From a reader…
I’ve learned through your blog that if a priest does not receive Holy Communion at the Mass he is celebrating, the Mass is invalid. But what happens to the bread and wine that were consecrated moments before? Were they really changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord? Do the people who receive Holy Communion at that particular Mass receive Our Lord or just bread?
If a priest has consecrated the Eucharist in the proper way, with the proper intention and then, for whatever reason, does not consume the Eucharist just consecrated, the Eucharistic species continue to be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ until such time as they are consumed by someone or their species “broken”. They do NOT revert to being bread and wine. Catholics do not believe what some Protestants think: that Christ is present only insofar as their “eucharistic bread” etc. is being consumed and then, after it is no longer to be consumed reverts to what it was.
If, for whatever reason, the priest does not receive his own Communion of what he has there and then consecrated, then Mass has not truly been celebrated. People given Communion would technically be receiving outside of Mass.
There are legitimate reasons for a priest not to receive one or both of the Eucharistic species. For example: the priest dies or faints, thus prohibiting his reception.
Various scenarios of interruption of the consecration or prevention of receiving Communion by the priest are covered in the “De defectibus” of the traditional Missale Romanum. I warmly recommend that all seminarians and priests read it and become intimately familiar with it. It doesn’t provide practical rules merely. It imparts an inner logic about the connection of the priest and Eucharist.
33. If before the Consecration the priest becomes seriously ill, or faints, or dies, the Mass is discontinued. [That was the situation described.] If this happens after the consecration of the Body only and before the consecration of the Blood, or after both have been consecrated, the Mass is to be completed by another priest from the place where the first priest stopped, and in case of necessity even by a priest who is not fasting. If the first priest has not died but has become ill and is still able to receive Communion, and there is no other consecrated host at hand, the priest who is completing the Mass should divide the host, give one part to the sick priest and consume the other part himself. [Do you see the intimate unity of priest and Host?] If the priest has died after half-saying the formula for the consecration of the Body, then there is no Consecration and no need for another priest to complete the Mass. If, on the other hand, the priest has died after half- saying the formula for the consecration of the Blood, then another priest is to complete the Mass, repeating the whole formula over the same chalice from the words Simili modo, postquam cenatum est; or he may say the whole formula over another chalice which has been prepared, and consume the first priest’s host and the Blood consecrated by himself, and then the chalice which was left half-consecrated.
34. If anyone fails to consume the whole Sacrament aside from cases of necessity of this kind, he is guilty of very grave sin.
Reading De defectibus especially through the lens of Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis (which presents us with a reflection on the priest’s ars celebrandi) could be of enormous practical use to seminarians and younger priests today.