On another thread, Liam brought up the practice of intinction, where the minister of communion dips the consecrated bread into the consecrated wine before placing it on the communicant’s tongue. This practice is very rare in the midwest. While I know it is permitted, I don’t think it’s a good option for several reasons.

The ancient tradition, including the Bible and the Eucharistic prayers, speaks of people eating and drinking. The Church’s liturgy reinforces the notion of the Eucharist as a meal, a source of spiritual nourishment.

If that weren’t enough, consider the cultural instances of dipping: cookies in milk, chips in salsa, donuts in coffee, vegetables in ranch dressing. Drinking from a common cup is no longer done in the modern culture. It speaks of something out of the ordinary (nourishment for the kingdom and the sacrifice of Christ and his followers) done in an ordinary way (drinking) but in a shared context (the common cup).

If that weren’t enough, the image of dipping is not in keeping with the biblical witness. It actually alludes to the betrayal of Judas, the one described as “dipping” at the Last Supper. It strikes me as something akin to the lamentable practice of washing hands instead of feet on Holy Thursday. We don’t really want to go there.

If that weren’t enough, intinction, even when conducted by a priest, is potentially less hygienic than sharing a common cup. Think about the potential stream from a person’s tongue to the minister’s finger to the next host or to the contents of the chalice.

If that weren’t enough, communicants sometimes take the matter into their own hands, as it were, and practice intinction themselves when presented with the Communion Cup. Poor hygiene spread further.

If that weren’t enough, intinction stresses the image of passivity: food is placed in the mouths of adults. We are not infants, after all. Our Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ should inspire us for and activate our mission in the world of preaching, serving, and living as Christ did. We are not passive spectators waiting for things to happen, or for bad things to happen to unbelievers. Unlike what conservative Catholics would tell us, the Christian mission is to expand the Church, to widen the base of believers, and to be proactive in gathering them to the Father, just as the Son did.

Intinction is an immediate post-conciliar innovation for the West. I don’t see the problem with a common cup: people will opt for it or not, as they choose. Intinction brings a quality of expediency, that, as it turns out, doesn’t really save much time. One priest I heard about liked developing expedient liturgical practices. He combined veneration of the cross with Communion: people would reverence the cross at the front of the church and Communion ministers would distribute the Body of Christ as people turned to return to their pew. Expediency is good for sacristans settings things up, and for clean-up crews. It does not belong in liturgy unless a serious and authentic pastoral need dictates.

Intinction? We’re better off not going there unless the situation of the communicant really, really calls for it.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Intinction

  1. Liam says:

    Hmm. I eat and drink when I receive by intinction (it’s been a long time since I have – I don’t self-intinct, and I don’t want to). I am nourished. The meal is not wedded to one mode of imagery for it.

    Just a thought: the Mass is not merely a representation of the Last Supper meal (as well as the Mandatum, btw – were the disciples passive when Jesus washed their feet?), nor of the sacrifice on Calvary. In fact, it is both of those and more (the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Pentecost and, not least, the consummation of it all at the end of time). We have to get away from a narrow correspondence-literalness of imagery – the tradition is actually a lot more richly fused.

    And I never recommended intinction for *expediency’s* sake.

    Hygiene: it all depends. Either way can be worse than the other. The intinctions I’ve participated in didn’t involve the priest touching my tongue, for example.

    I find the passivity argument labored. It doesn’t strike me as passive any more than someone washing my feet….but subjective opinions will differ.

  2. Todd says:

    Sure … I wouldn’t foresee intinction being outlawed as some of my colleagues would suggest.

    And sure, on the Mass being more than the Last Supper: this is sound theological reflection and an artistic improvement on a narrow literalism. And yet, the liturgy itself should be the prime locus for the derivation. The Scriptures are rich with the metaphor of drinking, both Testaments, and it seems a shame to water that down. Drinking is indeed a rich symbol, and I wonder why we would seek something less edgy, less dangerous, less connected.

