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Celebrating the Communion Rite  
Todd Williamson and Jennifer Kerr Breedlove  
   

On June 10, the Church will celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Prior to 1970, the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Most Precious Blood were observed separately. Pope Urban IV extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the universal Church in 1246 during a time when few received Holy Communion. Pope Pius IX instituted the celebration of the feast of the Most Precious Blood in the middle of the nineteenth century to emphasize the saving power of the blood of Christ. The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is observed with eucharistic processions and opportunities for adoration. The celebrations focus on bringing about a stronger sense among the faithful of the importance of the Eucharist in our lives of faith.

The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is an opportunity for parishes once again to commit to further develop in the community the full, conscious, and active participation called for in the celebration of the Eucharist. Parish leadership or liturgy committees might review how the Communion Rite is celebrated in the parish. Is it celebrated with joy and reverence in a dignified manner that makes it obvious that receiving the body and blood of Christ is at the very heart of our Christian lives?

Parishes that do not distribute Holy Communion under both species might want to re-examine that. It has been more than 20 years since the faithful in the United States have been receiving Communion from the chalice, responding to Jesus' command to "take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant . . . ." And so, in memory of him, we do as we are commanded: coming together on the Lord's Day, the body of Christ gathers for the eucharistic banquet, and we receive the cup of salvation. In memory of him, we drink from the chalice, receiving the blood of Christ, the new covenant through which God redeems, saves, and makes us his own. In memory of him, we receive the cup into our hands and, in so doing, we commit ourselves to living in imitation of him. In both memory and imitation of him, we receive the cup-the image Christ used in referencing the heart of his messianic mission, the sacrifice he made on the cross, asking, "can you, too, drink from it?" (Matthew 20:22). In receiving from the cup, we commit ourselves to living lives of self-sacrifice for others.

With the offering of the Precious Blood to the faithful in Communion, other ministers are needed to assist the priest. To help facilitate this, the Church has authorized bishops to mandate trained extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

Receiving and Offering the Cup
When the priest or the deacon offers the cup, the extraordinary minister responds, "Amen," receives the cup, and drinks from it. This is a profound act of faith. The document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States, notes that "the communicant's 'Amen' is a profession in the presence of the saving Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, who now gives life to the believer" (#15). After receiving from the cup, the extraordinary minister wipes the rim of the cup with the purificator, and, with the cup, proceeds to the assigned station. To avoid confusing the communicants, who may think the minister has a plate of consecrated bread, the extraordinary minister of the cup might wait a few steps away from the assigned spot until the consecrated bread is in place.

Be sure to leave enough space between the stations where the body of Christ and the blood of Christ are received. This will help alleviate any back up of communicants, where those waiting to receive from the cup are blocking those who have yet to receive the body of Christ.

Extraordinary ministers of the cup noticing that the procession has slowed because of communicants waiting for the cup should move to make more room. After a communicant has given back the cup and before the next communicant in line approaches, take a step away from the person with the body of Christ. The next communicant in the procession will most likely understand what the extraordinary minister is trying to do and will follow.

In offering the cup, be sure to hand it completely to the communicant. If the communicant wavers, or seems unsure of whether to receive the cup, an extraordinary minister could give some gentle direction.

Remember that not all communicants will drink from the cup. Extraordinary ministers should not give the impression that all should receive from the cup. The extraordinary minister is a servant (in imitation of Christ, remember) who responds to the needs of others. No judgment is made on those who do not receive from the cup. The Church always has understood that Christ is completely and totally received in either of the consecrated species alone.

Wiping the Cup
After reaching the assigned place, the extraordinary minister should unfold the purificator. This will allow full use of the cloth. (Note that the purificator is, indeed, a cloth. Purificators that are made of anything other than cloth are not permitted. There are no disposable purificators.)

After a communicant has drunk from the cup and returned it to the extraordinary minister, the rim is wiped with the purificator, inside and out. The cup is turned a quarter turn before offered to the next communicant. The purificator should be turned in the hand each time as well, so that a clean area is used after each communicant has drunk.

If some of the Precious Blood should spill out of the cup, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water and the water poured into the sacrarium (see GIRM, #280). Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be well-acquainted with the procedure in their parish for when this happens or for when a piece of the consecrated bread is dropped. (Extraordinary ministers should immediately pick up and consume dropped hosts.) By knowing the procedure beforehand, the extraordinary minister can respond with a calm reverence.

Self-intinction, where a person receives the consecrated bread but instead of consuming it immediately approaches the Precious Blood and dips, or intincts, it into the cup, is not permitted (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, #104). To avoid confusion, be sure that the whole parish is aware of this.

After the Communion procession has ended, the extraordinary minister should place the cup on the altar or credence table. Any remaining Precious Blood must be consumed. Extraordinary ministers may drink the remaining blood with permission of the diocesan bishop. If an extraordinary minister cannot consume what remains of the Precious Blood, assistance of other extraordinary ministers, the priest, or deacon should be requested.

Purificators should be refolded and placed on the credence table for later washing. Avoid stuffing the purificator into the empty cup.

Purification
In October 2006, the Holy See did not renew the temporary indult given to the bishops of the United States to allow extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to assist in purifying the sacred vessels. This indult had been given in 2002 for three years. Since the indult was not extended, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not purify cups and other Communion vessels. Extraordinary ministers should be sure of the practice of their parish concerning the placement of the Communion vessels for purification. They should also be aware of any practice regarding the further washing of communion vessels after they have been purified. The indult cited above only concerns the ritual act of purification of the vessels. It does not affect the custom by which many parishes wash the vessels with soap and water after Mass.

