ROME, 29 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)
Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the
Regina Apostolorum university.
Q1: I am a religion teacher at a primary school in the United States.
Right now we are learning about the sacraments, particularly about the
Eucharist. My students (ages 10 to 11) have asked me many times why the
"wine" is not offered to children, even when they are serving at the
altar as acolytes. I assume that the prohibition to drink alcohol in the
United States until you are an adult has to do with it, but as my son
once told a friend who is a priest, it is not wine
it is the Blood of Christ. Is there any rule or policy regarding
distributing the "wine" to children, other than the same pastoral reason
for which it is not distributed to the whole congregation, for the sake
B.L., Key Biscayne, Florida
Q2: In our own church, at busy Masses we have the habit of having one
Eucharistic minister going down to the back of the church in order to
distribute Communion. Personally I would much prefer to see Communion
distributed from the step of the sanctuary. I was wondering if the
rubrics have any guidelines on the matter. I find distribution at the
rear of the church leads to a big crowd of people clustering around the
minister and making reception of Communion look a bit of a mess.
J.McE., Dundalk, Ireland
A: Unless there are specific diocesan policies, I know of no general
rule excluding children from receiving the Precious Blood.
Certainly in most Eastern Churches, which always administer Communion
under both species, even very small children receive the Eucharist in
this manner. Many of these Churches distribute the two species together,
directly to the mouth, using a special spoon.
Although I am unaware if the question has been legally tested in the
United States, I doubt that there are serious legal concerns regarding
distribution of the Precious Blood to children.
If the U.S. Supreme Court can justify admitting the use of an illegal
hallucinogen to a specific group in the name of religious freedom, then
a few drops of what is apparently an alcoholic beverage is unlikely to
muster a challenge.
Of more concern is the possibility of an adverse reflex reaction to wine
on the part of young children unused to its strong taste, especially
when the most common form of distribution is directly from the chalice.
It is also more likely that children could drop the chalice.
This difficulty can be remedied by initiating children to Communion
under both kinds under the form of intinction in which a corner of the
host is dipped in the chalice and placed directly upon the tongue. This
allows them to gradually become accustomed to the taste as well as
obtaining the spiritual benefit of receiving both species.
It has the added advantage of introducing them to the possibility of
receiving the host on the tongue in places where receiving on the hand
has not only been permitted but has become the only option explained to
Regarding the manner of distributing Communion, No. 160 of the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (U.S. version) says:
“The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the
communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession.
“The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the
sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to
another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the
United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy
Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed
pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the
reasons for this norm.
“When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head
before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of
the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either
on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant.
When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence
is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.”
The expression “as a rule” means that this is the best option. But it
does not exclude other possibilities if logistical difficulties make it
impractical for all to approach the presbytery or sanctuary in a
reasonable lapse of time.
However, other solutions should always ensure a dignified approach to
Communion and the possibility of making a suitable act of reverence
including kneeling in those countries where the bishops' conferences
have not specified another habitual form of reception (as is the case of
Italy and most other countries).
Going to the back of the church, as our reader has noticed, can lead to
disorganization. This makes it easier for hosts to fall and for people
with evil intentions to steal a sacred host.
Therefore, in conclusion, it is best that all communicants approach the
presbytery area to receive Communion, even from several ministers. If
this is not practically possible, then I would suggest using side altars
as suitable distribution points. If there are no suitable side altars,
then I suggest setting up temporary fixed spots for distributing the
Eucharist at which the minister of holy Communion remains in place while
the faithful approach him or her.
If possible, this place could be slightly elevated above the floor so as
to make administration easier for the minister and facilitate the
possibility of kneeling to those faithful who choose to do so.
* * *
Follow-up: Precious Blood for Young Children [8-26-2008]
Related to our July 29 reply on giving the Precious Blood to children, a
reader asked about the proper place for distributing Communion to
He asked: “It is the practice in our parish for the celebrant to give
Communion under both kinds at the side of the altar to the server (who
may also double as assistant in distributing Communion to the
congregation) or, if there are a number of Communion assistants, to them
all, also at the altar. Is this correct? It is also the practice to give
Communion from the chalice only to individuals from the congregation
who, presumably, have requested this because of a problem with gluten?”
Following the Gospel principle that the “last will be first,” I will
tackle quickly the second question and affirm that it is correct to
offer the chalice alone to those who for a good reason cannot receive
Regarding the first question, the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal, No. 162, says: “The priest may be assisted in the distribution
of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests
are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the
priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, e.g., duly
instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for
this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable
faithful for this single occasion.
“These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has
received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the
priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy
Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.”
This number does not explicitly address whether the extraordinary
ministers may receive Communion near the altar after the priest’s
communion. But I think that this is a logical conclusion as it would be
cumbersome for the priest to give them Communion somewhere else and then
return to the altar to distribute the sacred vessels. It is also
appropriate that these ministers receive Communion before distributing
it to others.
It is not necessary that servers who are not extraordinary ministers of
holy Communion receive near the altar. But there could be good practical
reasons for proceeding in this manner and it is not forbidden.