The Eucharist also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during the Passover meal, Jesus commanded his followers to “do this in memory of me” while referring to the bread as “my body” and the wine as “my blood”. Through the Eucharistic celebration Christians remember Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the cross.
Etymologically, the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning “thanksgiving”, is not used in the New Testament as a name for the rite.[i] However, the related verb is found in New Testament accounts of the Last Supper, including the earliest such account: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks (εὐχαριστήσας), he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. (1 Cor.11:23-24).[ii] The term “Eucharist” is commonly acceptable by many early Church Fathers from the first century till date.
MATTERS OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST: BREAD AND WINE
Jesus chose bread and wine-fruits of the earth and work of human hands-to be the matter for the Eucharist. In the bread and wine that we offer at the altar which signifies Christ “the living stone” (1 Pt. 2:4), “all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way, we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God’s eyes…it enables us to appreciate how God invites man to participate in bringing to fulfillment his handiwork, and in so doing, gives human labour its authentic meaning, since, through the celebration of the Eucharist, it is united to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.”[iii]
The valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist is wheat bread and natural incorrupt grape wine (c. 924). Bread made from another substance other than wheat, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat (e.g., milk, eggs, honey, etc.) to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the sacrifice and the Eucharistic sacraments.[iv] “Gluten” is the substance found in wheat bread that gives cohesiveness to the dough. Completely gluten-free hosts are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. For persons suffering from celiac disease (low tolerance for gluten), the Apostolic See has authorized low-gluten altar bread. On requests, permission to use this form of bread may be granted by ordinaries.[v]
Wine is the liquor pressed from mature grapes, once fermentation is complete. Great care should be taken so that the sacramental wine is well conserved and has not soured. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.[vi]
For licitly, the bread is to be unleavened (c. 926) and a little water is to be mixed with the wine (c. 924, §1). Leavened bread is used in all the Eastern Churches except the Armenian liturgy. The Canon makes no mention of mixing with water (c. 706), perhaps because it does not have any doctrinal significance.[vii] It is absolutely forbidden, even in extreme urgent necessity, to consecrate one matter without the other or even both outside the Eucharistic celebration (c. 927). Transgression for a sacrilegious purpose is a delict reserved to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.[viii]
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE FAITHFUL TO RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION
It is expected that the faithful should have received baptism. Not forbidden by law (c. 912). Those who have been excommunicated, interdicted or who obstinately persist in manifest and grave sin are to be refused Holy Communion (cc. 915; 1331,§1, 2; 1332). Manifest or public sin means that it is known by a large part of the community. According to paragraph one of canon 1364, manifest and grave sins are heresy (denial of a truth or doctrine), apostasy (total repudiation of catholic faith) and schism (refusal of submission to the Roman pontiff). Without a canonical marriage, couples living in concubinage, free sexual relationship, or cohabitation, the divorced and remarried, same sex couples, abortionists, polygamists are also included in this category.[ix]
Communicant must have attained the age of reason, that is, seven years completed (cc. 914 and 97, §2). Below the age of seven, one is considered incapable of personal responsibility for one’s action. However, where it happens that a child who is exceptionally mature for her/his age is judged to be ready for receiving the sacrament, he or she must not be denied communion.[x]
Reception of the sacrament of confession in case of First Communion for children (c. 914) to be in the state of grace. A person who is conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess (c. 916). In this case, the person is bound to make an act of perfect contrition which is sorrow for sin and the desire for forgiveness based on the love of God.[xi]
Fasting for at least one hour from all food and drink except water and medicine (c. 919 §1). Exceptions: those who are advanced in age (60 and above) or suffer from some illness as well as those who care for them; a priest who has to celebrate more than one Mass without an hour’s interval (c. 919, §§2-3).
HOLY COMMUNION TO BAPTIZED NON-CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS
The Church is a communion with visible and invisible dimensions. In the invisible dimension, the faithful are united to the Father and among themselves; in the visible dimension, the bonds of communion are the profession of faith, sacraments (especially Baptism and Orders) and Ecclesiastical (Hierarchical) governance (c.205). For the reception of Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, invisible communion is not enough; visible communion is also absolutely required. Until the visible bonds of ecclesiastical communion are fully reestablished, concelebration or intercommunion (communicatio in sacris) with the faith of the non-catholic Christian communities is not possible.[xii]
However, in order to promote ecumenism, to individual Christian not in full communion with the Catholic Church, Holy Communion can be given in special circumstances; if they freely request it, manifest the same faith which the Catholic Church professes in the Eucharist, and are properly disposed. These conditions, from which no dispensation can be given, must be carefully respected.[xiii]
HOLY COMMUNION IN THE HAND
Holy Communion in the hand was introduced or implied Vatican II in order to express its reception as a gift by adult persons with due faith. Episcopal conferences may decree that Holy Communion may be given in their territories by placing the consecrated bread in the hands of the faithful provided there is no danger of irreverence or false opinions about the Eucharist.[xiv] GIRM, n. 287 notes that holy Communion under both Species by intinction is to be received in the mouth. Communicants may never receive the host in the hand and then dip it in the chalice.
Then as part of COVID 19 protocol communicants in most parishes are advised to receive communion in their palm. Since the dawn of this kind of reception there have been many questions. However, we must obey the Church; the great advice of Scriptures says “do whatever he tells you” (John2:5). Debating Communion in the hand versus Communion on the tongue we must conclude that the most important factor is our sense of reverence. We must ensure we avoid possible abuses by clearing our palms of possible sacred particles and respectfully ensuring other sacred gestures and dispositions. The hands of the lay are not consecrated, many have argued but an instruction and a conclusion has been reached by competent Church authority. But then, some priests don’t comply; every universal law is localized upon reasonable judgement of a particular situation per time. The Bishop as the competent authority gives interpretation to these laws.
