Communion Under Both Species: Anecdotal Demographic Observations

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.


  1. Another anecdote:
    Today I sat at the back of the church because I was attending Mass at a time that I do not usually go, and thought that I shouldn’t take seats from people who are accustomed to a seat in the front (I was there 30 minutes early). When I went to receive I did not take the cup (although I usually do) because there was a line to receive the cup and I just thought it better for me to not make it longer. There are all manner of reasons to do or not do something on a given day that shouldn’t be generalized. I am one of the old people (pre-Vatican II) and for me the cup is important because Jesus blessed and broke the bread, and then blessed and passed the cup. That said, I am also comfortable with one species as long as the cup option is available.

    1. You should know that, unlike Protestant churches, in Catholic churches the prize seating is more typically in the rear, with the front row(s) being the penalty boxes, as it were….

      1. My Lutherans (3 parishes over a 30 year span) tended toward the back. Being in the middle was considered “up front”. Most Sundays the front was sparsely populated, often by the elderly who are limited in mobility, so it was only a few steps from front pew to the communion rail. We Lutherans tend towards using the rail with kneeling being the predominant posture.

    2. I have known of priests to discontinue offering the cup in their parishes because they perceived that few people received from the cup and so it wasn’t worthwhile, or a disregard of the Precious Blood for “so few” to receive. It seems that our choices, as seemingly routine or harmless as they may be, can have repercussions.

  2. Regardless of anecdotal observations about receiving from the cup, Jesus directed his disciples to take and eat, take and drink. I know of no persuasive evidence that widespread opposition to “taking and drinking” began prior to the clergification of the Liturgy in the West. There is lots of evidence that the reception of communion by the baptized has been minimal right up to the VII reforms that quickly led to providing the faithful with the option of “taking and drinking”. In my experience I can only say that lots of people receive from the cup and lots of people don’t. Since there are legitimate reasons for some to refrain I’m inclined to leave it at that. I do know of “trads” who reduce or eliminate the option because of a contrived fear of profanation of the sacramental presence through spillage or other things.

  3. I believe the Cup began to be drawn from the laity in the 13th century so it wasn’t a millennium ago. Even after the 13th century, I have encountered source material in the 14th century indicating that nuns received from the Cup. Permission to administer the Cup was given in Hungary and some German-speaking lands in the 16th century after the Reformation, but unfortunately it did not last.

    And this is interesting. In a male monastery in Austria (I believe it was Admont) the ancient custom on Holy Thursday was for the abbot to administer the Host to all, and the prior to administer unconsecrated wine from one huge cup that the entire village could drink from when the eucharistic Cup was withdrawn. The practice persisted until the 1930s, when the Vatican asked for the abuse to end, since it could cause misunderstanding among the laity.


    1. But how often did said laity typically receive during Mass when the cup could have been offered? At Easter (day/week)?

    2. Right until the 1962 missal, the Ritus Servandus of the Missale Romanum had a rubric (held as long fallen into disuse) instructing the acolyte to administer a mixture of water and wine to each communicant (a purification, but nonetheless). The Ceremoniale Episcoporum also mentioned the practice of drinking unconsecrated wine after the Easter communion. Incidentally, the habit of drinking a purification is still in vogue among several of the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

      Re: withdrawal of the chalice…..Taft had a nice overview piece (I think in his magnum opus on the Chrysostom liturgy) where he debunked several prevailing myths on the withdrawal of the chalice in he West and showed a certain commonality of tendencies in both East and West that manifested in different practices. But even the early Ordines Romani are somewhat unclear on the administration of the chalice to the people (whether it was the consecrated elements, or a kind of ‘consecration by contact’ mixture, or unconsecrated). Just in passing, I think it is interesting that a few scholars, as part of the debate on the use of wine in the earliest Eucharistic liturgies, have even held that because of the costliness of wine, early liturgies may have not used wine as plentifully as later time…..I believe it was the German exegete Joachim Jeremias who felt this is what the term “the Breaking of the Bread” implied.

