the ciborium along with the others. If I’m presiding and presented with a host on a separate paten then I add it to the main ciborium and put the paten to one side, unless I’m aware that to do so would cause offence to the community.

  9. From what I have seen, this is the approach that is being taught in (most? all? many?) seminaries. That, and other developments, presage a return to extreme clericalism.

  10. I honestly don’t see what is with all this fuss over a priest using a separate chalice (and maybe a paten) for his own communion. Redeptoris Sacrementum 105 states that “if one chalice is not sufficient for Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, there is no reason why the Priest celebrant should not use several chalices.” Many beautiful chalices, new and old, are too small to practically use for communion of the faithful at Sunday mass. This practice is the norm in my parish and elsewhere in my area, though few would consider either of my parish priests or the parish at large as being particularly traditional.

    Quite frankly the accusations of clericalism in this practice is a bit odd. At mass priests have different prayers, different rituals, and different vesture so why not different vessels? Both priest and laity have their own proper roles at the Mass, and it’s a fool’s errand to think downplaying or even eliminating these distinctions will do anything to solve clerical abuses.

    On the subject of Pope Francis, I will just point out that he himself communes from his own chalice at virtually all masses he celebrates.

    1. A practice can be clerical without the person doing it necessarily having an arrogant or haughty attitude toward the laity. Ritual actions convey meanings apart from the subjective attitude of the person doing them.

      While the priest and laity clearly have distinct roles in the liturgy, I would think that here particularly, when the assembly is partaking of “this sacrifice that is mine and yours” (meum ac vestrum sacrificium), that you wouldn’t want to make a distinction.

      Also, I wouldn’t necessarily look to Pope Francis for ideal liturgical practice.

      1. “Also, I wouldn’t necessarily look to Pope Francis for ideal liturgical practice.”

        Fair enough (God love him), I merely bring him up because the article mentioned that a celebrant-only chalice could be read as opposing Pope Francis, even though the Holy Father appears to use one on a literal daily basis.

      2. Probably it’s nitpicking, but while we all make and partake of the same sacrifice, the presiding priest is the only one who doesn’t receive Communion, but rather takes it. So in that sense he partakes differently from everyone else.

  11. The bells are part of the Tridentine Mass. GIRM says bell can still be used. It specifies “a small bell” (singular). Though places I’ve encountered it usually use a device with three or four bells. And though unprescribed it is rung not only at epiclesis and both elevations but also as the priest communicates from the chalice. Not sure where this last one came from unless it was a signal to the people that they had fulfilled their obligation. Prior to new code of canon law you fulfilled obligation if you made it by the gospel and stayed until the priest took communion. I find it becomes a distraction, especially for the person whose job is to ring it. They can be too worried about when to ring it that they can’t fully focus on the EP.
    For some, a bell that was previously a call to look up as something significant was happening has now become a gesture of reverence for the Eucharist. Similar to those who bring out torches and incense for the elevations.
    Not sure where red cassocks for servers come from. I thought only cardinal wore red. In my parish they wear black mostly but red at Christmas and Easter. But no one can tell me why. My previous assignment had servers in albs. For children this seems a good choice as sometimes they don’t
    wear clothes that would be considered “Sunday best”. But our adult funeral servers come in business wear and no one has complained.

    1. You are incorrect. The manualists held that you made your obligation if you were at Mass at the lighting of the Sanctus candle at the Offertory which was after the gospel (and sermon if there was one).

      And it has nothing to do with the new code vs. old code of canon law – which does not address this. Liturgical law was generally left out of the code as it was much more comprehensive than the decretals, etc.

  12. If one follows the rules and breaks a fragment of the Host into the Chalice which is then used for reception under both kinds, this makes reception rather messy as the particle sticks to the edge and sometimes gets mangled up. Pity the priest or deacon who has to consume the result. A separate chalice for the priest obviates that.

    The alternative might be to omit the commixture altogether …


    1. After several decades of receiving from a communion from a shared chalice that the presider uses with a fragment of the host, I can safely say, that with 100s of Masses per year and 1000s of communicants per week, this has been an issue literally 0 times.

  13. Apart from the practice of co-mixture being traditional, would someone care to provide an explanation that would make good sense to the faithful?


