A Dubium answered: Celebrant’s Communion after the faithful

Have you ever seen a priest/celebrant during Mass receive Communion after everyone else?

I have.  And the answer I was given was… I am not making this up… "It is rude not to serve your guests first."

No kidding.

The April Newsletter of the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship is out.

In this newsletter there is published an English version of a response to a dubium.  Here it is with some added emphases:

Dubium on the Priest Celebrant Receiving Communion After the Faithful

In the November-December 2008 issue of Notitiæ (vol. 45, pg. 609), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published their response to a dubium on the possibility of the priest celebrant receiving Holy Communion at Mass after or at the same time as the lay faithful. For the benefit of our readers, an unofficial translation is provided here:

Question: Whether it is permitted for the Priest celebrant to communicate only after he has distributed the Holy Eucharist to the faithful, or whether he may distribute the Holy Eucharist and then afterwards communicate together with the people.

Response: No, to both questions.

Certain practices of this kind in particular are being introduced, namely, where the Priest celebrant communicates only after he has distributed the Holy Eucharist to the faithful, or, by the same thinking, he waits until after the Holy Eucharist has already been distributed to communicate together with everyone else, namely, the faithful, as though feasting together at the Eucharistic table.

In all the Rites of the Church, an order is found which has been handed on for approaching Holy Communion: first, the Bishop or the Priest celebrant communicates, and then the other ministers according to their hierarchical rank, and finally, the people. The Priest communicates first, not because of any human superiority, but on account of the nature and dignity of his ministry. For, the Priest acts in the person of Christ on account of the integrity of the sacrament and because he presides over the assembled people: “So, as Priests join themselves with the action of Christ the High Priest, they daily offer themselves wholly to God, and as they are nourished by the Body of Christ, they partake of love from the heart of him who gives himself as food to the faithful” (Presbyterium ordinis, no.13).

In the edition of the Missale Romanum promulgated by the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, the communion of the faithful follows immediately upon the communion of the Priest, establishing it in this way as a unique action, different from the form in the edition of the Missale Romanum which appeared in 1962, in which the communion of the Priest is separated from the communion of the faithful through the recitation of the Confiteor [The Second Confiteor was removed in the 1962MR.  I believe it remained only in the Holy Week section of the Missal (Good Friday – but that is neither Mass nor the usual sort of liturgy) and in the Pontificale for ordinations (as a commenter, below, clarified).] and of the prayers, the Misereatur, Indulgentiam, Agnus Dei and the Domine, non sum dignus.

The governing liturgical norm states: “A Priest must communicate at the altar at the moment laid down by the Missal each time he celebrates Holy Mass, and the concelebrants must communicate before they proceed with the distribution of Holy Communion. The Priest celebrant or a concelebrant is never to wait until the people’s Communion is concluded before receiving Communion himself” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, no. 97).


I add that Redemptionis Sacramentum should be periodically reviewed by priests, especially, and lay people.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. FWC says:

    When should the music begin at Communion? [?] I have been taught to wait until the priest has received Communion (both species) then music (be it instrumental, schola, or congregation) may begin. Some litugrist and/or priests at parishes I sub in at have told me to start immediately after the congregation says “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you….” Any thoughts. [Scratching my head… is that what this was about?]

  2. kal says:

    This practice was common in our diocese until some excellent catechesis by (Arch)Bishop Carlson. The reason given for the practice was also much the same, the priest acting as servent to the congregation. The great thing about the change to doing it “by the book” was at several parishes, the pastors also used the opportunity to pass the catechesis on at the parish level. Everyone learned a little something in process. By the way, we are going to miss His Excellency when he leaves us shortly to become His Grace in St. Louis.

  3. TJB says:

    In my Parish the extraordinary ministers come up at the kiss of peace and are all given the Eucharist in their hands, as well as the altar servers and music ministry, then they stand there around the altar through the “behold the Lamb of God…” and then the Priest and extraordinary ministers all consume their hosts at the same time. I’ve written the Bishop, apparently its not serious enough for him to correct the Priest.

  4. paul says:

    This is just one more example of certain clergy “doing their own thing”, very 1970’s. The sad effect of this is it does affect the laity’s right to have an authentic Catholic liturgy. I would also add that the laity can end up starting novelties of their own- raising their hands up like the priest at the Our Father and changing responses- which I have heard. Disobedience begets disobedience

  5. Joe says:

    I agree with Paul. We have anew pastor who is newly ordained and a convert. What I love about him is is love for the history and the connection to our liturgical past to move us forwrad. Ther are some who do not want to understand what the pastor is doing for us.

