What Self Intinction can teach us about Receiving Holy Communion


I was recently asked to explain why self-intinction (apparently a common Anglican practise) is not allowed in the Catholic Church. For those of you who are unaware, intinction is the action of dipping the host into the precious blood and taking it. Intinction is one of the four ways approved in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church for administering Holy Communion under both species, but self-intinction is not allowed. Very validly, my interlocutor wondered why this was the case.

The resultant examination of doctrine led me to further insight with regard to receiving blessed sacrament on the tongue rather than on the hand. But perhaps the best starting point for an explanation is to ask why we receive under both species. Well, the answer is that it illustrates Christ's intention that we eat his Body and drink his Blood (cf. Matt. 26:26-28; Mark. 14:22,24; Luke 22;19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). In other words, it speaks to the fullness of sign; we are doing what our LORD asked us to do "in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:25). However, as the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff's document Doctrinal Formation and Communion Under Both Kinds makes clear:
The purpose, then, of receiving Holy Communion under both kinds, is not that the faithful receive more grace than when they receive it under one kind alone, but that the faithful are enabled to appreciate vividly the value of the sign. Sadly, this distinction has not always been made clear and some people, when not offered Holy Communion under both kinds, have expressed a sense of bewilderment, even thwarted entitlement, or a feeling that Holy Communion under one kind alone was, to some extent, deficient.
Insofar as we receive the blessed sacrament, we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of our LORD Jesus Christ. This is equally true under both species. We do not receive Jesus more if we receive both species, but receiving Him under both species means we are enabled to appreciate vividly the value of the sign. Importantly, Redemptionis Sacramentum goes to some pains to limit the distribution of communion under both species where there is any danger of the blessed sacrament being profaned in any way (see 101 & 102). The message appears to be, 'if in doubt, leave it out!'

Personally, I am happy to benefit from the depth of sign in receiving from the chalice, so long as it does not contradict another, more important sign, that of the priest in Personae Christi, as Jesus feeding His flock with His body and blood (see CCC 1548).

This is why, when I go to Holy Communion, I want to go to the priest and not an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC, often erroneously referred to as Eucharistic Ministers; they're not, the Eucharistic Minister is the deacon, priest, or bishop). If I was at Wembley, or at a Mass in Africa, or Pakistan, with thousands in the congregation, no problem. But where possible, I will try to observe these basic norms in the way I approach God in the Blessed Sacrament, or I will refrain and make a spiritual communion.

Back to intinction;
'The norms of the Roman Missal admit the principle that in cases where Communion is administered under both kinds, 'the Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon' (see Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum 103 ).
'As regards the administering of Communion to lay members of Christ's faithful, the Bishops may exclude Communion with the tube or the spoon where this is not the local custom, though the option of administering Communion by intinction always remains. If this modality is employed, however, hosts should be used which are neither too thin nor too small, and the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 285b and 287)
"The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter." Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum 104
I first came across intinction in Kephalonia. Obviously the Greek Island is largely Greek Orthodox, but there is a Catholic Church in Argostoli, which I attended with my family when we visited in 2009. The priest gave out communion with an EMHC next to him holding the chalice. He intincted each host and gave it to us on the tongue.

So what is wrong with the Anglican practice of taking the host and dipping it in the precious blood before self communicating? The answer is in that very action of taking. According to Inaestimabile Donum (ID), a 1980 document of the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, the lay faithful are not to self-communicate:
"Communion is a gift of the Lord, given to the faithful through the minister appointed for this purpose. It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another."  Inaestimabile Donum n. 9.

Again we see the Magisterium of the Church teaching an attitude of humble receptivity with regard to Holy Communion. We do not take the Sacrament, it is given and we receive and say "Amen" (so be it). We see this demonstrated in Scripture when Jesus multiplies the loaves and bids the Apostles to distribute it. We can see in this a sign of Holy Communion. When we read the Early Fathers of the Church, The most frequent warning we read with regard to our necessary attitude when approaching Holy Communion was expressed thus: "Cum amore et timore!" (with love and awe) thus the most adequate attitude towards Holy Communion is receptivity, the Centurion's humility, the attitude of someone ready to receive food, i.e., the attitude of a child ( see Matthew 18:3).

This is not an old and antiquated attitude, it is what the Church has always taught, it is consonant with what the Early Church Fathers taught, with what was always practised and handed down through the centuries to us, what was taught by the Second Vatican Council and by Pope John Paul II in his last encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and, In continuity with the teaching of his Predecessor, starting with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the year 2008, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, began to distribute to the faithful the Body of the Lord, by placing it directly on the tongue of the faithful as they remain kneeling. Surely this must raise further questions about communion in the hand, when one receives the Blessed Sacrament from the priest, but then takes it oneself, self-communicating? To me, it shows up another barrier that communion in the hand presents to a proper attitude in receiving the Blessed Sacrament. It seems evident that the Church has taught in perpetuity, and continues to teach, an altogether more reverent attitude to the blessed sacrament, an attitude which is of itself didactic?

In dealing with liturgical concerns, we must make sure that our orthodoxy (right belief and discipline) is accompanied by orthopraxy (right action). In other words, we need to cultivate and use the virtues that right Faith avails us —virtues such as patience, fortitude, and, above all, charity. Orthodoxy requires us to promote the truth, but never allows us to offend against charity. As Vatican II teaches us, “[O]ne who does not . . . persevere in charity is not saved” (Lumen Gentium, no. 14; cf. Catechism, no. 837).

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