May 15, 2002

Changes in the Communion Rite 1977 – 2002

Online Edition

– Vol. VIII, No. 3: May 2002

Radical Relocation of Transcendence

Changes in the Communion Rite 1977 – 2002

by Susan Benofy

The liturgical movement … is engaged in a radical relocation of the experience of transcendence, and with that, a reinterpretation of its meaning.

– Melissa Kay, It is Your Own Mystery, Introduction


A set of norms for Communion under both kinds (or species) for the United States was released March 22. Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, effective April 7, 2002, will require reform of the Communion Rite in many American parishes.

Changes will be necessary wherever innovations promoted by liturgical experts who "reinterpreted" the essential meaning of Holy Communion have been introduced in parishes, along with a "radical relocation the experience of transcendence".

To understand the therapeutic effect the new norms are intended to have on the celebration of Mass, it is worth reviewing how radical this "relocation" was intended to be — and how it came about.

Thirty years of liturgical renewal

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, permitted restoration of Communion under both kinds, that is, both the consecrated bread and wine, "at the discretion of the bishops" (§55). Gradually restrictions of the practice were eased, so that by the late 1970s, most US parishes routinely administered Communion under both kinds at most Masses.

Though it had repeatedly rejected the practice of Communion in the hand, in 1977 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) voted to allow this practice. Then, in November 1978, the NCCB approved Communion under both kinds on Sundays (by a vote of 187 to 82).

In Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal,1 Monsignor Frederick McManus, perhaps the most influential of the post-Conciliar liturgical reformers and first director of the US bishops’ Liturgy Committee (BCL) secretariat,2 contrasts the treatment of these two proposals by the Holy See.

When the NCCB approved Communion in the hand, in June 1977, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) "promptly sent the necessary confirmation, dated June 17". At the time "no formality of Roman review or confirmation was insisted upon", according to McManus (p. 193, 194).

The 1978 proposal to offer Communion in both species was treated very differently. In this case, the Holy See "first insisted upon review and then was unwilling to confirm the decree until 1984" (p. 194). The condition for confirmation was the publication of a directory of norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds. The directory, This Holy and Living Sacrifice (THLS), was written by the BCL secretariat. It was not approved by the CDW until 1984, when the NCCB proposal for Communion under both kinds on Sundays was also confirmed. Though THLS was intended as liturgical law, thus would ordinarily need a two-thirds vote of the bishops, it was never voted on at all — neither by the full body of bishops nor by its Administrative Committee, according to documentation from the June 2001 NCCB meeting.

Many bishops did not wait for confirmation from Rome to institute Communion in both kinds on Sundays. They followed the advice of the BCL, which said in its January 1969 Newsletter announcing the results of the NCCB vote to permit it:

This decision extends Communion under both kinds beyond the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 242) and does not need confirmation by the Holy See. The extension may be immediately implemented by the local bishop. (McManus, p 145, emphasis added.)

Your Own Mystery

Although the BCL secretariat advised bishops to implement Communion under both kinds in large Sunday congregations, the conference never provided (or even discussed) norms to govern the new practice. Dioceses devised their own norms, often adopting proposals of various unofficial organizations and publications.

The most influential of these, judging from the practices that developed, was a collection of papers published in 1977 by the Liturgical Conference called It is Your Own Mystery: Guide for the Communion Rite (YOM). The book gives detailed procedures for distributing Communion under both kinds at a Sunday Mass.

The Introduction to YOM was written by Melissa Kay, a member of the editorial staff of the Liturgical Conference. She noted that recent changes in liturgical practices had caused confusion and provoked emotional reactions from some people. Although some had observed that the changes led to an abandonment of transcendence,3 Kay asserts that this is not true; instead, she writes,

The liturgical movement … is engaged in a radical relocation of the experience of transcendence, and with that, a reinterpretation of its meaning (p 4).

Kay acknowledges that there is a "long religious tradition" in which transcendence relates to the otherness of God, and is expressed in the separation "of the sacred from the profane, of the sanctuary from the nave, of the ordained from the unordained" (p 4).

But transcendence can also be understood as a dynamism, an energy, a quality of being, opening from within and drawing from without toward the expansion and enrichment of life….

Between these two understandings and experiences of transcendence, vast differences in attitudes toward God, self and church occur…. The transition from the first to the second represents a profound alteration of consciousness (pp 4-5, emphasis added).

The president of the Liturgical Conference at that time, Sister Mary Collins, OSB,4 contributed a chapter, "Historical Perspectives", in which she insists that the Eucharist was first considered a meal. Later, she says, the understanding was "broadened" to include also a memorial of the Lord, but then the perception was narrowed. So "contemporary adult Catholics" have been taught to view the Eucharist "solely as sacrificial offering".

