ASK FATHER: Self-intinction. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

What a dreadful photo.
It’s exemplary of so many problems in the Church today.

From a reader…

This morning at Mass, I observed two or three people receive the Host in the hand, and then walk over to the extraordinary minister of the chalice, dip the Host in, and then put it in their mouth. I was cantoring at the time, and at our church the cantors have to stand up front, so this is why I noticed this so clearly. I have always understood that, even in parishes which practice intinction, it’s not allowable for communicants to do it themselves. I was obviously unable to say or do anything in the moment it happened, but do you have any thoughts on this? Should I let my pastor know? Should the EMHC’s [Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion] be trained in how to avoid this situation in the future?

Self-intinction is wrong because the Church does not permit it. That should be sufficient argument, but we can go a bit deeper.

Self-intinction contradicts the Church’s understanding of what is being done at Holy Communion. We are being fed by Our Lord with His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. We receive Holy Communion. Reception is a passive thing, not an active thing. In a position of humility (best exemplified by kneeling, in my opinion), we allow the Lord to feed us. Holy Communion is given to us, we do not take it. We do not take the host from the ciborium. We do not take the Precious Blood from the chalice.

If there is to be intinction (and it is one of the acceptable forms of distributing Holy Communion according to the General Instruction), the minister takes the host, dips it in the chalice, and places the dipped host directly on the tongue of the recipient.  That’s it.

It is worth noting that the General Instruction limits the distribution of the sacred species by intinction to the priest. Another minister holds the chalice, but it is the priest who intincts the host in the chalice and places it in the mouth of the communicant.

“287. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, 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, and then withdraws.”

Yes, I think you should let your pastor know about what you saw.  Put it into his hands.

Yes, I think that EMHCs should be TRAINED.

That said, I think we should move away from

  • the dreadful practice of Holy Communion in the hand,
  • the risky practice of Holy Communion under both kinds,
  • and also the exaggerated emplyment of EMHCs.

Soooo many problems could be avoided.  Moreover, I believe that returning to traditional practices will also foster greater reverence for… heck, at this point… BELIEF in the Eucharist.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Julia_Augusta says:

    Like dipping chips in salsa. No. Just no.

  2. Tom says:

    I used to be an EMHC in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Two events – that haunt me to this day – caused me to resign from that ministry. Both occurred in the late ’90’s.

    As in this story, I was the minister of the cup when someone walked up to me with the host in her hand getting ready to dunk it in the chalice (sorry to be crass, but there is no better way to explain what she was about to do). We were never trained on what to do, but instinctively I covered the chalice with my hand and said firmly but respectfully, “Please consume the host.” Her eyes shot daggers at me and it was evident she was thinking about making a scene, but then thought better of it, thank God.

    The second was at my uncle’s 40 anniversary of profession as a Jesuit. They had a big party for him at the Jesuit House in NYC, where he offered Mass. In attendance were family and friends, as well as 60 or 70 Jesuit priests. Before Mass, my uncle asked my aunt, a religious sister, and me to serve as Eucharistic ministers. Didn’t think much about it when he asked me, but then when I went up to the altar it dawned on me: there are dozens and dozens of priests here. What the heck am I doing up here? Then, to my profound and everlasting discomfort, these priests queued up to receive Communion from me! I have never in all my life been so uncomfortable. When a priest came up, I held out the chalice hoping he would just take the host himself, but not one of them did. I gave communion to about three dozen priests that day. Shortly after this event, I quit being an EMHC. We now drive to a parish that does not have EMHC’s and we couldn’t be happier.

    There are good and valid reasons for having EMHC’s but where it’s not needed, it shouldn’t be used.

  3. Not for the first time do I thank God for our Eastern Orthodox practices.
    No “extraordinary ministers” for the Eucharist–only deacons and priests may distribute.
    Since the beginning, the faithful receive in both kinds, as is their right and to complete the symbol. For centuries, in a spoon (we’re not always opposed to “innovation” if it makes sense, and this one comes from St. John Chrysostom).
    There is little to no risk if the priest or deacon is careful (God forbid he would not be) and if the communicant knows the drill.
    Afterward the Divine Liturgy, the junior deacon (that’s me in our parish) consumes the remaining Holy Gifts, carefully washing and rinsing the holy vessels. There is no risk from the common cup and spoon–otherwise we deacons would be sick all the time! No one has ever gotten sick from the Holy Eucharist.
    In short, y’all might look East for proven practices that make sense.
    yours in Christ, though in “schism,”
    Dn N

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Deacon Nicholas — Both West and East have “proven practices.” A lot of the current troubles and abuses in the West actually originate in Western folks trying to use Eastern practices — but only in a “pick one from column A, one from column B” sort of way, or in an “I heard you guys do this, so I’ll do it without researching it or finding out if it’s true” kind of way. Without the backup of culture, theological spirituality, saints’ lives, etc., it is a freaking disaster to borrow stuff. Borrowing stuff randomly is even worse.