  6. Aaron says:

    This reminds me of a priest who used to leave the “dirty dishes” on the altar and clean them after Mass. His reason was that you wouldn’t invite people to dinner and then wash the dishes immediately afterward while your guests waited at the table.

    As a kid at the time, I had no idea how wrong it was to treat Communion as a meal and the priest as the center of attention with the congregation his guests. Telling, too, that we were assumed to be impatiently waiting for that whole minute or two, instead of praying on what we had just received.

  7. Jacob says:

    Comment by TJB — 6 May 2009 @ 8:59 am

    I did that as an altar boy. Of course, I was just a little fifth grader and didn’t know it was wrong…

  8. Caeremoniarius says:

    Actually, the 1955 Holy Week Ordo was the *first* place where the Confiteor before Holy Communion was dropped (it was excluded on Maundy Thursday). It is still in the 1962 Missal for Good Friday (as this service is not Mass) and is in the Roman Pontifical for Ordination Masses.

  9. TNCath says:

    Aaron’s post and the Dubium about the celebrant’s reception of Holy Communion after the faithful seem to go hand in hand (no pun intended). For some reason, these priests are somehow equating the rubrics of the Mass with social amenities and customs. Could these not be a results of the overemphasis of the Mass as a “meal” and the underemphasis of the Mass as a “sacrifice”?

  10. I haven’t seen that Deo Gratias!, Aaron, purifying the vessels after Mass isn’t an abuse. Letting EM’s purify the vessels is. :)

  11. Fr. Charles says:

    I remember being taught this practice in our community’s formation program under a similar pretext. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to have caught on. One more example of making the liturgy conform to my theology, rather than the other way around!

  12. Andrew, medievalist says:

    Joe’s observation, above, leads me down a rabbit hole (mea culpa)…perhaps the post-VII set doesn’t like going out and converting people because it tends to produce orthodox priests (i.e. Fr Zuhlsdorf and Fr Longenecker).

    ***End of rabbit hole***

  13. Tim Ferguson says:

    I was once given the same line by a priest in a parish – the priest should receive last because it’s rude to serve the guests last. I replied to him, saying that I had thought that, in the Spirit of Vatican II we were not supposed to think of ourselves as “guests” at “Father’s Mass” but as members of the Church, just as much as he is. I told him that I would think about joining a parish where I was treated as a member of the family, not as a guest.

  14. Tina says:

    What if the priest miscounts how many people are going to receive Communion and has extras? Is it the same thing? I realize in a regular Church there is a Tabernacle where the consecrated hosts can be stored. Where I go we don’t actually have a Tabernacle…we do but it is not where we hold Mass because the room isn’t big enough so the hosts would need to take a car ride….

  15. Clement says:

    “It is rude not to serve your guests first.”

    Father, what knucklehead gave this nursery school pablum response?

    The least you could expect would be an elementary school response to your well thought question.

  16. Gloria says:

    At our FSSP parish there is always the Confiteor before Holy Communion. At High Mass a row of altar servers recite it as the celebrant consumes the Precious Blood. Then he turns, one hand on the altar, and says the “indulgentionem….” with the blessing, followed by the “Domine non sum dignus…” three times, facing the congregation. As Communion begins to be distributed, first to the servers, the schola chants the Communion verse, then the choir offers a Communion hymn during the remaining distribution. There is always a second priest, sometimes a third, to help with Communion. Usually, because there are so many communicants, the organist will play softly until the end of distribution. When it is a Solemn High Mass, the deacon sings the Confiteor before Holy Communion as he and the subdeacon bow low on either side of the altar.

  17. I have witnessed such things in the Latin rite and found them disturbing.

    To me it makes sense that priests of the New Covenant should receive first because the priests of the Old Covenant would receive from the sacrifice first. I would be curious if anyone might know the theological significance of the priest receiving from the sacrifice first. I think it is certainly fitting, but wonder in the theology of sacrifice if there might be a greater meaning.

  18. Tim Ferguson says:

    Fr. Deacon – there’s an old principle “nemo dat quod non habet” – no one can give what he does not have. How could one properly preach the Gospel without first having heard it? How could one distribute the Blessed Eucharist without first having received? I think that’s the primary reason for the ministers of Holy Communion receiving before they in turn distribute.

  19. Alina ofs says:

    The practice of the priest communicating AFTER everyone else, or together with altarservettes is also very normal in the Northern part of The Netherlands. I KNOW it’s wrong, so I only attend about 1/4 of services in my parish. That is: 1 holy Mass a month. Two out of 4 Sunday services are Word and communion services and I try to go to the Cathedral in Groningen then (where the NO is celebrated “by the book”. One Sunday in the month I try to go to the FSSP parish in Amsterdam (160 KM or 2 hours from where I live). I feel a nomad! I don’t want to abandon my parish (I try to educate the people by the way I dress and the way I receive H. Communion) but it makes my heart bleed!

