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Online Edition - November 2006

Vol. XII, No. 8

May Instituted Acolytes Fill Chalices at the Altar?

We recently received a question from Brother Benedict, of St. Benedict’s Abbey (Stillriver, Massachusetts) about the practice of instituted acolytes filling chalices on the altar at the Offertory.

The US bishops’ Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds indicate that chalices are to be already filled when placed on the altar at the Offertory. Here are the relevant sections with pertinent passages emphasized:

Preparations

32. Before Mass begins, wine and hosts should be provided in vessels of appropriate size and number. The presence on the altar of a single chalice and one large paten can signify the one bread and one chalice by which we are gathered “into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.” When this is not possible, care should be taken that the number of vessels should not exceed the need.

At the Preparation of the Gifts

36. The altar is prepared with corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at a side table) by the deacon and the servers. The gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the faithful and received by the priest or deacon or at a convenient place. (cf.GIRM, no.333). If one chalice is not sufficient for Holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, several chalices are placed on a corporal on the altar in an appropriate place, filled with wine. It is praiseworthy that the main chalice be larger than the other chalices prepared for distribution.

At the Breaking of the Bread

37. As the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God is begun, the bishop or priest alone, or with the assistance of the deacon, and if necessary of concelebrating priests, breaks the eucharistic bread. Other empty ciboria or patens are then brought to the altar if this is necessary. The deacon or priest places the consecrated bread in several ciboria or patens, if necessary, as required for the distribution of Holy Communion. If it is not possible to accomplish this distribution in a reasonable time, the celebrant may call upon the assistance of other deacons or concelebrating priests.

Bringing empty chalices to the altar to be filled later was implied in the original version of the US bishops’ “Norms for Communion…”, but this was amended after the Holy See’s disciplinary norms, Redemptionis Sacramentum, appeared in April 2004. This document expressly forbade consecrating a flagon or pitcher of wine, then pouring the Precious Blood into individual chalices on the altar. The revision eliminated references to chalices on the altar (from paragraph ¶ 37, see above.)

A Catholic News Service story, May 19, 2004, on the amendment of the US Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds describes this change:

The original norms, adopted by the bishops in June 2001 and approved by the Vatican in March 2002, had said nothing about bringing additional chalices to the altar and pouring the wine into them in No. 36, which describes actions to be taken at the preparation of the gifts.

In the revised version of No. 37 in the U.S. norms, on actions surrounding the breaking of the bread before Communion, all references to bringing up additional chalices and distributing of the consecrated wine into them are simply deleted.

The new No. 37 says that after the breaking of the eucharistic bread “other empty ciboria or patens are then brought to the altar if this is necessary. The deacon or priest places the consecrated bread in several ciboria or patens, if necessary, as required for the distribution of holy Communion. If it is not possible to accomplish this distribution in a reasonable time, the celebrant may call upon the assistance of other deacons or concelebrating priests”.

A final sentence of the original No. 37 -- which said the distribution of the consecrated hosts and wine into multiple vessels before Communion “is usually carried out at the altar, so that the sharing of all from the one cup is signified” -- has also been deleted. (Emphasis added.)

Note that the eliminated sentence had said that the pouring “is usually carried out at the altar”.

To summarize: The priest and/or deacons or concelebrating priests do all the breaking of bread; the wine is poured into the chalice(s) which are brought to the altar at the Offertory already filled. The filling of these chalices with unconsecrated wine may take place in the sacristy, or at the credence table. Anything resembling a “filling ceremony” at the altar is definitely not in any way suggested, much less advocated by the approved norms.

The Norms as as approved in March 2002 also included a three-year “indult” at the request of the US Conference that permitted extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to assist with purifying vessels after Communion. This “indult” expired in March 2005. A request for an extension of this practice was officially denied this year and announced in October. See related story in this issue.

(Complete Norms accessible online: www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/norms.shtm)

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