Q. My children are in Europe for World Youth Day. To become familiar with where they were going, I was watching Masses on YouTube from Poland and Eastern Europe. In some videos, I saw the priest dip each host into a chalice before distributing it to the those in line for Communion. I’ve never seen anything like that: is this dipping allowed?
A. The practice of dipping the sacred Eucharistic host into the sacred Eucharistic chalice is called “intinction,” which is a Latin word that means, literally, “dipping into.” The custom of intinction goes at least to the fourth century—300 years after Jesus Christ’s Incarnation.
The practice began, most probably, as a way to offer Holy Communion to the sick— intinction made it easier to receive both elements of Holy Communion for those who were infirm, especially if swallowing was a great difficulty for them.
In some places, over the centuries, the custom of intinction has become a very common practice— the priest or deacon who distributes Holy Communion dips each host into the chalice before distributing it to each Catholic. In some places, the host and the chalice are offered separately. In other places, and for good reasons, only the host is ordinarily distributed. And in other Catholic traditions, and the customs of the Orthodox, the Eucharistic elements—appearing as bread and wine—are mixed together in a chalice, and distributed to believers with a small spoon.
In every place in the Eucharist, the fundamental and essential elements of the sacrament—namely that bread and wine are consecrated, “transubstantiated,” and become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—remain the same. But the differences in the way the Eucharist is distributed or presented reminds us that the Gospel is always represented in a way that expresses its deepest meaning in the language, context, and customs of particular cultures. These differences demonstrate the great and beautiful cultural diversity within the communion of the Catholic Church.
Finally, it is very important for us to remember that Christ is completely and truly present in both the sacred host and the sacred chalice. The sacramental presence of Christ is the same in both elements, and so, whether we receive from the chalice and the host, or by intinction, or whether we receive only one element or another, we are united by the Eucharist to Jesus Christ, who comes, sacramentally and truly present, to give us life, and to make us holy.
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