Reconciliation of this image with that of a commemoration of the Lord through food and drink consumed will require persistent and patient catechesis. More than that, however it will require consistent and clear experience.

…Catholic people must celebrate the Eucharist as a meal … if they are to believe in this mystery (p 7, original emphasis).

It is clear that these "progressive" experts agree with the most ardent traditionalists on what traditional Catholic practices mean. However, they aim to change the meaning — so the rubrics they advocate are designed to ensure that Catholics have the sort of "consistent and clear experience" which would lead to the desired "relocation" of transcendence and "alteration of consciousness".

Radical breaking, radical break

The detailed procedures for the Communion Rite, as the Liturgical Conference envisions it, are given in Father Robert Hovda’s, chapter, "Pastoral Guidelines". Hovda was a priest of the diocese of Fargo and editorial director of the Liturgical Conference.5 The innovations he proposes will be familiar to many Catholics today.

Although Hovda says that the Communion vessels "should be extraordinary, beautiful in materials and design" (p 23), the vessels shown in the photographs illustrating the book (see above and page 9) are made of pottery in a primitive style, and one is even chipped.

The bread shown in the illustrations is obviously leavened, with a crisp crust like French bread. Hovda lays great stress on the breaking of the bread, insisting that there must be "a radical break with our immediate past and our entrenched habits" (p 23). "We cannot build a celebration of the breaking of the bread with prefabricated and predivided, machine punched little round wafers", he says (p. 24). He further suggests that the rubrics are inherently contradictory:

Just for the moment let us suppose … that in the liturgical books and official directives of a church that is beginning a traumatic process of reform and renewal one finds … both the necessary renewal action and the contrary established custom equally affirmed…. Is it possible that the bishops of the Second Vatican Council had such a fantasy in mind when they declared: "Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, more is required than the mere observance of the laws governing valid and licit celebration" [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 11] (p 25).

Hovda instructs those breaking the consecrated bread to hold it above the plate and break off pieces so that "the hands and the portions of the loaf are visible to all throughout the breaking process." And those who pour (or ladle) the Precious Blood "must not place the lip of the large vessel or the ladle so close to the communion cups that there is no visible evidence of a transfer of contents". He emphasizes that the breaking and pouring "should be neither hidden nor furtive" (p 26).

Hovda says the sacrament is "truncated" without the "wine-sign". He responds to health concerns about the common chalice by saying that the alcohol content of the wine, the polished surface of a metal chalice and wiping the rim after each person suffice to eliminate bacteria. He says "drinking from a common cup is quite certainly a more sanitary procedure than the custom still in use in many churches of placing the holy bread directly on the tongue of the communicant" (p 29).

Ministers’ "servant function"

Hovda argues that "it is more visibly a servant function if the presider and the other ministers receive last", and gives details on how this can be done. He claims that "it has been greeted with unanimous approval, even gratification, in the instances where we have witnessed its practice" (p 31).

The sacred vessels, he says, should be placed on a credence table and covered, and "any sacramental elements that remain [are] to be consumed or poured on the earth after the liturgy is over" (p 31). He insists that the minister must make eye contact with the communicant and emphasizes Communion in the hand, never mentioning the traditional practice of Communion on the tongue (except to suggest it is unsanitary in the passage quoted above).

Hovda insists on using lay extraordinary ministers, and discourages clergy not otherwise participating in the Mass (he calls them "vagabond participants") from distributing Communion.

Sacrosanct customs, therefore, have to be reexamined and questioned in the light of the kind of corporate feeling that we have to try to achieve in liturgical celebrations…. [I]t is not appropriate for all available clergy in the vicinity to invade the assembly’s act of common prayer at its height in order to "help with communions"….

It is "externals" and "superficial things", sense experiences like the inappropriate customs already mentioned, which effectively prevent an appreciation of the wholeness and the commonness of liturgical action. Similarly alternative sense experiences will help us pull both ourselves and our liturgy together. (pp 16-17, emphasis in original)

Hovda, like Sister Mary Collins, proposed changes in practice in order to alter people’s perceptions of what the Eucharist is. He describes his rubrics as "guidelines", which are "exploratory and provocative, not final and ultimate". Yet some of his provocative innovations were widely adopted and are still included in many liturgy planning guides and descriptions of ideal liturgies.

