By Father Edward McNamara
Rome, 23 June 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is it ever permitted to give a communicant more than one Eucharistic host at a time? The question arose because when taking Communion to the sick in a nursing home, sometimes one of the people who were on the list to receive Communion do not receive for various reasons — physical inability to receive due to an upset stomach, or mental confusion such that they do not recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. Since the Communion distributor does not have a key to return the extra host to the locked church, would it be allowed to give two hosts at once to someone else who can receive? — G.D., Dayton, Ohio
A: I would say that there are no particular norms on this point and that rather a common sense solution can be applied.
While it is customary to give a single host to each communicant, there can be variations according to particular necessity.
For example, if more people turn up for Mass than the number of hosts that were consecrated or reserved in the tabernacle, then the priest or minister could well decide to break the small hosts into two so that all could receive Communion. Likewise, it is quite common for a minister of Holy Communion to use only a small fragment of a host for the sick who have difficulty swallowing.
In such cases Communion should usually be placed directly on the tongue, since once a host has been broken it is easier for tiny particles to fall off.
The underlying theological principle here is that Christ is fully present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in each part of the broken host that is administered as Communion.
If this is true for a broken host, it should also remain true for more than one host. A priest's communion is not somehow more than that of the rest of the faithful because he partakes of the larger host, nor would a member of the faithful be more united to Christ if on some occasion he or she happened to receive two hosts.
There might be a subjective experience in which even a saintly soul might feel mortified at receiving half a host or joyful at receiving two, but there is no difference in the order of grace or of union with God.
Normally, if there are some hosts left over after Communion and there is no tabernacle to reserve them, then the priest would consume them himself before purifying the sacred vessels. There are, however, some situations in which a priest at Mass might opt to give out more than one host to the faithful. An example would be if the Mass is held in a place with no tabernacle and he foresees before distributing Communion that the number of hosts exceeds what he can consume with the necessary dignity and respect for the Eucharist. Another case would be if there is a need to leave the tabernacle empty or almost empty after Mass, such as during Holy Week in preparation for the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, which is celebrated with an empty tabernacle.
In such cases it is better to tell the faithful in advance that they might be receiving two hosts, as it can be a distraction to them if it happens unexpectedly and might disturb the fervor of the moment of receiving Communion. It has also happened that some people think the priest has made a mistake and they attempt to return the extra host to the ciborium.
In hospital and care situations such as those described by our reader, the same rule basically applies. The minister can give two hosts to any other communicant if it is not feasible to return the hosts to the tabernacle. Once more, the person should be told in advance so as to avoid a surprised reaction.
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Follow-up: Giving More Than One Host to a Communicant [07-07-2015]
In the wake of our June 23 column on giving out two hosts in an emergency, a reader asked: “One Eucharistic minister was told by the pastor if any hosts were left after making sick rounds, she could take the host home, and put it in a safe place because she didn't have a key to the church, which was locked by the time she finished making calls. Is this permissible or acceptable?”
The short answer is no. Canon law is quite specific on this point:
“Canon 934 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist:
“2/ can be reserved in the chapel of the bishop and, with the permission of the local ordinary, in other churches, oratories, and chapels.”
“Canon 935. No one is permitted to keep the Eucharist on one’s person or to carry it around, unless pastoral necessity urges it and the prescripts of the diocesan bishop are observed.”
“Canon 938 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.
“§2. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
“§3. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.
“§4. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fitting and more secure place, especially at night.
“§5. The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.”
Although Canon 935, in speaking of “pastoral necessity,” and Canon 938.4 might appear to give some leeway, and perhaps this is what the pastor was thinking of, I would say that it is not really a good solution. In this case there is no real pastoral necessity that requires the host to be outside a tabernacle during the night, and the secure place referred to in the other canon means more secure than the tabernacle itself, a situation that is unlikely in a private residence.
Therefore, some other solution is necessary, either assuring that all the hosts are consumed as mentioned in the previous column or else assuring that there is someone to open the church and tabernacle when the visits to the sick have concluded.