      From my observation, regular administration under both species seems to be a largely Western (especially Anglophone) practice. The particular connotations of communion under one kind as a ‘signal’ of churchmanship that is so prevalent in the Anglophone world seems to be absent in many parts of Europe, and certainly throughout the developing world.

      1. Wine is expensive and untraditional in much of the developing world, and the crowds at Mass are often formidably large (a Nigerian priest friend tells me congregations are 3,000 on Sundays and 300 on weekdays in his home parish, so it’s not surprising that the cup is impractical to offer. Even in Italy, I’ve heard priests baulk at the cost of communion wine for the congregation. This may be just resistance, but I did once spend three months in a parish in Florence and I was quite surprised at the apparent need to count every penny.

        In the northern missions of the first and early second millennium (Frankish/German lands, much of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia), where there was no local wine production and alcohol was beer and mead, it must have been very onerous to import communion wine. Does anyone know of a study of how it was provided for? I would find it most interesting. Possibly it was not easy in England and Ireland either, when the international trade of the Empire had fallen away to some extent.

      2. Re local wine production in colder climates: raisin wine was, I believe, considered valid matter at times and places. The natural yeasts on the raisins would help with fermentation. (Sugar as we know it would not have been readily available, of course, so it was not the modern raisin wine.)

  4. Interrelated. The elderly tend to sit closer to the front because they tend to arrive early, don’t leave immediately after Communion, are harder of hearing, are less self-conscious, and don’t have disruptive children to attend to. There may even be a tendency for younger generations who sit in the front to refrain from the chalice because they’re highly engaged trads.

  5. Similar observations …
    For well over a decade I have been administering the chalice at Mass, often more then one Mass each weekend in my duty as a Deacon.
    Absolutely yes, the people who sit towards the front are most likely to receive under both species. This however is also true of the people who sit at the very back. I wish I could say it was an “age range’ or some other socio-economic observation but no such luck. Here is what I can state:
    1. Those who sit near the front also seem to be those singing and responding. They also tend to be more “devotional” and focused. Our readers and other ministers seem to always be coming from the first ten rows or so. These can be anywhere from your youngest to our “most-seasoned” parishioner.
    2. Those who sit near the back are by and large involved in some area of ministry already. They may be a greeter, involved in the collection, or be a reader/emHC who is not part of this week’s liturgy. (They got those ‘prized’ seats because invariably they are the ones who arrive early each week!) They too are singing and responding. Almost all of our musicians prefer to receive under both species. Again, it is not age specific.
    Did you ever ask: why, if both species are offered each week, and it is a “fuller sign” of Christ’s presence, do some choose to simply not receive? The answer to that question may tell us something important about parish life and personal faith.

  6. Interesting on age. I would suggest that it actually skips generations:
    Older Baby Boomers: No.
    Younger Baby Boomers: Yes
    My own Gen X generation: No
    Millennials: Yes

    Of course, that’s also speaking from a very Anglo-perspective.
    Pacific Islanders and Asians seem to receive more often. Latinos tend to receive less.

    Of course, this all speaks to when and where they received their formation.

    1. Anybody have a sense of what members of Gen Z/iGen tend toward? I work in college campus ministry, and it has been tough for me to accurately track how many in our congregation take the cup regularly.

  7. In our liturgy, which evolves over centuries, the restoration of the cup 50 years ago is still somewhat recent. During the past several months, I have heard a homily explaining how receiving the Blood of Christ is unnecessary due to the principal of concomitance, I’ve heard second-grade catechists stress that reception from the cup is optional, and I’m told that many parishes on the East coast routinely do not offer the cup to the faithful. Perhaps it is too soon to say if this restoration will last more than one or two generations. Then again, I have also heard a catechist sternly warn her First Communion class not to chew the host because it would “hurt Jesus,” so perhaps we should not assume that parishes are operating from a robust liturgical theology.

  8. As an extraordinary Eucharist minister at Mass and one who has experienced the beauty of the Mass in other countries I have two observations.

    1. The cup runs dry most of the time, so those in back may not have an opportunity or the expectation for the Precious Blood. There may be other reasons personal or faith, but I cannot say.

