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.