In recent weeks I have had several inquiries about the permissibility or otherwise of people receive communion by taking the host and dipping it in the wine before consuming it.
This practice is technically known as intinction. It is one of the forms of receiving communion under both kinds referred to in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. However, the way it must be done is strictly set down: "Each communicant, holding the paten under the chin, approaches the priest who holds the chalice. At his side stands a minister holding a vessel with the consecrated particles. The priest takes a host, dips part of it into the chalice, and, showing it says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant responds, Amen, and receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest." (GIRM 2000 #287)
It is the priest who takes the host and dips it into the consecrated wine, not the communicant. Liturgical law makes no provision for people to serve themselves communion. Receiving communion is not an individual, private affair. The tradition has always been to receive, not to take, communion.
When people were allowed to choose communion in the hand, it was explicitly stated that “it is never permitted to place on the hand of the communicant the Host that has been dipped in the Lord’s Blood”. Communion in the hand therefore effectively precludes intinction as a way of receiving communion.
Some people may believe that intinction is a more hygienic way of receiving the precious blood than drinking from the chalice. In fact, more germs are probably spread by communicants dipping bread that they have handled into the cup from which others will drink. The practice also introduces particles of wheat into the consecrated wine, endangering those coeliacs who cannot tolerate any gluten and who can receive the Body and Blood of Christ only from the cup.
But, why not play it safe? Why is drinking from the cup so important? It has to do with the sacramental sign. These signs open up the mysterious and wonderful action of God in our midst. That is why we want to make our signs strong – so that they will bear the weight of the mystery they contain. And this is why we are invited to share communion under both kinds in the first place.
The General Instruction states that: “Holy Communion has a more complete form as a sign when it is received under both kinds. For in this manner of reception a fuller light shines on the sign of the Eucharist banquet.” (GIRM 2000 # 281) Now the eucharistic sign is not just the bread and the wine. The sign is eating the bread and drinking the wine together at the Lord’s Table. With intinction, as with communion in the form of bread alone, the eucharistic sign is weakened.
Drinking from the common cup is a powerful sign of our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ as we respond to the invitation of Jesus: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.”


Elizabeth Harrington