      “The practice of dropping a piece of consecrated [host] into the [chalice] may have started because of the ancient Roman custom oithefermentum. Christians in the suburbs could not always travel to Rome for Eucharist. So when the bishop broke the bread before Communion, he would set aside a piece for each missing group. A minister brought this fermentum to each place later, where the priest would drop it into the chalice to be swallowed-and most everyone drank from the [chalice] in those days. Thus the bishop’s Eucharist ‘fermented’ this celebration….”

      “Priests began imitating the pope by breaking off a piece of the [host] just consecrated. Some then explained this as a sign of Christ’s Resurrection. A body without blood is dead, but when Christ’s body is ‘reunited’ with his blood, Christ is risen. This gesture also continues to this day, being preserved probably because it is so ancient a custom.”

      1. I realize that it is an ex post facto explanation, but I have found that the idea that the placing of a bit of the host into the chalice symbolizes that it is the resurrected Christ we receive seems to make a kind of intuitive sense to people. It certainly makes for sense to them than the actual historical explanation.

    2. I explain that this act in displays the unity of the living, resurrected Body and Blood we recieve. We do not receive the dead Christ in Holy Communion where His Body and Blood were separated. The fragment of the Lord’s Body mixed with his Precious Blood symbolizes receiving the glorified, unified Body and Blood of Christ of which we are members.

    3. Probably the practice came in history when the bishop sent part of his consecrated Bread to the assemblies nearby as a sign of unity.

  14. So we believe that the body and blood, soul and divinity of the risen Christ is present in each of the consecrated elements, but we need to place a fragment of the one bread into the one cup to affirm that? I will wager you wouldn’t be able to find many Catholics who would be aware of that and probably not many priests either. Those small personal “priests’ hosts, in the meantime, obscures the far more important practice of breaking a host large enough to share with some communicants.

  15. I agree that not many would see the commingling as a sign of Christ’s resurrection, nor as a “reunification” of Christ’s body and blood.

    I have always understood that the practice was originally a simple symbol of ecclesial unity — showing that other celebrations were physically as well as metaphysically united with the pope’s own celebration, and thus the participants were in communion with the pope. In that respect, talking about bishops “fermenting” another celebration seems to be nothing more than fanciful.

  16. I’ve know diocesan priests who, when offering Mass using their own chalices, elected not to use their personal chalices to distribute the Precious Blood to the faithful so that they wouldn’t have to replate/repair their chalices anywhere near so often. Their own (often quite beautiful) chalices would be replated out of their salaries; the parish’s (often relatively plain) chalices get replated out of the parish budget.

  17. I have become quite disillusioned as of late myself. It seems that many reforms are simply sliding away. Our diocese has been sending seminarians to the Josephenum in Ohio exclusively. As we have few to begin with, their highly traditional approach to liturgy has been felt quite strongly. Fiddlebacks and lace galore, personal priest’s host, black at funerals, bells, cassocks, birettas, almost sole use of Eucharistic Prayer I, and one that truly irks me, moving the tabernacle to the sanctuary. We had at one time also stood for all of communion but that was changed by our previous bishop, and what a difference in participation that has made. Mantillas are on the rise, people kneeling to receive communion – and one that baffles me, people in the back cutting in line to receive communion first, then going back and praying… as in they didn’t need to leave early for work. Some may argue that they are small points, but when they have been adding up, it becomes very discouraging. This is only the beginning and will be getting worse as these priests move from associate to pastor status.

    1. If it is resulting from or occurring as part of conversion–as some of these things (kneeling, mantillas, and requests that Padre use the Roman Canon) often are–then it should be occasion for joy, not discouragement. Someone else is turning to the Lord. The outward practice helping that along is different than mine: not important. The Spirit doesn’t follow our agendas, be they neo-Tridentine, back-to-the-80s, ROTR, “charismatic”, or something else entirely.

      1. Sean, some self awareness on this “minority who is trying to push their agenda on others” might be in order. It’s not just traditionalists that do this. I can give several examples from my own relatively brief parochial experience where a visiting priest, or even a new pastor came into a parish and ordered us to put away our altar bells, use the old RM 1970, or even chastise people who kneel during the Liturgy of the Eucharist or receive on the tongue (the last few in flagrant violation of the GIRM, unlike all of the things you mentioned earlier). To echo Ben’s comment, even if you don’t prefer their style of worship, be glad that it leads them to the Lord anyway.

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