    I don’t think any one of my reasons is enough on its own. My opinion is that intinction has a lot of small things going against it.

    As for foot washing, I would agree. That’s why I think it should be the assembly washing one another’s feet, as the Mandatum is given in the Gospel.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    “Some of the Byzantine-rite Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Church of Rome adopted intinction during the early twentieth century, dividing the bread into pieces long enough to be partially dipped in the consecrated wine and placed on the communicant’s tongue. This is the practice at least of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church.

    Some Eastern Catholic Churches (for instance, the Ethiopic-rite Catholics of Ethiopia and Eritrea) have adopted the use of unleavened bread, justifying it by reference to the ancient Jewish practice of using only unleavened bread at Passover meals, and give Communion by intinction”

    Intinction doesn’t bother me. I have experienced it in Eastern Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches and, while different, the practice does not cause a hygiene or any other problem. The fact that during the consecration, when the priest says that, “he took bread, broke it and gave thanks” there is no corresponding symbolic action of breaking bread does bother me. If the priest is acting in persona Christi at that time, why does not the breaking of the bread take place at that time? The fact that the bread is broken later on in the consecration detracts from the symbolism at the time that the words are uttered.

  4. My question would be, “Why does the priest touch the elements during the institution narrative at all?” The Eucharistic Prayer is not a set of rubrics for ritual action. Let it be the prayer of thanksgiving it is and let the priest stand in the orans position throughout, saving any touching of the elements until the Great Amen and the breaking of the bread for the fraction rite.

  5. Liam says:

    I should add: there is another ritual occasion when adults put food into another adult’s mouth (and this is transcultural): at a wedding banquet…which is, btw, one of the many things for which the Mass is iconically representing. It’s a very tender act of love, but public rather than private.

  6. Todd says:

    “I should add: there is another ritual occasion when adults put food into another adult’s mouth …”

    It’s a mutual gesture. Unlike Communion on the tongue or intinction, the feeding at a wedding is a two-way street.

  7. Tony says:

    The Church’s liturgy reinforces the notion of the Eucharist as a meal, a source of spiritual nourishment.

    The faster we get away from the communal “munch out” attitude about the Eucharist the better off we’re going to be.

    Liam was onto something, but didn’t go far enough. “another adult” isn’t feeding us, it is Christ, himself in the person of the priest (alter Christus) who is feeding us, his lambs.

    When we take the host into our hands and feed ourselves (sometimes with the one-handed snatch), we miss this rich symbolism. Also, there is no mutuality in that particular gesture because Christ feeds us, we don’t feed Christ.

    I think the desire for the communal cup on the part of many is not for any kind of Eucharistic symbolism. It’s a desire like that of a three-year-old to do something someone else is doing. “The priest is drinking, I want to drink too. I’m as good as the priest!”.

    I receive intincted every first Friday by a Franciscan priest who celebrates the Novus Ordo in Latin. It is not for expediency purposes. Nothing at that Mass is.

  8. Neil says:

    Dear Todd,

    I hope that this comment finds you happy and well in Iowa. I have to say that I can’t agree with this post. Let me try to briefly respond to most of your arguments, in ascending order of theological importance:

    1. Hygiene. I’m not convinced that intinction increases the possibility of infection, especially once we rule out “self-intinction,” which is, I believe, forbidden by the GIRM. It would seem that the common cup would be less hygienic – I’ve just read a rather humorous article from the 14 May 1934 issue of Time magazine about the common cup and the danger of “cracked lips,” “active salivary glands,” and “long moustaches.” After all, wouldn’t a conscientious minister of communion be more aware of his/her finger than the rim of a cup?

    In any case, is hygiene a very important concern? I haven’t heard of many cases of people getting sick from either the common cup or intinction.