    So yeah, thanks for the offer of help, but you really really really don’t want to see what would happen if we took you up on that. I remember this stuff from the Seventies! And I’m sure that the crazy brand of liberals today could make it even worse!

  5. frjim4321 says:

    With regard to the use of eucharistic ministers when concelebrants are present, I do try to avoid it. However it’s not pretty. The EM’s know what they are doing, and where they are going, and conduct themselves with great dignity. Ordained celebrants, on the other hand, are frozen in space like does in headlights, acting as if they’ve never distributed communion before. As far as the dignity, organization, gracefulness and intentionality of the rite, I’d go with EM’s every time, if it were my choice. Again, we try to comply with the guidelines on this. As far as the number of helpers, it is always constant at 5; four hosts and two cups. That works for us. If the assembly is small enough that four could do it, I don’t tell #2 and #3 to sit down, simply because it confuses the rite for them … it is is conducted more smoothly with everyone in their proper place, even though the procession lasts only about four minutes.

    [You fell into the trap. Liturgical roles are not first and foremost about competence, but about ontology. By reducing the choice of roles to “who can do a better job”, you by pass something crucial. Of course it is far better to have competent clergy. They can be trained up, at least to a degree. But mere competence does not supplant the ontological character of the ORDAINED.]

  6. bobbird says:

    Our parish has a different problem with EMHCs … young children approach with their arms crossed for a “blessing”. The EMHC either makes a Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, or places a hand on their head. I can never hear what they might (or might not) be mumbling. In a laundry list of 50+ liturgical abuses sent to the priests (and non-responded by them), and then to the bishop, it is never corrected. The EMHCs also are permitted to cleanse the Sacred Vessels and return the Blessed Sacrament to the (side of the sanctuary, of course) Tabernacle. Yes, that was also on the list. Worst of all is the problem of EMHCs wanting to JAM the Host into my mouth before I can say “Amen.” This is because I kneel for HC and they do not listen for my reply, which is given after I kneel. Naturally, there have been dropped Hosts, although this is less of a problem that a few years ago.

  7. JamesA says:

    It’s days like today that I am glad frjim continues to read the blog. He hears things from Fr. Z that he desperately needs to hear, and there is likely no priest of his aquaintance with the guts to say them.

    One other option for intinction exists that isn’t well known – at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston (the Ordinariate), I have seen the priest use a paten that has a place to hold the chalice, making intinction very easy for the priest. It looks a bit unusual but works quite well.
    I rather like intinction like this : it eliminates the need for EMHCs, allows for reception of both kinds, and, best of all, makes Communion in the hand impossible.
    I pray you had a good Thanksgiving, Father. I’m very grateful for all you do.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    This is what happens when the Mass is explained to people as being more of a meal than a sacrifice. The problem with explaining that the Mass is a meal is that it hides the essential fact that this is particular meal – the Passover Meal – and the Passover was a form of sacrificial meal, not a mere community meal, as one might have at a get-together with the in-laws. The lamb was the Lamb of Sacrifice for the sins of the Nation. One is given forgiveness in the eating of the Lamb. In the exact same way that looking upon the pole with the bronze serpent cured those grumbler who had been bitten in the desert by serpents – the forgiveness is given to the person by looking on the sin they have committed – just, so, by consuming the Lamb of Sacrifice, one is forced to confront their sins. It is by removing the connection between sin and sacrifice that the Eucharistic reception has become nothing more than a meal for some people.

    In a perfect world, there would be mandated adult education in every parish that would teach the truth about why the Eucharist is truly a thanksgiving. How can one be thankful of the deliverance the Eucharist signifies if one is not painfully aware of ones sins? How much reverence will a person have for a sacrifice they cannot see is necessarily for them? We live in a world which, increasingly, wants to make the priest more into a chef than a priest, whipping up the Eucharist for the community meal. If they only knew the reality of the cost of the Eucharist, they would approach it with tears of gratitude. This is not a community meal – it is a meal of community, borne of the body, blood, soul, and Divinity of the one who has the power to unite us, in God.

    When the Eucharist is given to a person not in mortal sin, one is given forgiveness by virtue of the Love of Christ re-orienting the slight askewness of the person (i.e., forgiving the venial sins). When one takes the Eucharist, if one is not a priest acting in persona Christi, what is one doing except taking back their sins?

    I think, perhaps, that some people who claim that the Mass is a meal should go back and look at what underlied the Agape feast in the New Testament. The Agape or Love Feast was supposed to be based on the idea of Agape, which was a type of sacrificial love or act (up to and including the shedding of ones blood) and the Agape meal was, implicitly, to be associated with a community that would give their lives for each other. It seems to have originated in the pagan world as a type of funeral meal: the milk and wine brought for the departed was, literally, poured on the ground around the tomb and the solid food was passed into the tomb via a hole. The practice seems to have influenced some of the Jewish Passover ritual, but, in any event, at the Last Supper, when Christ says (as St Paul reports in 1 Cor 11:26) , “For as often as you eat this break and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” he was referring to the anamnesis which is the central point of the Agape – to be connected with the dead in love. The word, agape, goes back to at least Homer, where it had the dual senses of to greet with affection and to show love for the dead. One can see how closely the Eucharist and the Agape Feast were originally related: the first recalled the sacrifice and second recalled the death of the Lord.

