by Fr. C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J.
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”
With all the festivities surrounding Holy Week, it is important to highlight one special ritual. Beginning at the Holy Thursday evening liturgy The Eucharist under both species will be offered to congregants. Since March 13, 2020, when Covid restrictions went into place, we have not been able to offer The Cup containing the Precious Blood. While the presider has been allowed to consume the consecrated bread and wine, members of the congregation have not. I have wondered what the absence of the Precious Blood has been like for people in the pew. I suspect that for many the absence of receiving under both species has resembled a three-year discipline of abstinence. Of course, the Church’s doctrine is that if a person receives only one species, Christ is fully present and nothing is lacking. At the same time, the taking and drinking from The Cup represents an important dimension of experiencing The Eucharist.
In recent years, due to the liturgical reforms ushered in by the Second Vatican Council, the Church has encouraged the practice of receiving from The Cup. Actually, in the early Church the practice of receiving under both species was the norm. Indeed, in Corinthians 11:23-29, St. Paul refers to the practice of “eating the bread and drinking the cup of The Lord.”
Sometime during the Middle Ages, with the emergence of a more hierarchical liturgy, the laity were excluded from administering The Eucharist. Certain “purification” restrictions were imposed that made it more difficult for laity to even receive the consecrated Host. The practice of offering the chalice to the people stopped as Church authorities sought to prevent anything disrespectful happening to The Eucharist. Moreover, around this time Communion was given only on the tongue.
Receiving the consecrated Host seems to require less volition as the believer need only to extend one’s hands to receive. When receiving and consuming the Precious Blood, however, one is required to reach out to accept The Cup, raise it, sip from it, and return it to the Eucharistic Minister. In this respect drinking from The Cup involves more engagement with one’s belief that the Presence of Christ is real. Indeed Jesus even suggests a deeper symbolic gesture requiring more courage, when in answer to the ambitious questions of the apostles James and John, he says “Can you drink the Cup that I drink…?” (Mark 10:35-45). Henri Nouwen, the great twentieth century spiritual writer, in his last book titled Can You Drink This Cup?, writes eloquently of this question by using the images of holding, lifting, and drinking to articulate the basics of the spiritual life.
Now that the Archdiocese of Washington has lifted the Covid restriction toward The Cup, I would encourage parishioners to receive from both species. An Easter Eucharist experienced under both species will certainly make this season seem even more sacred.