Communion From the Tabernacle

It happens all the time. During the ‘Lamb of God’, a minister goes to the tabernacle and places on the altar a ciborium full of hosts which are distributed during communion.

To be fed with the Body of Christ from the tabernacle and not from what was consecrated at the Mass being celebrated breaks the connection between sacrifice and communion. There can be no communion without sacrifice, and this is symbolised most clearly when we receive communion from what we ourselves have offered.

At Mass we offer ourselves along with the gifts of bread and wine to be blessed by God and broken for the life of the world. This is not enacted when we share communion from what was offered by a different group of people at another time.

As we do what Jesus did at the Last Supper, our celebration of the Eucharist makes Christ’s sacrifice present to us here and now. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it, broke it and gave it to his disciples to eat. Christ did not produce a plate of pieces of bread he had blessed earlier and pass it around. How can we claim to be ‘doing what Jesus did’ when we routinely give pre-consecrated hosts to people?

The reason for reserving the consecrated bread is twofold – to provide communion for the housebound and for the purpose of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. It is not to provide a supply of hosts to service several Masses.

The clearest statement of the Church’s teaching on the importance of communion from bread consecrated at the same Mass was made in the 1973 Roman Ritual Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass:
“Sacramental communion received during Mass is a more complete participation in the Eucharistic celebration. The truth stands out more clearly, by force of the sign value, when after the priest’s communion the faithful receive the Lord’s body and blood from the same sacrifice. (#13)

This teaching is reinforced in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of 2000: “It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass … so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.” (# 85)

I was interested to read a strong condemnation of the practice of distributing communion from the tabernacle by Robert Taft SJ, emeritus professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. In a recent article he says:
“Distributing Holy Communion during Mass from hosts already consecrated at a previous Eucharist was totally unthinkable in the early Christian East and West. The reason for disapproval is obvious to anyone familiar with Eucharistic theology. The dynamic of the Eucharist is one continuous movement, in which the community gifts are offered, accepted by God and returned to the community to be shared as God’s gift to us, a sharing of something we receive from God and give to one another – in short, a communion.”

With such strong theological, symbolic and historical arguments against the practice, why do so many people continue to accept being given communion week after week from hosts that were consecrated at a previous Mass?

Elizabeth Harrington