Collaborators push agenda

One of Hovda’s close collaborators at the Liturgical Conference was Gabe Huck. The two men co-authored a book in 1969, There’s No Place Like PeopleLiturgical celebration in home and small-group situations, published by the Liturgical Conference.

Twenty years later, Mr. Huck, who became director of Chicago’s Liturgy Training Publications (LTP) in 1977, promoted Hovda’s ideas in his own 1989 book, The Communion Rite at Sunday Mass.

Huck included excerpts from YOM, and says that it "covered much of this ground in a most wonderful way in 1977. That book is now out of print; those fortunate enough to possess a copy should know it as a continuing source of wisdom and direction".

Like Hovda, Huck gives a detailed procedure for distributing Communion to the ministers at a side table after the Communion of the rest of the congregation. In Huck’s version, the "presider" is not involved. Instead, "The first minister of the bread and the first minister of the cup to return to this table become ministers to the others" (p 89).

Huck claims that this procedure "is in accord with the rubrics" (p 40). He adds that it is "part of the work of communion ministers to return after Mass in order to purify the vessels" (p. 90).

Huck, like Hovda, assumes that lay ministers will always assist with Communion, including the breaking of the bread. When the breaking of the bread begins, he says, two ministers bring extra "cups" and "plates" to the altar.

When they come forward with the vessels, these two ministers begin to assist the presider: One helps to break and distribute the bread, the other takes the large container of wine and begins to fill the smaller cups. (p. 37)

The breaking and pouring should be visible he says, warning that they often seem "almost furtive".

They should be done with reverence and care and a fullness that is shown by lifting up the cup that is being filled or by holding the bread being broken above the plate. (p 38)

Echoing Hovda, Huck stresses that there must be "real bread to be really broken" , and an illustration shows a priest holding a large bread, about the size and thickness of a pancake (p 30). Huck cites General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 283, that the Eucharistic bread must be unleavened. Later, however, he cites an article by the canonist John Huels discussing requirements for altar bread says that "it has been very difficult in practice to discover a recipe for bread that is composed of water and flour only, yet looks like real food" (p 80) – like Hovda, suggesting that there is a conflict between "real food" and unleavened bread.

He goes further, proposing that intinction, administering Communion by the priest dipping the host into the chalice, be prohibited:

That need for full expression of the symbol is also the reason why that manner of communion called intinction is to be avoided (p. 57).

Huck also argues that the common chalice presents no health problems, and inserts two side bars on this topic – one quoting Hovda.

In July 2001, after 24 years as editor of Liturgy Training Publications, Huck was asked to resign.

Toward the Third Millennium

Two decades after the publication of YOM, another influential liturgist, Father Kevin Irwin, repeated its proposals in Eucharist: Toward the Third Millennium, papers from a symposium in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Liturgical Studies Program at Catholic University of America (CUA) published by LTP in 1997.6

Father Irwin, director of the Liturgical Studies program at CUA, says: "we are truly at a new moment of liturgical reform and ongoing renewal today because we are asking questions of the documents of the present revised liturgy — both the General Instruction and the rites themselves — that were not envisioned when they were written".

Irwin says the frequent reception of Communion under both species by large numbers of people was not envisioned by the revised liturgical books. Consequently, the "rites of communion, derived largely from the Tridentine Missal, need reexamination and revision in light of liturgical tradition in order to meet this pastoral need", and advises that "most helpful in the interim is certainly Gabe Huck, The Communion Rite at Sunday Mass" (p. 74 and footnote 23).

Like Huck and Hovda, Irwin stressed the expanded fraction rite and the need for the assembly to see what is happening, adding that requiring the priest to receive Communion first is based on a primary concern with validity in the Tridentine rite. Now, however, Irwin states, "what was formerly a rubric to ensure validity could easily (and should) be changed to a rubric of hospitality, with clergy and all Eucharistic ministers receiving last".

Say Amen to What You Are

A video illustrates the innovations of Hovda, Huck and Irwin: Say Amen to What You Are, produced by LTP in 1997.

The video shows the Communion Rite enacted in two parishes in the Chicago area. Loaves of leavened bread are consecrated. Extraordinary ministers assist in breaking the consecrated bread and pouring the consecrated wine into glass chalices. All receive Communion in the hand. The extraordinary ministers receive last, and purify the vessels after Mass. They discuss the importance of eye contact and touching the hand of the communicant.

Innovations adopted

For the past twenty-five years, during the most sacred part of the Mass, the Communion Rite, American parishes have followed innovative rubrics that are entirely the work of liturgical "experts". Not even the first version of This Holy and Living Sacrifice was approved by the conference of bishops.