Music during the Communion Rite
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal specifies that the Communion song should begin while the presiding priest receives the sacrament and continue "for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful" (#86). The same article also cautions, "Care should be taken that singers, too, can receive Communion with ease." This can create something of a logistical conundrum for music ministers regarding when and how to receive Communion while also serving the assembly through the entire Communion Rite.

When the music ministry at a liturgy consists solely of a cantor and organist/pianist, options are limited. If the organist and cantor were to receive at the beginning of the Communion procession, the music would be delayed while the priest and extraordinary ministers receive Communion. This distorts the clear intention that the music for the Communion Rite starts at the beginning of Communion. It also could give the impression that the reception of Communion by the priest and ministers is a separate part of the rite, rather than a seamless piece of the whole. The Communion Song, then, should be announced (if necessary) and begun immediately following the assembly response, "Lord, I am not worthy. . . ." An added benefit of starting the song at the beginning of the rite, as the GIRM specifies, is that a verse or two of the Communion song may be started while most of the people are still in their places. With the song or refrain already upon their lips, they more likely will sing in the procession and after returning to their places.

The only logical time for the cantor and organist's reception of Communion, then, is at the end of the procession. Coordination is important, so that one bread minister and one cup minister know to wait for the musicians to finish the Communion song. The cantor and organist can receive immediately following the song and at the beginning of the time of silent private prayer (GIRM #88) after all have received.

For liturgies where a choir is present in addition to the organist/pianist and cantor, there are more options, although working with any of them will take coordination and planning. As with any other liturgy, the song should begin while the priest is receiving. A possibility is for the cantor to start the song with the choir and for the choir to go to Communion by sections or altogether, while the cantor maintains vocal leadership. Once all choristers have returned to their places and taken up the song with full voice, the cantor has the option of leaving the microphone to receive Communion. In parishes with vibrant assembly singing, this can be done when there is no choir; the cantor brings in the people on the final refrain and leaves the microphone as the assembly continues singing. (What a powerful message and affirmation of the importance of the assembly's voice and the true role of the cantor in empowering the song of the people!)

If your choir sings from a loft, you might consider inquiring whether members of your choirs feel called to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. If so, they could go to the altar with the extraordinary ministers and bring Communion directly to the choir. While this will not change the logistics appreciably, it will ensure that none of the singers or instrumentalists need to travel far and will permit more flexible pacing of the rite for your group without training a non-musician regarding the music ministry's needs and the pacing of the music.

If your ensemble has instrumentalists in addition to the keyboard, especially guitars, the instrumentalists can take turns supporting the singing while the others receive Communion; the guitarist and bassist can receive while the piano supports the sound. Once they return and take up playing, the pianist can leave the instrument to receive. Alternatively, a musically beautiful and effective technique, particularly with a full four-part choir, is to invite all to sing the final refrain a cappella, thus enabling instrumentalists to receive Communion and allowing the assembly to hear its harmonically embellished voice unsupported by instruments.

Following reception of Communion, the option is offered in the GIRM, #88: "When the distribution of Communion is finished . . . a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation." It should be noted that in no place in the General Instruction or any other document is there the option of a "Communion meditation" or other choir-only piece of music; this is clearly intended to be a moment of congregational song, if a song is to be offered. Parishes incorporating this option find it a successful alternative to the recessional hymn that has become common practice in most places but is not specified in any document. The psalm, canticle, or hymn is still part of the Communion Rite and draws together all gathered in a moment of communal praise and thanksgiving before being sent forth into the world to be the body of Christ.

Ministering at more than one Mass on a Sunday often is a concern to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Sometimes, for example, in addition to serving a Mass at which they have been scheduled, an extraordinary minister is asked to fill in for an absent minister at the following Mass. The law of the Church allows a member of the faithful to receive Holy Communion twice in the same day "only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates" (C. 917).

Extraordinary ministers serving at a second Mass should participate in the whole eucharistic celebration. That is, extraordinary ministers should not be absent from the Mass, appear to distribute Communion, and leave again. The extraordinary minister is to participate fully and actively in the entire Mass.

Catechesis regarding receiving from the cup, and Holy Communion in general, can always benefit the faithful. The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a perfect opportunity for such catechesis. Parishes might include articles or inserts in the bulletin for that Sunday. The topics of these articles or inserts could be any of the various elements of Holy Communion, and could be approached from a number of standpoints: the theology of the sacrament, the spirituality of the Eucharist, the liturgical celebration of the Mass, etc.

During the week before or after the solemnity, parishes might schedule an evening of formation and prayer in regard to Holy Communion and especially Communion under both species. A mystagogical walk-through of the Communion Rite, including commentary or catechesis on all aspects-prayers, music and hymnody, ministers involved, postures, and gestures-would help to further develop appreciation and understanding of the Eucharist, the liturgical celebration and the full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful.

Of course, such an evening could also serve as further ministerial and formational development for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. This might be the occasion for renewing the diocesan mandates of the extraordinary ministers and for ritually celebrating their commitment to this liturgical ministry (cf. Order for the Commissioning of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, chapter 63, Book of Blessings).

"Let us pray (for the willingness to make present in our world the love of Christ shown to us in the eucharist). Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (Alternative opening prayer, solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Roman Missal).

D. Todd Williamson
is the director for the Office of Divine Worship of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons 2007, LTP.

Jennifer Kerr Breedlove,
a Chicago area liturgical musician, conductor, cantor, and composer, serves as Director of Music Ministries at St. John of the Cross Parish, Western Springs, IL.

 
         
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