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The Body and Blood of Christ
The Body and Blood of Christ
At the meal with his disciples the night before he died, Christ said: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it; take this, all of you, and drink from it; do this in memory of me.’ The action of eating and drinking takes us to the heart of the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ which the Church celebrates today.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that: ‘Holy Communion has a more complete form as a sign when it is received under both kinds, since in this manner of reception a fuller sign of the eucharistic banquet shines forth’ (GIRM 2000 # 281).
During the early centuries, everybody received communion under the form of both bread and wine: this was the way Christ instituted the Eucharist. For various reasons the practice grew during the middle ages of lay people not receiving the cup. Eventually it became law in the west that only the priest should receive the cup. The eastern church always retained the practice of receiving communion under both kinds.
One of the main reasons for restricting communion from the cup was what could be called ‘sacramental minimalism’. Because in the consecrated bread we receive Christ fully and totally, the bread alone was considered sufficient. Although the Church teaches that Christ is truly present in either the bread or the wine, it emphasises that receiving communion under both kinds expresses clearly ‘the relationship of the eucharistic banquet to the eschatological banquet in the Father’s Kingdom’ (GIRM 2000 #281).
When we take the cup, we take up the cross. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ Jesus asked James and John. It is also the cup of thanksgiving: ‘The cup of salvation I will raise as I call on God’s name’ (Ps 116). Drinking from a common cup signifies our life together in Christ and our commitment to one another. The common cup makes us one family.
Although it is not possible to state that infection will never take place through the practice of sharing the cup at communion, most scientists agree that it is highly unlikely, since contracting a disease requires that one be exposed to millions of germs from that disease. It is wise, however, for individuals to be aware of the condition of their general health and to judge whether even the slightest risk might put them in danger.
As an act of charity towards other members of the community, individuals with colds, cold sores or any illness that might be contagious should receive the body and blood of Christ under the form of bread alone during the time of illness.
For many years it has been possible to receive the cup as well as the host at Mass on Sundays and weekdays. If it has not yet become the normal pattern in a particular parish, this feast might be a good opportunity to reflect on the command of Christ and to review parish practice.
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’.