Putting water and a piece of host in the chalice

Q. Like your recent correspondent we are in the final stages of preparing children for their First Communion. Two questions are being asked: Why does Father pour some water into the chalice and why does Father put a piece of the consecrated host into the chalice? My understanding is that adding the water signified our sharing in the divinity of Christ - or is it the addition of the consecrated host? Which is the commingling?

A. In Jesus’ day, the Jews followed the Greek practice of diluting wine with water to make it palatable. This custom will have been followed from earliest times at the “Breaking of the Bread”, as the Eucharist was then called.

After some time, people began to look for a theological explanation of this custom which had very practical origins. Theologians in the East said that the mixing of water with the wine represented the two natures of Christ, with the wine pointing to his divinity and the water to his humanity.

In the West it was said to symbolise the union of Christ and the baptised. The words said by the priest or deacon from the Roman Missal indicate this:
“By the mystery of this water and wine
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Sometimes the addition of water to the wine is also explained as representing the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ on Calvary.

The term “commingling” refers to the priest breaking off a piece of the Host and dropping it into the chalice. Its origins are complex.

Originally, there was only one Eucharist in each city on Sunday. The entire Christian community gathered together with an apostle or one appointed in his place (a bishop). As Christianity spread, it became physically impossible for all to gather for one celebration and different Masses began to be held throughout the area. The bishop appointed priests or presbyters to preside over these gatherings.

To maintain the connection to the bishop's liturgy, a small portion of the host consecrated by the bishop was taken to each of the other Eucharistic celebrations over which priests were presiding. This piece was called the fermentum, a Latin word that means leaven. It was placed into the chalice and "commingled" with the wine.

In our liturgy, we no longer receive a piece of the bishop's host for each celebration. Instead the priest (or bishop) breaks off a small part of the larger host used at that particular Mass and places it into the chalice saying quietly as he does so:
"May this mingling of the Body and Blood
of our Lord Jesus Christ
bring eternal life to us who receive it."

The commingling rite is sometimes explained as symbolising the Lord's resurrection. In death, body and blood are often separated; in life they are united.

For finding answers to questions such as these, “The How-To Book of the Mass” by Michael Dubruiel and the website http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/ are very useful.

Elizabeth Harrington