By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — As many restrictions put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted, some Catholic dioceses around the country are returning, or already have returned, to offering consecrated wine in the chalice for Communion while others are waiting to do so.
Some dioceses lifted this restriction in June particularly for the feasts of Corpus Christi or Pentecost.
Most recently, the archbishop of New Orleans announced that parishes could once again offer the Communion cup.
Father Nile Gross, director of the New Orleans Archdiocese’s Office of Worship, announced the decision in a Nov. 25 column in the Clarion Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper, by saying: “The long hiatus is finally over!”
He said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond “formally removed any restrictions on the offering of Communion under both kinds in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Effective immediately, parishes may reintroduce Communion from the Precious Blood from the chalice. Some parishes already may have begun the practice.”
The priest said the decision was made “with due diligence and with the support of local and state health officials. The health of the local community is among his (the archbishop’s) highest priorities.”
He also pointed out: “Not every parish may be ready to resume this practice, which is understandable. Some parishes never offered Communion from the chalice before the pandemic. Some pastors and pastoral councils may feel it is better to wait until after the flu season or some later time when fear and anxiety of the past few years has waned. The decision is a pastoral decision to be weighed by each individual parish.”
He stressed that even in parishes that offer this option, it is a personal decision to receive the Communion cup or not.
But he said Catholics in the archdiocese should “look at this as a precious gift.”
“The opportunity to receive the Blood of Christ at Mass connects us directly to the apostles, who received the chalice directly from Christ himself,” he explained. “It connects us to great saints throughout history who did the same.”
In the nearly three-year absence of the use of the Communion chalice, he reminded local Catholics that the consecrated wine “may not be offered in separate cups (plastic, paper, etc.) to individual communicants. If fear of illness exists, that person should refrain from the chalice.”
He also said intinction, dipping of the Communion host into the chalice, is only allowed for the clergy. “The lay faithful,” he said, “may not dip their hosts into the chalice themselves, as this is considered ‘self-communication,’” which the church prohibits.
Father Gross said the announcement on the return of the Communion cup “marks an important moment in the life of the archdiocese.”
“COVID happened and continues to pose serious health threats,” the priest said. “However, guided by prayer and the guidance of health officials, Archbishop Aymond has decided it is time to strengthen our liturgical life in this important gesture.”
The week before the New Orleans announcement, the bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, made a similar statement.
In a Nov. 12 letter to Catholics in his diocese, Bishop Michael G. Duca said that in order to “make a full return to our normal celebration of the liturgy,” he had told diocesan pastors that he encourages and allows “parishes to restore the practice of distributing Communion under both kinds beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, if the ministers and congregation are prepared to do so.”
The bishop said receiving Communion from the cup was still voluntary and that each parish could join in when they were ready.
He said parishes can move at their own pace “taking into account the time needed to prepare the lay ministers and the current desires and willingness of the people to receive, once again, from the chalice.”
Bishop Duca also took the opportunity to remind Catholics that “while receiving from the chalice is for many a spiritually meaningful experience, it is not necessary to receive the fullness of Christ in holy Communion. As always, receiving from the chalice when offered is an optional choice for the individual communicant. ”
The bishop said there may be challenges with reinstituting this practice but he did not think they would be insurmountable.
He said he hoped that with this final restriction removed, parishes could begin to return to spiritual and liturgical traditions in place before the pandemic.
While some bishops have not yet made a formal announcement lifting the restriction, others did so this summer, particularly for the start of three-year eucharistic revival in the United States.
Bishop David J. Bonnar of Youngstown, Ohio, announced in June that parishes in his diocese could begin offering the faithful consecrated wine on Pentecost, stressing that he made the decision after consulting medical professionals.
He pointed out, as other bishops also did, that the decision to resume this practice “isn’t an order. Parishes will decide whether to serve wine from a chalice at all Sunday Masses and other celebrations.”
A question-and-answer page on the diocesan website stressed that the “act of receiving holy Communion is an act of faith. The person makes this act of faith in the total presence of the Lord whether in receiving holy Communion under one form or under both kinds.”
The headline of an Aug. 15 column in America magazine by Terence Sweeney, adjunct professor of philosophy at Villanova University in Philadelphia and theologian in residence at the Collegium Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It’s time to bring back receiving Communion from the chalice.”
“Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have been missing that something,” he wrote. “Withholding the chalice was a worthwhile precaution (even if there is little reason to believe drinking from the common cup brings a high risk of contracting COVID-19).”
He said that as previous pandemic restrictions are being lifted, “the time has come to reconsider this sacramental restriction.”
Sweeney said many people have “continued, legitimate concerns about COVID-19 and will make decisions about their own health.”
“Nevertheless, as we open society, we should not leave the chalice off limits,” he continued. “At many parishes, after Mass you can now grab a doughnut from a tray, pick up a Styrofoam cup of coffee and chat with fellow parishioners. But you cannot receive the Precious Blood.”
But not everyone feels this strongly about returning to Communion from the cup.
In the Sept. 6 “Ask an Apostle” section of U.S. Catholic magazine, one question was: “My parish has the chalice back at Mass and it makes me uncomfortable because of COVID-19. I do not think it safe. What can I do about this?”
Teresa Coda, who works in parish faith formation in Pennsylvania, wrote that in response the question writer could simply not receive Communion from the cup or could contact the pastor or parish council if the concern was for the health of all parishioners.
This summer in the Pittsburgh Diocese, there were mixed feelings when Bishop David A. Zubik announced June 24 that the diocese would allow each pastor to determine whether the Communion chalice should be reimplemented during Mass.
An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review daily newspaper quoted a pastor who said parishioners had not asked for the return of the chalice and
another who said parishioners were very happy about its return.
Diocese spokeswoman Jennifer Antkowiak told the newspaper that Bishop Zubik “had been getting a lot of emails and messages from parishioners who really wanted to see (the cup) reinstated” and that after his announcement there had not been any major concerns raised from local Catholic community.
She said most people viewed the decision as a “sign of hope.”
No matter what steps dioceses are taking, the suspension of the Communion chalice and its reinstatement for some has been a period for explaining the significance of Communion in both forms in bishops’ letters and on diocesan websites.
Father Dustin Dought, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, explained earlier this year to the National Catholic Reporter what the church says about Communion in both species.
He said that since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has emphasized that while the distribution of both host and wine “more fully expresses Christ’s gift of himself at the Last Supper,” the fullness of sacramental grace is present in each form.
“When it comes to the sign, the sign is less full, the expression is less full,” without both forms of Communion, he said. “But when it comes to grace, there’s no deprivation of grace” without the Communion cup.