Catholic CornucopiadCheney
The Faith of Our Fathers


The Faith of Our Fathers

XXII. Communion Under One Kind

Our Savior gave communion under both forms of bread and wine to His Apostles at the last Supper. Officiating Bishops and Priests are always required, except on Good Friday, to communicate under both kinds. But even the clergy of every rank, including the Pope, receive only of the consecrated bread unless when they celebrate Mass.

The Church teaches that Christ is contained whole and entire under each species; so that whoever communicates under the form of bread or of wine receives not a mutilated Sacrament or a divided Savior, but shares in the whole Sacrament as fully as if he participated in both forms. Hence, the layman who receives the consecrated Bread partakes as copiously of the body and blood of Christ as the officiating Priest who receives both consecrated elements.

Our Lord says: "I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world. ... He that eateth Me the same also shall live by Me. He that eateth this bread shall live forever." [John vi. 51, and seq.]

From this passage it is evident that whoever partakes of the form of bread partakes of the living flesh of Jesus Christ, which is inseparable from His blood, and which, being now in a glorious state, cannot be divided; for, "Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more." [Rom. vi. 9.] Our Lord, in His words quoted, makes no reference to the sacramental cup, but only to the Eucharistic bread, to which He ascribes all the efficacy which is attached to communion under both kinds, viz., union with Him, spiritual life, eternal salvation.

St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: "Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord." [I. Cor. xi. 27.] The Apostle here plainly declares that, by an unworthy participation in the Lord's Supper, under the form of either bread or wine, we profane both the body and the blood of Christ. How could this be so, unless Christ is entirely contained under each species? So forcibly, indeed, did the Apostle assert the Catholic doctrine that the Protestant translators have perverted the text by rendering it: "Whosoever shall eat this bread and drink the chalice," substituting and for or, in contradiction to the Greek original, of which the Catholic version is an exact translation.

It is also the received doctrine of the Fathers that the Eucharist is contained in all its integrity either in the consecrated bread or in the chalice. St. Augustine, who may be taken as a sample of the rest, says that "each one receives Christ the Lord entire under each particle." [Aug. De consec. dist.]

Luther himself, even after his revolt, was so clearly convinced of this truth that he was an uncompromising advocate of communion under one kind. "If any Council," he says, "should decree or permit both species, we would by no means acquiesce; but, in spite of the Council and its statute, we would use one form, or neither, and never both." [De formula Missae.]

Leibnitz, the eminent Protestant divine, observes: "It cannot be denied that Christ is received entire by virtue of concomitance, under each species; nor is His flesh separated from His blood." [Systema Theol., p. 250.]

As the same virtue is contained in the Sacrament, whether administered in one or both forms, the faithful gain nothing by receiving under both kinds, and lose nothing by receiving under one form. Consequently, we nowhere find our Savior requiring the communion to be administered to the faithful under both forms; but He has left this matter to be regulated by the wisdom and discretion of the Church, as He has done with regard to the manner of administering Baptism.

Our Redeemer, it is true, has said: "Drink ye all of this." But it should be remembered that these words were addressed not to the people at large, but only to the Apostles, who alone were also commanded, on the same occasion, to consecrate His body and blood in remembrance of Him. Now we have no more right to infer that the faithful are obliged to drink of the cup, because the Apostles were commanded to drink of it, than we have to suppose that the laity are required or allowed to consecrate the bread and wine, because the power of doing so was at the last Supper conferred on the Apostles.

It is true also that our Lord said to the people: "Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you." But this command is literally fulfilled by the laity when they partake of the consecrated bread, which, as we have seen, contains Christ the Lord in all His integrity. Hence, if our Savior has said: "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life," He has also said, "The bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world."

It seems to me that the charge of withholding the cup comes with very bad grace from Protestant teachers, who destroy the whole intrinsic virtue of the Sacrament by giving to their followers nothing but bread and wine. The difference between them and us lies in this--that under one form we give the substance, while they under two forms confessedly give only the shadow.

In examining the history of the Church on the subject we find that up to the twelfth century communion was sometimes distributed in one form, sometimes in another, commonly in both.

First--St. Luke tells us that the converts of Jerusalem "were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles, and in the communion of bread (as the Eucharist was sometimes familiarly called), and in prayer." [Acts ii. 42.] Again he speaks of the Christian disciples assembled at Troas on the Lord's day, "to break bread." [Ibid. xx. 7.] We are led to conclude from these passages that the Apostles sometimes distributed the communion in the form of bread alone, as no reference is made to the cup.

