Sep 15, 2003

Communion by Intinction

Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 6: September 2003

Communion by Intinction: A "New" Way of Receiving Communion in Both Kinds

Intinction may be unfamiliar — but would more Catholics receive the Precious Blood at Mass if this reverent method of administering it were used? Is it time to change our ways?

by Susan Benofy

"Communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See" (Sacrosanctum Concilium §55).

By these words the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened the way to a change in the long-standing practice in the Roman Rite of administering Holy Communion to the faithful only under the form of bread.

The Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) listed only a few specific instances when Communion under both kinds might be distributed. Gradually the list expanded until, in the newly revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the decision is left wholly to the diocesan bishop. The GIRM explicitly notes that the teaching of the Council of Trent that Christ is received "whole and entire" in each of the elements:

Sacred pastors should take care to ensure that the faithful who participate in the rite or are present at it are as fully aware as possible of the Catholic teaching on the form of Holy Communion as set forth by the Ecumenical Council of Trent. Above all, they should instruct the Christian faithful that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation. (GIRM §282)

It also expands the possibilities for distribution Holy Communion under both kinds:

The Diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which are also to be observed in churches of religious and at celebrations with small groups. The Diocesan Bishop is also given the faculty to permit Communion under both kinds whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason. (GIRM §283)

And it lists the methods for distributing Holy Communion under both species.

The Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon. (GIRM §245)

The GIRM gives directions for administering the Precious Blood both by drinking from the chalice and by intinction. In the US, receiving directly from the chalice is the standard practice when Communion in both kinds (or species) is received.

Most Catholics have never experienced Communion by intinction. In this method the priest takes the consecrated host, dips it part way into the chalice (intincts it), then places it on the tongue of the communicant. Intinction requires fewer ministers for distribution of Communion, as only one chalice is needed. Since less wine is consecrated, less Precious Blood remains to be consumed after Communion, and there are fewer vessels to purify after Mass. One might think that many pastors would find these features of intinction desirable and that this method of administering Communion in both species would be used widely.

Yet the practice is rare, largely because most liturgists oppose it. Indeed, some have objected strongly that the GIRM lists intinction second among the possible methods of distributing Communion in both species, rather than last, as in previous editions. (Administering Communion by special tube or spoon has never been common in the Western Church.)

Opposition to Intinction

The progressivist liturgical organization We Believe!, for example, gave suggestions on its web site for changing the GIRM to limit intinction:

§161 (117) Suggested change: [Add] the directive that intinction should not being introduced to circumvent the practice of communion in the hand.

Rationale: [T]here is a concern that the prominence of intinction in the new GIRM will lead to the impression that it is an equally acceptable alternative in the United States, especially under the form of "self-intinction".

The idea that intinction will lead to "self intinction" is unsupportable. The GIRM specifically forbids "self intinction", stressing that Holy Communion must always be received from a minister.

The basis of the real objection is that communicants must receive the intincted host on the tongue. But Communion should always be received in the hand, according to liturgical progressives. They discourage and sometimes ridicule receiving Communion on the tongue.

Liturgist Fred Moleck, director of the Office of Worship in the diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, expresses a typical attitude toward intinction in his online column "Table Talk", which appears on the website of music publisher GIA (

One of the options in receiving the Eucharist [in the GIRM] is a rather lengthy description on how to do intinction.


I know of one bishop who said, "Not in my diocese". I hope there are more.

Moleck does not name the bishop, but in his own diocese Bishop Anthony Bosco does not seem to approve of intinction, judging from a question he addressed to Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, then chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, at the November 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Bishop Bosco: Archbishop, I have a hunch what the answer is, but I guess I can live in hope until I hear it from you. Or plead ignorance, one of the two.

Concerning the options that are given in the General Instruction about reception of Communion: drinking from the chalice directly, by intinction, a tube or with a spoon: Communion by intinction is referred to twice in the document. Is the local ordinary permitted to proscribe any of these forms?

The response echoed this lack of enthusiasm for intinction:

Archbishop Lipscomb: We had an original adaptation in the Norms that the Holy See took out on the question as to whether or not the local ordinary– In the humble opinion of the Secretariat on the Liturgy, no. As much as it distresses me to say.

I would hope, with you, that there would be other possibilities for the local bishop, because I can see possible difficulties arising from some of this. But right now, if you have to have an answer, this would be the law of the Church.

