Under Both Kinds?

Dear Grace,
Why is it that drinking of the wine (Blood of Christ) is not mandatory during the Eucharist? I am in my fifties and a lifelong Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday and I do not understand why this has never been made mandatory.

I have been attending the same parish and there were times when the Precious Blood was not even offered to the general congregation. I am concerned about this since in the Gospels Jesus says that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless one eats His body and drinks His blood. What does the Catechism say about this?

Yes, it is true that in John 6:53-54, Jesus declares, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Notice, however, that just a few lines down Jesus also states the following: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever (John 6:58). He mentions only the bread (His body) in this verse. The Church came to understand this to mean that Jesus may be received totally and completely under both forms of bread and wine. Otherwise, the Body of Christ would be divided.

It is historically evident from the writings of the early Church Fathers that it was firmly believed Christ was truly present in every particle of the body, or bread, and every drop of the blood, or wine. For example, Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the mid-fourth century, warned the faithful to be extremely careful so that not even “a crumb, more precious than gold or jewels” would fall from their hands to the ground (Catecheses, V, no. 21). His Catecheses does reveal that Communion under both forms of bread and wine was practiced in the early Church, and we also know that later, because of the challenge of the Reformers, the Church was lead to officially declare her teaching that Jesus is present totally in both species.

Responding to the Reformers, the Council of Trent taught that there is no divine precept binding the laity or non-celebrating priests to receive the sacrament under both kinds (Trent, Session 21, canon 1). By reason of the hypostatic union and of the indivisibility of His glorified humanity, Christ is really present and is received whole and entire, body and blood, soul and divinity, under either species alone. In addition, as regards the fruits of the sacrament, the Council clarified that the person who receives Communion under one kind is not deprived of any grace necessary for salvation (Trent, Session 21, canon 3).

The new 2000 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states the following: “Moved by the same desire and pastoral concern, the Second Vatican Council was able to give renewed consideration to what was established by Trent on Communion under both kinds. And indeed, since no one today calls into doubt in any way the doctrinal principles on the complete efficacy of eucharistic Communion under the species of bread alone, the Council thus gave permission for the reception of Communion under both kinds on some occasions, because this clearer form of the sacramental sign offers a particular opportunity of deepening the understanding of the mystery in which the faithful take part” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 14).

So, we see that Communion under both kinds is allowed on some occasions, but it is definitely not required, as Christ is completely present under either form of bread or wine alone.

© Copyright 2004 Grace D. MacKinnon

For permission to reproduce this article, contact Grace MacKinnon at grace@deargrace.com.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: grace@deargrace.com. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.

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