It was certainly the custom to carry to the sick only the consecrated Host. Surely if there is any period of life when nothing should be neglected which conduces to salvation it is the time of approaching death. Eusebius tells us that the aged Serapion received only the Sacred Bread at the hands of the Priest. In the Life of St. Ambrose we are told that in his last illness the consecrated Host alone was given to him.

The Christians in time of persecution, confessors of the faith confined in prison, travelers on their journey, soldiers before engaging in battle and hermits living in the desert were permitted to keep with them and to fortify themselves with the consecrated Bread--as Tertullian, Cyprian, Basil, Ambrose and other Fathers of the Church testify.

Moreover, the Mass of the Presanctified, celebrated in the Latin church on Good Friday only, and in the Greek church on every day of Lent, except Saturdays and Sundays, the officiating Priest receives the consecrated Bread alone. [Alzog's Hist., Vol. I., p. 721]

In all these instances the communicants never doubted that they received the Lord's Supper in its integrity. Surely the conscientious guides of the faith would sooner withhold altogether the Sacred Host from their flocks than permit them to partake of a mutilated Sacrament.

Second--In the primitive days of the Church the Holy Communion used to be imparted to infants, but only in the form of wine. The Priest dipped his finger in the consecrated chalice and gave it to be sucked by the infant. This custom prevails to this day among the schismatic Christians of all Oriental rites. In some instances the Sacred Host, saturated in the cup, is given to the child.[Denziger, Rit. Orientales.]

Third--Public Communion was, indeed, usually administered in the first ages under both forms. The faithful, however, had the privilege of dispensing with the cup and of partaking only of the bread until the time of Pope Gelasius, in the fifth century, when this general, but hitherto optional, practice of receiving under both kinds was enforced as a law for the following reason:

The Manichean sect abstained from the cup on the erroneous assumption that the use of wine was sinful. Pope Gelasius, in order to detect and condemn the error of those sectaries, left it no longer optional with the faithful to receive under one or both forms, but ordained that all should communicate under both kinds.

This law continued in force for several ages, but towards the thirteenth century, for various causes, it had gradually grown into disuse, with the tacit approval of the Church. The Council of Constance, which convened in 1414, established a law requiring the faithful to communicate under the form of bread only; and in taking this step, the Council was actuated both by reasons of propriety and of religion.

The wide-spread diffusion of Christianity throughout the world had rendered it very difficult to supply all the faithful with the consecrated wine. Such inconvenience is scarcely felt by Protestant communicants, whose numbers are limited and who ordinarily communicate only on certain Sundays of each month. The Catholics of the world, on the contrary, number about three hundred millions; and as communion is administered to some of the faithful almost every day in most of our churches and chapels, and as the annual communions in every parish church are generally at least twice as numerous as its aggregate Catholic population, the sum total of annual communions throughout the globe may be estimated in round numbers at not less than five hundred millions. What effort would be required to procure altar-wine for such a multitude? In my missionary journeys through North Carolina I have often found it no easy task to provide for the celebration of Mass a sufficiency of pure wine, which is essential for the validity of the sacrifice. This embarrassment would be increased beyond measure if the cup had to be extended to the laity, and still more in the coal regions, where the cultivation of the grape is unknown and where imported wine is exclusively used.[While Protestants consider the cup as an indispensable part of the communion service, they do not seem, in many instances, to be very particular as to what the cup will contain. And the New York Independent, of September 21, 1876, relates the following incident: "A late English traveler found a Baptist mission church, in far-off Burmah, using for the communion service Bass's pale ale instead of wine. The opening of the frothing bottle on the communion table seemed not quite decorous to the visitor, who presented the pastor with a half-dozen bottles of claret for sacramental use."]

It would be very distasteful, besides, for so many communicants to drink successively out of the same chalice, which would be unavoidable if the Sacrament were administered in both forms. In our larger churches, where communion is distributed every Sunday to hundreds, there would be great danger of spilling a portion of the consecrated chalice and of thus exposing it to profanation.

But above all, as the Church in the fifth century, through her chief Pastor, Gelasius, enforced the use of the cup to expose and reprobate the error of the Manichees, who imagined that the use of wine was sinful; so in the fifteenth century she withdrew the cup to condemn the novelties of the Calixtines, who taught that the consecrated wine was necessary for a valid communion. Should circumstances ever justify or demand a change from the present discipline the Church will not hesitate to restore the cup to the laity.

Previous:XXI. The Holy Eucharist: Among the various dogmas of the Catholic Church there is none which rests on stronger Scriptural authority than the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Next:XXIII. The Sacrifice of the Mass: Sacrifice is the oblation or offering made to God of some sensible object, with the destruction or change of the object, to denote that God is the Author of life and death.