By "the Norms", Archbishop Lipscomb means the "Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America", a document passed by the USCCB in June 2001, and approved (with revisions) by the Holy See on March 22, 2002.

While there was no explicit provision in the bishops’ original version of the Norms that said a diocesan bishop could prohibit intinction, there was a paragraph about intinction that was removed by the Holy See. The deleted paragraph echoed the proposal of We Believe!:

Distribution of the Precious Blood by intinction should never be adopted as a means to limit the communicant’s legitimate option to receive Communion in the hand.

This was apparently intended as a warrant to forbid intinction altogether. (Liturgical progressivists, in fact, do not seem able even to imagine any reason for intinction except for limiting Communion in the hand. )

The original version of the Norms said "Communion from the chalice is to be preferred to any other form of ministering the Precious Blood", as was cited in official news releases at the time.

The Norms — Revised

A review of the revisions of the proposed Norms shows that the Holy See, although noting the "sign value" of receiving directly from the chalice, also sees advantages of intinction under some circumstances. In the Holy See’s revision of the Norms, the original reference to the chalice was replaced with the following:

42. Among the ways of ministering the Precious Blood as prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Communion from the chalice is generally the preferred form in the Latin Church, provided that it can be carried out properly according to the norms and without any risk of even apparent irreverence toward the Blood of Christ.3

Other revisions of the Norms indicate that in some circumstances intinction is actually to be preferred.

For example, in paragraph 24, which originally simply quoted the GIRM, saying that the diocesan bishop is to set norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds in his diocese, the revision adds:

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. (Emphasis added)

So it is not accurate to say that in all circumstances "Communion from the chalice is to be preferred to any other form of ministering the Precious Blood".

Intinction Sometimes Preferred

Opponents of intinction view this revision of the US Norms as a retreat from an earlier instruction. However, the Holy See’s 1970 document on Communion under both kinds, Sacramentali Communione, had expressed a preference for intinction in many circumstances. This is found in §6 (ironically, the very section that is usually cited to justify the preference for receiving directly from the chalice). It is revealing to read this section in its entirety:

6. 1) For a fitting administration of Communion under both kinds care must be taken that all is done with proper reverence and that the rite outlined in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal nos. 244-251 is observed.

2) The character of the particular liturgical assembly as well as the age, circumstances, and preparation of the communicants should be considered, then the choice should be made of the way of giving Communion that insures its being done with dignity, devotion, propriety, and the avoidance of the danger of irreverence.

3) Among the ways of communicating prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, receiving from the chalice itself ranks first. Even so, it is to be chosen only when everything can be carried out in fitting order and with no danger of irreverence toward the blood of Christ.

4) When they are available, other priests or deacons or even acolytes should be chosen to present the chalice. The method of communicating in which the communicants pass the chalice to one another or go directly to the chalice to take Christ’s blood must be regarded as unacceptable.

5) Whenever none of the ministers already mentioned is available, if the communicants are few and are to receive Communion under both kinds by drinking directly from the chalice, the priest himself distributes Communion, first under the form of bread, then under the form of wine.

6) Otherwise the preference should be for the rite of Communion under both kinds by intinction: it is more likely to obviate the practical difficulties and to ensure the reverence due the Sacrament more effectively. Intinction makes access to Communion under both kinds easier and safer for the faithful of all ages and conditions; at the same time it preserves the truth present in the more complete sign. (Emphasis added)

Generally, only the first part of no. 3 above is quoted — that is, receiving directly from the chalice "ranks first". Cited in isolation, this seems to support the view that drinking from the chalice is always to be preferred. But "sign value" is not the main emphasis of this section. Three times this short passage stresses that the distribution of the Blood of Christ must be done with the proper reverence. And it explicitly states that drinking from the chalice is to be chosen only if it can be carried out with due dignity and reverence. Intinction is often to be preferred — and is "easier and safer", the directive says. Safety here refers to the concern that drinking from the common chalice might spread disease — a concern dismissed by most liturgists, sometimes with rather bizarre arguments.

"Rich and Sensate Experience" Overrides Dignity and Reverence

The late liturgist Father Robert Hovda, for example, in an influential 1977 book, It Is Your Own Mystery, A Guide to the Communion Rite", responds to common objections to Communion from the cup, among them "convenience" and "hygiene" (equivalent to "ease" and "safety" in Sacramentali Communione.)

