10 questions and answers about hosts and communion

10 questions and answers about hosts and communion

Can you eat the host if it falls on the floor? Should you stand or kneel down? Gluten-free hosts are effective according to the Church?
10 questions and 10 answers about Eucharist.

 

We will never get tired of repeating the fundamental and essential importance of Eucharist in Catholic Church celebrations, and in general, in every Christian’s life. Do we really know all we should about the hosts and the wine for the mass? We already discussed the difference between the consecrated host and the particle. We also examined another delicate and current matter, that is, hosts for celiac, gluten-free hosts.

In this article we would like to draw up a quite exhaustive list of useful questions and answers concerning the Holy Sacrament, not in its innate and irrefutable value, nor in the solemn meaning it has to those approaching it with a devoted soul and reaching out towards the Mystery in it that has been renovating itself for thousands of years.  What we wish to collect here is a brief list of notions and knowledge that we hope can be useful, or at least curious, for those reading them.

  1. Can you eat the host if it falls on the floor?

No, you cannot, only the priest can decide whether you can eat it or put it back in its place. Before the promulgation of the Vatican Council II, the possibility that a host could fall on the floor while it was given to a devotee was a big problem. It was an act of great profanation, even if in most cases it happened regardless of the two involved parties’ will. When it happened, only the priest was allowed to pick it up. The floor where the most Holy Sacrament had fallen had to be covered with a light cloth, and then washed after the ceremony. In addition, the water used to wash it had to be collected and poured into a sacred tub, used to collect water from containers and sacred linen purification, and the remains of blessed objects. Today things are a bit easier. This rule does not exist anymore. Since the devotees are allowed to receive the consecrated host in their hands, it wouldn’t be a problem if the devotee himself would be the one picking it up. However, out of respect, it is still preferable to let the priest do so. Once it has been picked up, the host is put aside or consumed by the minister right away. The important thing is that it must not be put back with the others, nor offered to someone else. We always have to remember that the consecrated host is effectively Christ’s Body, and as such, it must be treated with respect and veneration, even in its smallest parts.

  1. Communion on your hand or in your mouth?

Communion in your mouth

It’s the same, just choose the right attitude to approach the Sacrament. During the General Audience in Piazza San Pietro on March 21st, Pope Francis talked about the right ways to approach Communion and receive the Holy Sacrament. The Holy Father first explained the deep meaning of Eucharist, on how we feed with Christ’s body and blood through the sacramental communion, to become part of Him (“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” Gv 6,56), stating then that each time we receive the communion we look a little bit more like Jesus, we transform a little bit more into Jesus. He then cleared the ways: “The faithful normally approach the Eucharist in a processional manner, as we have said, and receive Communion standing with devotion, or on their knees as established by the Episcopal Conference, receiving the Sacrament either on the tongue or in the hand, if allowed, as preferred.” (cf. girm 160-161). It makes therefore no difference whether you receive the host on your tongue or hand, standing or kneeling, the important thing is the attitude you have when approaching the Communion, what you carry in our heart during this emotional and special encounter with Jesus.

  1. Is gluten-free host accepted by the Church?

Yes, it is, even if it must respect the minimum percentage of gluten established by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We spoke about that recently, it is a quite thorny matter, because given the raising demand due to the increasing number of celiac people, or anyway gluten-intolerant, the Church opinion seemed to be a bit confused. The issue was to determine what was the accepted percentage of gluten in the flour, main ingredient of hosts, which would not cause damage to devotees, but at the same time could be accepted by the current dispositions in the field of Eucharist. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith established that hosts must contain wheat starch even in a minimum amount: “Low-gluten hosts are valid matter, provided that they contain the amount of gluten sufficient to obtain the confection of bread, that there is no addition of foreign materials and that the procedure for making such hosts is not such as to alter the nature of the substance of the bread.” (circular letter to all Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, June 19th, 1995). Now things look much clearer. Gluten-free hosts (with a maximum amount of gluten of 20 mg/kg) or with low gluten (maximum 100 mg/kg) will be accepted by the Church and considered valid matter for Eucharist.

  1. Only those who confessed are allowed to receive the Communion?

Pope Francis confession

It depends on the gravity of sins. For those approaching Communion having committed light and minor sins, true penance and commitment not to sin anymore is surely enough. Of course, Confession is very important, but it must be intended because of a real repentance, not a pass that washes away all guilt no matter what. It is a precious gift we receive from God because we regretted our actions and chose to do better. In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which talks about the Gospel announcement and is addressed to bishops, Presbyterians and deacons, to consecrated people and lay faithful, Pope Francis lingers on the need that the Church be an open house at all times, for those approaching it with a pure heart longing for grace. It exhorts priests not to act as grace inspectors, but as facilitators. No one, entering a church, should ever find a closed and cold door, but all the comprehension and love they expect when going back to the Father’s home. Everyone can then be part of the ecclesiastical life and of the community. Under this point of view, the access to Sacraments must be open to everyone as well. Eucharist in particular should not be intended as a prize for the smartest or most worthy, but also and most of all, as an encouragement for the weakest, something that can fuel their faith and their will to do well.

