Distributing Communion to Concelebrants

And More on Freemasonry

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ROME, FEB. 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: Paragraph 246 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides that the deacon may present the chalice for the Communion of concelebrants at Mass, but Paragraph 242 says that the paten may be passed to the concelebrants by another priest concelebrant. The deacon is not mentioned. Does this mean that the deacon may not distribute the consecrated Host to the concelebrants? -- J.C., Venice, Florida

A: The paragraphs in question are:

"242. When this prayer before Communion is finished, the principal celebrant genuflects and steps back a little. Then one after another the concelebrants come to the middle of the altar, genuflect, and reverently take the Body of Christ from the altar. Then holding it in their right hand, with the left hand placed below, they return to their places. The concelebrants may, however, remain in their places and take the Body of Christ from the paten presented to them by the principal celebrant or by one or more of the concelebrants, or by passing the paten one to another."

"246. If Communion is received by drinking directly from the chalice, one or other of two procedures may be followed:

"a. The principal celebrant, standing at the middle of the altar, takes the chalice and says quietly, Sanguis Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Blood of Christ bring me to everlasting life). He consumes a little of the Blood of Christ and hands the chalice to the deacon or a concelebrant. He then distributes Communion to the faithful (cf. above, nos. 160-162).

"b. The concelebrants approach the altar one after another or, if two chalices are used, two by two. They genuflect, partake of the Blood of Christ, wipe the rim of the chalice, and return to their seats.

"c. The principal celebrant normally consumes the Blood of the Lord standing at the middle of the altar.

"d. The concelebrants may, however, partake of the Blood of the Lord while remaining in their places and drinking from the chalice presented to them by the deacon or by one of the concelebrants, or else passed from one to the other. The chalice is always wiped either by the one who drinks from it or by the one who presents it. After communicating, each returns to his seat."

The texts actually refer to two different moments. No. 242 refers to the distribution of the hosts to all concelebrants before the "This is the Lamb of God." No. 246 (d) refers to the deacons presenting (but not administering) the Precious Blood when there are numerous concelebrants.

The intent of these norms is to attempt to foresee various possible situations, and indicate the best possible procedure. No. 242 indicates a preferred situation: each concelebrant coming to the center of the altar, but also offers other solutions if this is not feasible.

It is clear however that, at this moment, distribution of the hosts by the deacon is not contemplated.

No. 246 (d) also presents several ways in which the concelebrating priests consume the Precious Blood. No mention is made of the deacon presenting the hosts because No. 246 is presuming that the priests have already consumed the Body of Christ.

It is in Nos. 248-249 that the possibility is contemplated of the priests consuming both species at the altar, either one after the other, or by intinction.

The missal cannot foresee all situations, and there are cases when the number of concelebrants is so large, or the space available so restricted, that it is impracticable for all the priests to approach the altar.

In such cases it is possible for the priests to either remain at their places or to move toward pre-designated places where deacons or priests present them the paten and chalice. Communion in this case may be either one species after the other or, more commonly, by intinction.

In these situations the deacons or priests presenting the patens and chalices to the priests do so in silence without saying "the Body of Christ." This is because they are assisting in the distribution of Communion but are not administrating Communion to the concelebrants as they would to the faithful.

This latter solution, which is not found in the missal, has been the practice for very large concelebrations in St. Peter's Basilica and other similar situations.

For instance, for Rome's Chrism Mass, which gathers about a thousand priests, a large number of deacons, vested in dalmatics, present the patens and chalices to the priests who all remain in their places.

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Follow-up: Membership in the Masons

After I replied to a question on prospective Catholics who belonged to a Masonic lodge (Feb. 6), one reader asked about Catholics who already belong to this group in the belief that it is just another social organization. Another asked for clarifications on those who convert who are already members.

The latter writes: "The answer must surely be two-part: The first part of Canon 1374 ('A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty') prevents a Catholic from joining the Masons but says nothing about converts who are already Masons. I have heard the case made by persons in that situation that 'once a Mason always a Mason' and that there is no way of ceasing to be one.

"The second part must be that the rest of the canon ('however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict') prevents our convert Mason from taking an active part in the running of his lodge, including enrolling new members."

As mentioned in the earlier column, once a Catholic, or a future Catholic, becomes aware of the Church's position on Freemasonry, he should formally withdraw his membership. To willfully remain would be an objectively sinful act and impede that Catholic's reception of Communion or his reception into the Church.

There might be specific cases, however, when for grave reasons Church authorities allow a person an informal severance of association from an organization. This means that the person does not officially withdraw but ceases to participate in any meetings or activities of the organization until he or she is no longer considered a member.

From a Catholic standpoint, the statement "once a Mason always a Mason" is simply untrue, even if Masons hold to this position.

In spite of its mystique and elaborate myths, Masonry is just as much a human social organization as myriad other secret societies. After all, becoming a Mason hardly leaves an indelible and eternal mark on the soul as does baptism and ordination. For all practical purposes one ceases to be a Mason the moment one decides to sever the relationship.

As there is much ignorance regarding the Church's position, and the motives of principle which lie at the heart of Masonry's incompatibility with Catholicism, it is incumbent upon priests to study the phenomenon, understand the Church's reasons and explain them to others.

This explanation may be public, especially where Masonry is active in the area of a parish, or private, to Catholics who have unwittingly become involved.

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