Convenience should not be a consideration, in Hovda’s view. What is necessary is that "the experience of all participants can be as rich and sensate as possible" (p. 29). As to questions of hygiene, Hovda states, the alcohol content, the polished surface of a metal chalice and the practice of wiping the rim after each person are sufficient to eliminate bacteria. (Curiously, although Hovda speaks of metal chalices, the book’s illustrations show only ceramic cups.) He pushes the point:

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)

Gabe Huck, longtime editor of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Liturgy Training Publications (LTP), in an article in Liturgy 80, implies that the hygiene questions about the common chalice are actually a mask for fear of intimacy:

Steeled as we all are to the unhealthy deeds of waste disposal, pesticide spraying, acid rain and even chemical warfare, what is so scary about that cup?

Is it perhaps that here — far more than in the very separate pieces of bread – we confront a very specific kind of intimacy? Fear of contagion is certainly part of resisting the cup, but is not fear of such intimacy the larger context?

Huck reprinted this excerpt in his 1989 book, The Communion Rite at Sunday Mass (now withdrawn from distribution by LTP).

Liturgical progressivists show little concern for dignity and reverence as usually understood. They object to kneeling, genuflecting, silence and other ordinary expressions of reverence. Instead, they insist on "real" bread, which must be broken into fragments — each of which is, in reality, the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ. Detailed instructions on the distribution of Holy Communion proclaim the necessity of eye contact with the communicant, but neglect to mention that great care must be taken with particles of the Body of Christ. (See, for example, Hovda’s It Is Your Own Mystery, p. 32; and LTP’s popular Video Guides for Ministers of Communion and Gather Faithfully Together.)

Progressivists have been complaining since the release of the new GIRM that its rules are impossible to follow in the US, because with large congregations extraordinary ministers of Communion are needed to help with the Fraction Rite (breaking the consecrated bread) and to purify vessels, which are not permitted in the new GIRM.

Administering Holy Communion by intinction would eliminate this "need". This was noted in the Holy See’s denial of the US bishops’ requests for indults to allow extraordinary ministers to perform these functions. *

According to the October 25, 2001 letter from Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, then-prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to the president of the US bishops’ conference:

Certain reasons given for a derogation from the norms [of the GIRM] would actually fall instead under the denotation of precisely the sort of difficulty to which n. 283 refers as a limitation upon distribution under both species, while the use of intinction remains a way in which such distribution may still be carried out reverently in accord with all norms of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani.

Despite liturgists’ laments about a "retreat from the renewal of Vatican II", this provision for intinction is in complete accord with Sacramentali Communione.

Many Catholics have avoided receiving Communion from the chalice — for a variety of reasons, not excluding concern about the spread of disease. Insisting that the "fuller sign" of receiving the Precious Blood is available only through drinking from the chalice has prevented many people from receiving Communion under both species.

It is surely worth reviewing the advantages of intinction enumerated in Sacramentali Communione:

  • [I]t is more likely to obviate the practical difficulties and to ensure the reverence due the sacrament more effectively.
  • Intinction makes access to Communion under both kinds easier and safer for the faithful of all ages and conditions;
  • At the same time it preserves the truth present in the more complete sign.

These aspects of intinction ought to be weighed thoughtfully now, as we implement the changes in the new Missal.


* Later, the Holy See granted three-year dispensation from the GIRM to bishops of the United States, "for grave pastoral reasons" to permit priests to "use the assistance, when necessary, even of extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the distribution of Communion has been completed at Mass" (CDW – Prot 1382/01/L March 22, 2002).



­ Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. December 4, 1963. §55

– Council of Trent, session 21, Doctrina de communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, July 16, 1562, chapters 1-3: Denz-Schön, 1725-1729.

– Congregation for Divine Worship, Sacramentali Communione: Instruction Extending the Practice of Communion Under Both Kinds (June 29, 1970), no. 6 (DOL 270, no. 2115).

It is Your Own Mystery: A Guide to the Communion Rite, ed. 1997, Liturgical Conference.

– Gabe Huck. The Communion Rite at Sunday Mass, 1989, Liturgy Training Publications (Archdiocese of Chicago).

Video Guide for Ministers of Communion; Video Guide for Gather Faithfully Together. 1997, 1998, Liturgy Training Publications.

– Cardinal Medina Estévez, Letter on American Adaptations, October 25, 2001 (see AB Dec 01-Jan 02).


(Helen Hull Hitchcock contributed to this essay.)



Susan Benofy

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