  1. Should you stand or kneel to receive the Communion?

It makes no difference. We already quoted what the Holy Father said about that during the General Audience in Piazza San Pietro on March 21st: what is important is not the way, but the how, the attitude we have when approaching the Sacrament. Before the Vatican Council II the most popular rule was kneeling, receiving the host directly on our tongue. After the Council, it was possible to choose whether to receive the most Holy Sacrament standing or kneeling. Today it is most common to receive the Communion standing, on our hand or tongue: or kneeling, with the host on our tongue.
Communion was born as a community act. During the last supper, Jesus was with his Apostles around a table, and he offered them first the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, His blessed body and blood. With time, this community ritual became more and more individual and private. A clear example is that instead of sharing a common bread, the devotees began taking hosts, or particles, offered them by the Minister himself. Since 1967, devotees can choose if they want to receive the Communion on their knees, standing, on the tongue or in the hand. They only need to remember that what they are doing is not an act of individual devotion, but a common one, and that implies understanding other people’s choices and needs.

  1. Can the Priest avoid saying “Christ’s Body” during the Communion?

No, he cannot. The liturgical reformation reinstated the original formula to be recited when the faithful receives Christ’s body and blood. If he wouldn’t, that would mean diminishing that moment, the highest and most precious of the celebration, its solemnity, and take out the aim itself of the Mass.

  1. Is it necessary to cover the Eucharistic host during the mass?

You can do that, but it’s not mandatory. In the past it was normal, even though the reasons people did that were more practical than sacred. It was necessary to cover the wine glass, the plate and the glass for the hosts in order to protect the precious content from flies and dirt. This exquisitely practical need strengthened its value with time, so much that it became a usual norm. Today the priest decides whether it would be better to cover the glass and the pyx containing the consecrated hosts with their cloths. He cannot cover the big host, the one used for the Consecration.

  1. What should a lay minister wear when distributing the Communion?

Usually the extraordinary minister of the Communion should wear a tunic or a garment approved by the Episcopal Conference, but that is not an essential obligation. Let’s remember that the extraordinary minister of the Holy Communion is a lay man fulfilling the role of officer of the most Holy Sacrament in case of actual need. That might happen during particularly crowded Masses, or when the Minister is not able to fulfill his duties, such as a dying man that wants to receive the Eucharist or other contexts where there are more sick people to communicate and not enough priests to do that. A Priest must issue the mandate to the extraordinary minister. For a permanent mandate, the chosen person must be at least twenty-five, for a temporary one it is enough to be twenty-one. Of course, he has to be a morally worthy and appropriate person, since he will have to communicate the others. At the same time, it will be enough to wear clothes that are appropriate for the celebration and express respect and devotion.

  1. Only wheat bread for the Eucharist?

Absolutely yes. Since the Council of Trento, the Church itself stated that they didn’t have the power to change the tradition of wheat bread, even though in time the idea of other flours was evaluated, especially in those regions and cultures where wheat is not regularly used. But it was decided to avoid that. After all, point 282 of the Roman Missal says: “The bread for celebrating the Eucharist must be made only from wheat, must be recently baked, and, according to the ancient tradition of the Latin Church, must be unleavened.” The Church condemns any too casual interpretation of the rule, and admonished those Ministers of the Church who tried to make their hosts more desirable by adding sugar or honey, or even aromatized with fruits.  In Holland, they even tried to switch the Mass wine with beer! The intervention by Pope Francis cast every doubt: with a circular letter from the Congregation for the Divine Worship, the Holy Father reaffirmed that: “The bread, that is the host, must be unleavened, purely of wheat and recently made, so that there is no danger of decomposition.”

  1. How many times can you receive the Communion?

You can receive up to two Communions per day, as long as they are both during a Holy Mass. Actually since 1967 there is no maximum number of Masses that can be attended in one day, but there is a rule for the number of times you can receive the Communion. It is advised not to exceed two Communions, as it might result in an excess of devotion that could make lose sight on the real value of the act. This is valid for priests as well; they can only celebrate two masses per day, only if necessary, and therefore can receive a maximum of two Communions per day. The Code of Canon Law says:” Apart from those cases in which the law allows him to celebrate or concelebrate the Eucharist a number of times on the same day, a priest may not celebrate more than once a day. If there is a scarcity of priests, the local Ordinary may for a good reason allow priests to celebrate twice in one day” (Canon 905) In this matter, such as in many others concerning faith, it’s not quantity that counts, but quality. It is better to receive Communion once a week, but with your heart ready and your soul entirely dedicated to God, rather than multiple times a day, but with the wrong attitude.