Is Communion complete with just the host? What is ‘buying a Mass’?

| Father Kenneth Doyle | April 25, 2014 | 1 Comment

Q. I have noticed that, at Communion, some people will take the host but not drink from the chalice. Is Communion complete when you consume the Body but not the Blood? Also, why do some churches still provide only the host at Communion?

A. From the earliest days of the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist, holy Communion was customarily received under both species — in accordance with Christ’s command to “take and eat . . . take and drink.”

It was only in the late 11th century that it became commonplace for just the host to be distributed. The Second Vatican Council’s extension of the use of both species was, then, a return to the original practice.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is clear in stating in No. 282 that “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species.” But that same document clearly encourages more frequent use of both the consecrated bread and the wine since, in this way, “the sign of the eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident.”

The general instruction, in No. 283, authorizes each diocesan bishop to set norms regarding the use of both species; that same section allows bishops to delegate to a pastor the determination as to when Communion will be distributed under both forms.

Q. I am a member of a faith-sharing group, which is ecumenical. Recently, a question came up with regard to “simony” and “buying a Mass.” Please explain the concept of a stipend being offered for a Mass for a deceased person; non-Catholics (and Catholics, as well) find it confusing. Was not the value of the Mass already purchased by the sacrificial death of Jesus? What, exactly, is being bought?

A. Simony, which is sinful, is the buying or selling of spiritual things. The term takes its origin from the Acts of the Apostles, where (in Chapter 8) a man named Simon the Magician sought to purchase from St. Peter the spiritual power derived from the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Examples of simony would be to seek ecclesiastical promotion through a cash gift or to attempt to bribe a priest to receive sacramental absolution.

Mass stipends are not simony, and there is no such thing as “buying a Mass.” A Mass stipend is a free-will offering given for celebrating a Mass for a particular person or intention. In the early Church, it was often the sole source of a priest’s income and support, and in poorer countries, it sometimes still is.

You are correct that the merits of Christ’s redemptive death are infinite. A Mass intention is simply a plea to the Lord to channel some of those already-gained merits in a particular direction.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law takes pains to avoid the appearance of “buying a Mass” by explaining that the poor are never to be denied a request for a Mass because of their inability to provide the customary offering (No. 945) and by forbidding a priest from keeping for himself more than one Mass stipend per day (No. 951).

Like most priests, I have on a number of occasions declined to accept a stipend because I thought it might be a hardship for the person requesting the Mass intention. (In many U.S. dioceses, the suggested offering is $10.)

Despite these canonical cautions, the misunderstanding persists, and nearly every week a caller or visitor to our parish office will ask, “How much does a Mass cost?” I use that as a teachable moment.

Even in a typical American parish, donors seem to feel comforted by knowing that they have “done something” for the named beneficiary of a Mass.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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