Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Problems with the Eastern Communion

Have you ever experienced trouble with the Eastern Communion? I have. 

No, not the collection of churches themselves, but the actual administration of Communion in the [Byzantine] Eastern Churches can be an occasion for trouble. Much has been made about Communion in the hand in the Roman Church and not without just cause. It subverts the received reverence for the Body of Christ, has lent itself to abuse in the act of giving Holy Communion, and once in a while can permit a Satanist or militant Muslim to acquire a Host with the intention of desecrating the Word Incarnate. The Eastern practice does not lend itself to these exact problems, but that is not to say it is without issue entirely.

The same difficulty with Communion in the Greek rite Churches is that it is almost always administered using a long, ornamented spoon. The Holy Bread must be cut into very small portions in order to remain steadily on the spoon without sliding and the administering cleric must be careful not to impart too much of the Precious Blood other than what has soaked into the Bread.

Unfortunately, the Sacred Species still tends to come off the spoon at least once in a while and end up either on the purificator (Byzantine houseling cloth) or end up directly on the floor. This is further complicated by the fact that children and the elderly often have trouble timing when to open or close their mouths as the spoon approaches. For the split second the Body of Christ is as vulnerable as during His earthly sojourn. At least once every half year some of the Precious Blood ends up on the floor. Thankfully, the Holy Bread more often than not is caught either on the diskos or the purificator. The other week one of our readers attended my parish and found some of the Blood dripping onto the cuff of his shirt.

There is, however, a Byzantine Church that retains ancient practice and has a safer Communion for it. The Melkite Catholic Church retained the pre-Byzantine practice of giving Communion by means of intinction at the hand of the cleric. Practically, this means the deacon holds the chalice next to the priest, who in turn holds the diskos with the Holy Bread. The priest, using his hand and no additional implement, dips the Bread into the chalice and then puts it directly into the communicant's mouth just as would be done in an old rite Roman Mass. The diskos, usually larger than an ordinary Greek one, doubles as a sort of Communion plate, catching any stray liquid or particulars. As the priest directly holds the Body of Christ, the precarious moment when things tend to go wrong is also eliminated.

Communion accidents in the Byzantine rite probably pale in contrast to irreverences in the modern Roman rite, but they remain something avoidable.


  1. The Malankara rite also does the same as the Melkite Church, albeit using unleavened hosts as the Roman rite. Intinction is one of the safest ways to receive both the Body and the Blood.

  2. Long live the spoon! It's one of my favorite things about being part of the Russian Greek Catholic Church!

  3. While it may be that communion on the tongue (in one kind or two) minimises the risk of accidental sacrilege, surely the efficient cause of so much contemporary sacrilege is the habit of (too) frequent communion of the laity, encouraged by Pope S. Pius X. Monthly communion would mean that only a quarter of the parish would need to communicate on any given Sunday. By reducing the total number of communions, the chance of accidental or deliberate sacrilege would be equally reduced. It may seem proximate to unreformed medievalism, but monthly communion works for me. Yearly communion for the laity was standard for most of the existence of Christendom. Not disputing S. Pius X's apprehension of the spiritual dangers of the modern world, it seems to me that monthly communion is a better solution than weekly, balancing the need to retain a proper reverence for the sacrament and a deep interior spirituality for the laity.