    2. My wife is from Italy and for her the concept is very foreign. The cup is not offered at the Mass in Italy and when I have also gone to Eastern European countries and joined a Mass, the cup was not offered as well.

    As for observation #2, the reception of the Eucharist is not taken in the hands as well in these other countries.

    I have also observed the wine being divided, but only the Priest’s chalice has water added to it. Does this mean the cup for the congregation are not the Precious Blood?

    Thank you

    1. On your final query: When only a single vessel of wine was consecrated, from which then all the cups/chalices were filled with the Precious Blood, the water added to that single vessel served for all. Now, when multiple chalices/cups of wine are set out at offertory time, the presider/priest can add a few drops of water to each cup, as I do–but I suppose many don’t bother, especially if there are trays full. This has no effect on consecration at all, but some symbolic value is lost (as also happened when we moved from the single vessel).

      1. Putting water in flagon before wine is poured into multiple chalices can solve the problem.
        I was amused to see a liturgical spoon in a museum once that was used to make sure the correct amount of water was added.

      2. @Bruce Janiga
        Back when, in mission territory, a bottle of fortified wine had to last a priest or a parish for a month or more, it was tricky not adding more water than there was wine, thereby rendering the matter invalid. Hence the teeny spoon for the water.
        My chalice came with a spoon–so far unused.

  9. Interesting conversation – this is a brief response to Paul Chandler, Gary Macy has done some historical research on medieval traditions in lands where grape wine is not available (see his “Mediterranean Meals to Go” in Worship)

  10. I don’t know about you but I was taught never to drink from a cup or glass that someone else drank from.

    1. Jesus said, “take and eat… take and drink.” Jesus told us to do it, that’s all the teaching or explanation I need.

  11. Scott Pluff: even during flu season? I’ve had priests tell us not to come to communion or even church if we were sick.

  12. If a congregation receives under both species, what would happen when a lay person distributes the Body of Christ and the presider distributes the Precious Blood?

    It is my sense that the visual of the priest always distributing the Body of Christ, front and center, and lay people with the Precious Blood off to the side speaks volumes on the visuals as to what is important to receive.

    It may not be if or if not there is a cup, but where it is and who is handling it. To the majority of faithful attending, the Precious Blood is seen as an option. …or Communion option B.

    1. If a congregation receives under both species, what would happen when a lay person distributes the Body of Christ and the presider distributes the Precious Blood?

      Indeed, this is what is supposed to happen most of the time, given that the majority of parishes do not have deacons.

      GIRM 284a:

      the chalice is usually administered by a Deacon or, in the absence of a Deacon, by a Priest, [my emphasis]……

      1. In England and Wales the document Celebrating the Mass has this to say about who distributes what ….
        “By tradition the deacon ministers the chalice. Beyond this, no distinctions are made in the assignment of the consecrated elements to particular ministers for distribution. Therefore when a concelebrating priest or priests and other ministers share in the distribution, the elements are not assigned on the basis of any distinction between the ministers, cleric or lay, male or female. All may minister either element. This avoids any seeming depreciation of one or other of the consecrated elements or of a particular ministry.”

  13. Thank you Alan. The visuals of practice speak volumes on this in the United States. Priests are almost always front and center with the Ciborium and Bishops demand it. I believe that speaks volumes to average pew people approaching the table.

    1. In his hymn ‘Sacris solemniis’ for Matins of Corpus Christi, Saint Thomas portrays Christ giving the food of his body as an antidote to those who are weak and the wine of his blood to those who are sad.

      Dedit fragilibus
      corporis ferculum,
      dedit et tristibus
      sanguinis poculum…

    2. Thats is how it actually happens here in the UK too – priest + 1 in the middle with ciborium, lay folk to left and right with chalices.

  14. Wrong word ….. is there a proper liturgical term for the deep dishes that hold the hosts? If there is, I don’t know it.

    1. They are, if they have covers, ciboria, just of the stacking rather than stemmed type. Vs communion plates and patens.

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