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Reader Question: Why Do Catholics Receive Only the Host?

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  • A reader writes:

    Why do Catholics only receive the host and not the wine during Holy Communion? I watch Mass on television and never see Catholics receive anything but the host.
    During Pope Benedict's visit to the United States next week, as many as 100,000 Catholics will receive Communion during the televised Masses at Washington Nationals Stadium on Thursday and Yankee Stadium on Sunday. And the reader is right: If you watch those Masses, you'll see all of those Catholics receiving only the consecrated Host--the Body of Christ.

    The Church teaches that, at the consecration, when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, Christ is present "body and blood, soul and divinity" in both species. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:

    Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace. For pastoral reasons this manner of receiving communion has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite.

    The "pastoral reasons" referred to here are both the ease of distribution of Communion, particularly to large congregations, and the protection of the Precious Blood from profanation. Hosts may be dropped, but they are easily recovered; the consecrated wine, however, is more easily spilled and cannot easily be recovered.

    The Catechism goes on to note:

    But "the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly." This is the usual form of receiving communion in the Eastern rites.

    In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church (as well as in Eastern Orthodoxy), the Body of Christ is immersed in the Blood, and both are served to the faithful on a golden spoon. This minimizes the danger of spilling the Precious Blood (which is largely absorbed into the Body). Since Vatican II, a similar practice has been revived in the West: intinction, in which the Host is dipped in the Chalice before being given to the communicant. And in the United States, Communion under both species (in which the communicant receives the Host and then drinks from the Chalice) is allowed for pastoral reasons, and some churches do take advantage of that concession.

    If you have a question that you would like to have featured in our Friday "Reader Questions" series, send me an e-mail at catholicism.guide@about.com. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

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