Take this all of you and Drink

This week I received a letter and a phonecall asking about receiving Communion by taking the host and dipping it in the consecrated wine before consuming it. This practice is technically known as intinction. One enquirer extolled the virtues of intinction and questioned why the Archdiocese of Brisbane bans this practice while other dioceses allow it.

Intinction 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 clearly laid out:
“Each communicant, holding a communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest.” (GIRM #287)

This very complex, choreographed arrangement is not “banned” in the Archdiocese of Brisbane at all. For a start it is simply too impractical for most parish Masses. It must be 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. The tradition has always been to receive, not to take, communion.

When communicants take it upon themselves to intinct, germs are spread as hosts that have been handled are dipped 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.

The General Instruction states that:
“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it is distributed under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharist banquet is more clearly evident … as also the relationship between the Eucharist banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father’s Kingdom.” (GIRM # 281)
Intinction is not a fuller sign of a banquet! The Eucharistic sign is not just the bread and the wine; it is eating the bread and drinking the wine together at the Lord’s Table. Drinking from the common cup powerfully demonstrates our commitment to the new covenant and our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Intinction, as with Communion in the form of bread alone, weakens the Eucharistic sign.

No matter how many times it is pointed out that the transmission of a disease has never been traced to the shared communion cup, the issue of hygienic is always raised as an argument for practising intinction. Of course, cups should be firmly wiped with a clean purifier and washed in hot water and detergent after each Mass. As a matter of common courtesy and hygiene, individuals with any illness or infection that might be contagious should not take the cup.

Over these “John chapter 6” Sundays we constantly hear Jesus saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. Many of the disciples found these words challenging. Clearly they continue to have the same impact today!


Elizabeth Harrington