Recently, while teaching Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, I was asked by my students about the prevalence to blood-imagery in that work and how this might be connected to receiving the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. They were somewhat surprised to learn that a laywoman like Catherine would never have received the eucharistic cup, and that the option of receiving from the cup for the laity was only restored after the Second Vatican Council, following a hiatus of nearly a millennium. For them, it was something that they simply took for granted, though they noted that in their experience it was a relatively small minority of people who availed themselves of this option.
I commented to the students that I had noticed, as someone who administers the cup at several Masses on a weekend, that the closer people sat to the front of the church, the more likely they were to receive from the cup. One student likewise noted that in her experience it tended to be older people who received from the cup and she wondered if young people were more germ-conscious.
I have been thinking about these two bits of anecdotal data.
With regard to the correlation between seating and reception from the cup, I suppose the obvious explanation is that those who both sit near the front and receive from the cup are somehow more actively engaged in the liturgy. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that they are those who are more inclined to give their engagement outward expression. Or perhaps those who feel an impulse to be as close to the altar as possible, just like the priest, want to receive from the cup, just like the priest.
With regard to the correlation between age and reception from the cup, this was something that had not really struck me before, but does seem to ring true to my experience. I don’t think that young people are more germ-conscious (after all, it’s not like germs are a recent discovery, and in my experience older people worry more than the young about getting sick). It seems more likely to me that the correlation is with generational cohort rather than age. That is to say, those who came of age in the decade following Vatican II saw the option of receiving from the cup as part of a wave of reform and renewal that restored to the laity things that had been denied them, not unlike the vernacular restoring a more immediate intelligibility to the liturgy. Maybe it’s simply that nothing makes something more desirable than being denied it. Younger people, who have never been denied the cup (or, if it has been denied, it has been on grounds of utility or hygiene and not clerical privilege) find less significance to receiving under both species as a sign of the dignity of the laity. Or perhaps it is simply that with the passage of time enthusiasm for this particular reform has waned among clergy and catechists, and young people as not being encouraged in this practice as a part of their formation.
This obviously is all anecdote and speculation (that is, after all, what blogs are for), but I would welcome the anecdotes and speculations of others.