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“Ask a Priest: Is It Sufficient to Receive Communion Under One Species?”
Q: My Lutheran friends, a minister and his wife, are debating with me and insist that the reception of Holy Communion must be under both species. They assert that when Jesus said, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he meant not only the priest should receive the Eucharist, but the faithful also. The reason this debate began is because in my parish, where a new pastor arrived, the wine is no longer served. Upon research, I found that within the 2,000 years of the Church’s history, the distribution of the Eucharist has been modified as time when by, for various reasons. Lutherans contend that receiving the Holy Eucharist under only one species is not following Our Lord’s command, hence, Catholics are not adhering to Christ’s teaching. Is there a valid clarification I can give them? Thank you. – D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: In the early 15th century Jacob of Mies, a professor in Prague, promulgated the idea that the partaking of both the host and the chalice at Communion was of absolute necessity for salvation. He cited Christ’s words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).
The belief came to be known as Utraquism (from the Latin sub utraque specie, “in both kinds”).
In response, the Council of Constance (1414-1418) raised to the level of dogma the point that Christ is fully present under each species. The Council of Trent reaffirmed this teaching in the 16th century.
The basic reason for this teaching is the hypostatic union (a theological term used to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the divine and the human) and the indivisibility of Jesus’ glorified humanity.
In simpler terms, Christ himself is not divided. So, those who receive the consecrated host receive the full Christ. Likewise those who receive only from the chalice receive the full Christ.
One reason the Eucharist is sometimes distributed at Mass under both species is to make the sign of the sacrament more readily discernible. But it isn’t essential for the laity receiving Communion.
There is, of course, a more important difference between Catholics and Lutherans over the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the bread and wine change completely into the body and blood of Christ, a process known as transubstantiation.
Lutheranism believes that the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present with the bread and wine, a process that has been called consubstantiation. Lutherans themselves tend to call it sacramental union.
Now, it’s unlikely that your friends will be won over by the content of this answer. But I offer it here to help you realize that the issue of Communion under both species was decided on by the Church a long time ago.
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