    And now I learn I am not the only one with simalar experiences. We can only pray that one day every parish has a worthy, correctly cellebrated H. Mass.!

  20. Tracy says:

    I once attended a Mass in which the EMHCs surrounded the altar after the sign of peace, and TOOK (were not given) bowls of the consecrated bread and broke it into pieces themselves, as it was a pita-type bread instead of typical wafers. Neither they nor the priest received communion before distributing it. Afterward, they all carried the bowls back to the altar and each unceremoniously finished off his or her bowl, as the church apparently had no tabernacle. I’ve never seen anything like it, and hope to never again!

  21. Rob Cartusciello says:

    A priest once explained to me that when he receives the Eucharist at Mass he receives it not only himslef but also on behalf of all those in the congregation who cannot receive. This has been a great consolation when I have not been able to avail myself of Confession and must make a Spiritual Communion.

    I would appreciate comments on this instruction.

  22. Rob Cartusciello says:

    What is the Church’s instruction regarding a priest celebrating Mass and consuming the Eucharist when he is conscious of having committed grave sin? If a lay person were in this situation, he or she would not receive, yet the priest is obliged to receive.

    This question has been on my mind for several years, and I ask it with all charity.

  23. MAJ Tony says:

    Funny, I was always taught that a guest does not partake before the host. That was the etiquette they taught in the Army to officers. We had to explain that to our Iraqi hosts at dinners in country. They serve us and wonder why we wait. East versus West, I suppose.

  24. Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Fr. Z.,

    Then, by this priest’s logic, no one should receive as the building is OUR house of worship. No guests!

  25. Ray from MN says:

    In a parish in an archdiocese with which I am extremely familiar, I attended Mass once where, after all the other parishioners had received, the priest stood meekly at the end of the line and received the Eucharist from the hands of an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    Although I imagine they call them “Eucharistic Ministers” in that parish.

    I was told the priest who had just retired in that parish also followed that practice.

  26. MVine says:

    I have only seen this happen once. I live in the city where St. Anthony of Padua (or of Lisbon, as they call him over here) studied, and there is a small church where it is believed that he had a cell (and it is also believed that formerly this church was home to some sort of shrine to St. Anthony of Egypt before it burned and was rebuilt) which is run by Franciscans. Anyway, tangential details aside, one day at mass there, rite after the priest had consecrated the bread and wine his mobile phone rang. He left the altar for what seemed a very long time, but what was perhaps some 2 minutes or so (you know how time seems to strecth when you are in an uncomfortable situation). When he returned, he handed out communion to those present and only afterwards do he himself take communion.
    This is a priest that every once in a while likes to make the point in his homilies that there are pharisaical people that prefer this rite to that, that things are not supposed to be old, etc…

  27. prof basto says:

    Does this response mean that the second confiteor is now back in the EF? It is mentioned explicitly!

  28. prof basto: Does this response mean that the second confiteor is now back in the EF? It is mentioned explicitly!

    Perhaps it’s reasonable to say it, irrespective of this response, the second confiteor is already back in typical EF practice. For instance, it was seen in the exemplary Missa Cantata celebrated by the FSSP and viewed by millions around the world on EWTN on April 26 — as I believe it has been in every EF Mass shown on EWTN since Summorum Pontificum. And at every FSSP Mass I have ever attended. And at various EF Masses celebrated recently by high prelates and cardinals.

    Surely it appears that this is countenanced by those who could otherwise have it stopped. Perhaps — with regard to Say the Black Do the Red issues — there are those who see a night-day difference between an OF abuse of doing something that the norms prohibit, and a “What was holy once is still holy now” EF practice.

  29. ssoldie says:

    How blessed we are for the ‘Gregorian Rite’,enough said.

  30. wsxyz says:

    Perhaps it’s reasonable to say it, irrespective of this response, the second confiteor is already back in typical EF practice.

    In the parish I attend we used to have a Solemn High Mass every Sunday, without ever having a second confiteor. Then, for various reasons, we started having a Missa Cantata every Sunday instead of a Solemn High Mass. Recently we had the first Solemn High Mass in quite a while and … Second Confiteor!

  31. Father Paul says:

    Although in some ancient rites, such as the O.Praem. (though I think an earlier form than was celebrated in the immediate years before the Council) the Celebrant received the Host, distributed the hosts to the faithful and THEN commnicated from the Chalice

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