Nevertheless, if the introduction of this practice results to more indifferences, outrages and sacrileges toward our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, causing great harm to both the Catholic Church and to individual souls. It will be proper to return to its former place of prominence for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.
FREQUENCY OF RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION
Canon 917 stipulates that a person who has already received the Eucharist can licitly receive it a second time on the same day only during the celebration of the Mass in which the person participates. Only as Viaticum or for a priest who must trinate may receive Communion a third time in one day. The rationale for this law is twofold: on the one hand, to promote active participation in the Eucharistic celebration including the full sacramental sharing in the Lord’s meal; on the other hand, to prevent the abuse of receiving multiple Communion out of superstition, ignorance or misguided devotion. All who had attained the age of reason are obliged to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, preferably during the paschal time, during which Christ handed down the Eucharistic mystery (c. 920). The paschal season is generally understood the period from the first Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday.[xv]
MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION
Can. 910 determines that bishops, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The extraordinary ministers are acolytes or other members of the Christian faithful designated according to the norm of can. 230, §3. This canon determines that extraordinary ministers may be designated whenever the needs of the church warrant it and “when ordinary ministers are lacking”. According to GIRM no. 162, extraordinary ministers may be called forward by the priest “only when a sufficient number of priests or deacons are not present”. The presence of the ordinary ministers should be in the church at the moment of distribution of Holy Communion. If such availability is not foreseeable, and if the priest-celebrant alone cannot distribute Holy Communion without causing delay, then the service of the extraordinary ministers is to be sought.[xvi]
PRESERVATION OF HOLY COMMUNION AND THE TABERNACLE
Since the reservation of the precious Blood is prohibited[xvii], GIRM no. 279 strongly puts forward that only sufficient wine is to be consecrated as will be needed for distribution and any surplus must be “consumed immediately and completely at the altar”. The only exception is for the taking of Holy Communion to a sick person unable to receive under the form of bread, something that should be done with a short space of time because of the danger of the corruption of the species. Likewise, the use and manufacture of monstrances with a container for the precious Blood for adoration is also reprobated. Similarly, throwing away the precious Blood on the ground, in the sacristy or anywhere is “a most serious abuse and must be altogether reprobated”.[xviii]
The Eucharistic Bread is reserved after Mass principally for the administration of Viaticum and secondarily for adoration of the Lord truly present in the sacrament and for distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful unable to participate in the Mass due to certain circumstances or physical or moral conditions as, for example, the sick and the elderly and those who look after them.[xix] Canon 939 directs that consecrated hosts are to be renewed frequently and the older hosts consumed properly. The law does not determine the frequency of the renewal. Much depends on the climatic conditions of the place. Also c. 934, §2, Holy Mass should be celebrated at least twice a month in the place where the Holy Eucharist is reserved. According to GIRM, n. 314, it should be reserved in a tabernacle that is immovable, solid, unbreakable, locked and not transparent. The tabernacle is to be situated in the churches in the most worthy place with the greatest honor possible, the placing itself fostering adoration and prayer by reason of the quietness of the location, the space available in front of the tabernacle, and also the supply of benches or seats or kneelers.[xx]
So far we have been able to expose the teaching of the Church on the Eucharist drawing strength from rich documents of the Church and relevant authorities. Notable among these are the Code of the Canon Law and the General Instructions of the roman Missal (GIRM) which inform proper receptions of the sacrament as well as the discipline to safeguards and promotes the essentially and fundamentally sacrificial nature of the Holy Eucharist. Basically, we have been exposed to the rich doctrinal exposition of the Holy Eucharist which signifies the supreme excellence of God and our absolute dependence. We are challenge to have deeper awareness of what we receive and deeper reverence on the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
[i] Eugene LaVerdiere The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, Liturgical Press, 1996, pp. 1–2,
[ii] Robert Benedetto, James O. Duke, The New Westminister Dictionary of Church History, vol. 2,
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press 2008, p. 231
[iii] The Sacrament of Charity: Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, 22 February, 2007, no. 47.
[iv] The Sacrament of Redemption, Instruction on Certain Matters to be Observed or to be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 25 March, 2004, no. 48.
[v] Sebastian S. Karambai, Ministers and Ministries in the Local Church, Mumbai: St. Pauls, 2015, p. 309.
[vi] The Sacrament of Redemption, no. 50
[vii] Ministers and Ministries, p. 309.
[viii] Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela: Revised Norms (Substantive and Procedural) for addressing Cases of Grave Delicts, CDF, 21 May, 2010, art. 3 §2.
[ix] Ministers and Ministries, p. 312.
[x] Sacrament of Redemption, no. 87.
[xi] Ministers and Ministries, p. 313.
[xii] Ecclesia de Eucharistia: Encyclical Letter on the Eucharist and its Relationship to the Church, John Paul II, 17 April, 2003, nn. 35, 38, 44.
[xiii] Ibid. no. 46
[xiv] Ministers and ministries, p. 318.
[xv] Ibid., p. 319.
[xvii] Sacrament of Redemption, no. 104.
[xviii] Ministers and Ministries, p, 321.
[xx] Sacrament of Redemption, n. 130.