    2. Dipping. It isn’t clear to me that the Gospels mean to connect the specific action of “dipping” with betrayal. In St Mark’s Gospel, two verses before Judas is described as “dipping” with him, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating (esthion) with me” (my emphasis) (Mark 14:18). The reference is to Psalm 41:9, which also refers to “eating” (‘akal).

    3. Cultural instances of dipping. I don’t believe that we can grasp the significance of a single action in the liturgy by decontextualizing it and then comparing it with similar actions that might occur at, say, a taqueria. The point of all of the gestures and words in the liturgy is redescription.

    The coming together of Christians might (by itself) look like a town hall meeting, but it is really the gathering of the baptized into the Church. The entrance (by itself) might not be terribly different than an entrance at a graduation ceremony, but it is the Church’s ascension to God’s throne. The icons on the walls of the Church might look like art, but, through them, the members of the Church in heaven take part in our worship. And so on.

    The question is whether intinction – in the context of the liturgy – disrupts the entire drama of the liturgy. Based on my experience, I don’t see intinction as disruptive.

    4. Passivity. You contrast the passivity that is supposedly manifested in intinction with our activity in gathering believers to the Father. I don’t think that this contrast is helpful. The Anglican priest Sarah Coakley has written, regarding contemplative prayer, that power and vulnerability are not opposed but go together. The same is true, I would submit, about the liturgy.

    Coakley writes that, in the silence of contemplative prayer, “we can only be properly ’empowered’ if we cease to set the agenda, if we ‘make space’ for God to be God.” Likewise, I would say, when we receive the Eucharist, we can only be “empowered” if we first acknowledge that we are not worthy to receive the Eucharist (non sum dignus), and that Christ is “just there” (James Alison), whatever our anxieties and failures of imagination. As Alison writes, we can only receive the Eucharist when we realize that “it is not our show, but someone else’s” – when we stop setting the agenda, as Coakley would say.

    Coakley says about contemplative prayer that self-emptying “is the place of the self’s transformation and expansion into God.” Likewise, at the liturgy, we only are empowered – becoming “proactive” – when we are first passive before God.

    Therefore, in the presence of God, passivity and activity are not opposites.

    5. Eating and Drinking. I feel – as you do – very strongly about receiving communion under both kinds, wherever and whenever this is possible. Why is this? If we look at GIRM n.281, two reasons are given for reception under both kinds as “a fuller form as a sign.” First, there is a clearer expression of the ratification of the new Covenant through blood, and, second, there is a clearer sign of the “relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet.”

    It doesn’t seem to me that the stress is necessarily on the distinct actions of eating and drinking. Instead, the stress is on two things. First, we should receive Christ’s blood, which still very much occurs in intinction. Second, we should be conscious of the sign of a banquet. This still occurs in intinction, which, after all, is still a form of feeding involving bread and wine.

    Does at least some of this make sense?

    Take care,

  9. Todd says:

    Neil, you always make sense, my friend. You’re also convincing in this case, more so on point #4 than in any other argument I’ve seen along those lines.

  10. Liam says:

    I would adumbrate Neil’s able point on #4 by something I was reflecting on during my early morning swim: I do great at doing things. I am one of those people who does things. I am a giver. I am the person whose ready to help. You know the type – we are legion among churchy folk.

    But, for a variety of reasons, I am much less comfortable receiving. Much of my experience of spiritual dryness and desolation appears, if anything, designed to permit me to become so poor in spirit that I no longer have the energy to sustain the fear of actually being needy. (Boy, are these economic times testing that one, now that I am self-employed.)

    So, for me, it’s a much greater transformation to be fed than to feed myself, as it were.

    And, to echo Tony, intinction is such a tender exchange. More tender than two more common methods of administering the sacrament (ministers have to work more slowly and precisely with intinction, and it shows, though I will grant that could fade if people gained proficiency through familiarity).

  11. Neil says:

    Dear Todd and Liam,

    This response is inexcusably late. I just wanted to thank the two of you for your generous responses to my quickly written comment.

    I can very much relate to Liam’s second paragraph.


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