    The Love Feast degenerated, quickly, as the Bible shows. Originally, the idea of the Agape feast and the Eucharist were closely connected, but as the idea of Agape relating to sacrifice got lost, the connection with the Eucharist got so obscure, that the Council of Laodicea, in the 4th century, in Canon 27 explicitly forbade priests from taking away any food from the Love feast and in Canon 28 from holding the Agape feast in the Lord’s House, or even eating secular food or putting a couch in the Church.

    Yes, the Mass is a type of meal, but one cannot have This particular Meal without, also, recognizing the Sacrifice – they must go together to be truly Christian. If they understood the cost of that Meal, they would not be so quick to offend the One who gave it to them.

    The Chicken

  9. arga says:

    The person who self-instincted may well be an Episcopalian because I believe it to be not uncommon among them. When acting as a eucharistic minister, I once got into a terrible row with a person who received the Host on the hand from me, and then walked away with it; I stopped him; he explained he was going to “dip it” into the chalice that the other EM was holding, and I later found out he was actually an Episcopalian and that he assumed Catholics did the same thing. Why he was attending a Mass that morning was a mystery I never resolved.

  10. DavidR says:

    If we don’t hear it in the homily, we’re not going to hear it anywhere else.

  11. Danteewoo says:

    Related comment: the use of extraordinary ministers was sold to the Church decades ago with the argument that they were needed to speed up the distribution of Holy Communion. But in a parish I attend, and I bet in virtually every parish, it takes two, three, five minutes for the extraordinary ministers to receive, in their own special ceremony of sorts. Tell me how things are being sped up? My conclusion is that the use of extraordinary ministers was a deliberate hoax from the start, by a disingenuous, hypocritical Church which has lost most of the Faith.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Fr. Jim — If priests or deacons don’t know how to give the Eucharist under the species of bread or wine, or can no longer do these things well — when those are their especial functions, and they are the primary Eucharistic ministers — it argues that EMHC use is helping make priests and deacons incompetent.

    This would seem to make EMHCs a bad thing for priests and deacons.

    It would also argue that laypeople EMHCs are being exploited by these same priests and deacons, out of incompetence and/or laziness.

    (And therefore, EMHCarthage must be destroyed! Heh, a little history joke!)

    Seriously, though, it seems to be a failed experiment on many grounds; and it never seemed to serve much purpose besides clearing out the parish parking lot five minutes quicker. (And the more faffing around is done on the way to the altar, the less it even saves time.)

  13. Rob in Maine says:

    Back in 1974 or ’75, when my grand father passed away, we had a special evening Mass at our home parish for his soul. I must have been seven or eight years old but I remember it well. At the Eucharist we all stood around the new altar holding hands. There was this funny dish – it was gold and had a gold cup or “shot glass” on the inside. I think the priest went around the circle and administered the host and then we dipped it in the cup of wine.

    Needless to say I thought this was an OK thing to do.

    Years later I am in my late 20’s and I had a horrible cold. I had begun going back to Mass in earnest and as to not spread germs dipped my host in the chalice. The EMOC dressed me down right there and I was so upset I left immediately. It took me some time to return to Church, I was so mortified. I think that episode was an early step in re-catchising myself; learning to “say the black” and “do the red” and the GIRM.

  14. Joy65 says:

    “Like dipping chips in salsa. No. Just no.”

    Exactly. Imagine the possibilities of the Precious Blood dripping on the floor, the person’s clothes, etc. That makes me so sad that they did this.

    Yep bring it to the priest who I hope discusses this immediately with his EMHC.

  15. iamlucky13 says:

    In case anyone ever needs a recent, unambiguous, and authoritative reference for this, Redemptionis Sacramentum 104:

    “The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand.”

    Note that the wording is not simply an instruction to the communicant not to do so, but for it not to be permitted, and therefore an instruction to the minister.

  16. BH says:

    Doesn’t the very term “Extraordinary Minister” imply that this ‘position’ in the church should only be used in extraordinary circumstances? And yet every Sunday and Holy Day (and sometimes during weekly Mass) most Parishes use this position as an ‘ordinary’ position. Clearly a misunderstanding of the intent of the position.

  17. mlmc says:

    1st-from the picture, it looks like the “temporal” solution of this problem is at, ahem, hand.
    2nd- was at St Peter’s in Rome at Mass at a side chapel & my wife took the blessed sacrament in her hands & the Priest with the blessed cup made sure to cover it with his hand b/c he thought she was going to “dip” her own. She didn’t understand his actions since she is used to American custom (was the only one to take it in her hands that I saw). She would never have performed self-intinction, but it was good to see the Priest was on guard.

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