Many Catholics object in vain to these practices. They find the bustle of a large number of extraordinary ministers in the sanctuary disrupts the atmosphere of awe and contemplation that should characterize the Communion rite. They are dismayed by careless and irreverent treatment of sacred vessels and even of the Body and Blood of Christ. They object to having their experience of transcendence "relocated" and "reinterpreted"; they resist having their "consciousness" altered. Those who protest these practices are deemed "divisive" and "pre-Conciliar". Most suffer in silence.

The New Norms for Holy Communion

The new official norms for the Communion Rite promise to bring new clarity to how the Church expects her sacraments to be observed.

The new Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR), the rules for celebration of Mass in the revised Roman Missal, had stressed the requirement that Eucharistic bread be unleavened.

The new US Norms for Communion in Both Kinds permit the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion when necessary:

When recourse is had to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion … their number should not be increased beyond what is required for the orderly and reverent distribution of the Body and Blood of the Lord. (Norms §28)

The norms do not discourage intinction:

In practice, the need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary ministers might in some circumstances constitute a reason either for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species or for using intinction instead of distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice. (Norms §24)

Extraordinary Ministers are not to assist at the fraction rite:

As the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God is begun, the bishop or priest alone, or with the assistance of the deacon, and if necessary of concelebrating priests, breaks the Eucharistic bread.

Other empty chalices and ciboria or patens are then brought to the altar if this is necessary. The deacon or priest places the consecrated bread in several ciboria or patens and, if necessary, pours the Precious Blood into enough additional chalices as are required for the distribution of Holy Communion. (Norms §37)

Only after the fraction rite do the extraordinary ministers approach the altar.

If extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required by pastoral need, they approach the altar as the priest receives Communion. After the priest has concluded his own Communion, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary ministers … (Norms §38)

The procedure for the reception of Communion by extraordinary ministers follows the rules in the new IGMR:

The practice of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion waiting to receive Holy Communion until after the distribution of Holy Communion is not in accord with liturgical law. (Norms §39)

Contrary to Father Hovda’s instructions:

The reverence due to the Precious Blood of the Lord demands that it be fully consumed after Communion is completed and never be poured into the ground or the sacrarium. (Norms §55)

Extraordinary ministers may consume what remains of the Blood of Christ if the diocesan bishop gives permission. (Norms §52) According to a letter from Cardinal Medina, this is permitted "given the grave and overriding need to safeguard the Precious Blood".

The Norms themselves make no provision for Extraordinary Ministers to purify the vessels; however, a separate decree from the Congregation states that

for grave pastoral reasons, the faculty may be given by the diocesan bishop to the priest celebrant to use the assistance, when necessary, even of extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the distribution of Communion has been completed in the celebration of Mass. This faculty is conceded for a period of three years as a dispensation from the norm of the Institutio Generalis, editio typica tertia of the Roman Missal.

In parishes where innovations for the celebration of Mass promoted by Hovda, Huck, Irwin, et al., have been practiced, people may need to be told that the Norms require (in the words of Father Hovda) "a radical break with our immediate past and our entrenched habits".

Some may find change difficult. Liturgists who relentlessly promoted schemes for "a radical relocation of the experience of transcendence" — with its underlying defective sacramental theology — may find it particularly difficult. But Catholics who long for more reverent worship will welcome the new norms that put the "experience of transcendence" back where it has always belonged.



1 Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal: Statements of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1987). pp 192-199.

2 Monsignor McManus, professor emeritus of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America, was a peritus at Vatican II, a member of the Consilium charged with implementing the Council’s decrees, a founding member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). He was elected president of the Liturgical Conference in 1964, but resigned to become the first director of the US bishops’ Liturgy committee secretariat.

3 Notably, a landmark 1974 critique of the early post-Conciliar reform by historian, James Hitchcock, The Recovery of the Sacred. (Originally published by Seabury Press and reprinted by Ignatius Press in 1993.)

4 Sister Mary Collins, OSB, as a member of ICEL contributed to the ICEL Psalter, published by LTP, and other projects. She was a member of the Religious Studies faculty of Catholic University of America until 1999 when she became prioress of her Benedictine community in Atchison, Kansas.

5 Hovda was also the primary author of the controversial Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, published by the BCL in 1978. Some of Hovda’s recommendations from YOM can be found in EACW.

6 Eucharist: Toward the Third Millennium (Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, 1997) A collection of papers edited by Martin F. Connell. Participants in the symposium included Sister Mary Collins, Monsignor Frederick McManus, Mr. Gabe Huck and others. (Huck’s is not among the published papers).



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.