Think we’ve always celebrated Mass the way we do today? Think again.

Jesus at the Last Supper is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Greenlawn, N.Y. .(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

The liturgy is a living entity — part ancient, part new — that has changed over time for centuries.

“I have no doubt 500 years from now, they will not be celebrating the liturgy the same way we’re celebrating it now,” said Barry Mudd, associate director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

And 500 years ago, Mass was not what we know today.

The Eucharist was celebrated under both kinds, by offering the Body and Blood, from the first century. That is, until the Council of Constance in 1415 decided Holy Communion would be distributed only in the form of the host.

“There was a time we didn’t even receive Communion regularly, just once a year for our Easter duty,” Mudd said in a recent interview. 

That practice was rooted in a feeling of being unworthy, said Mudd. And “we pushed the worship to focus on the divinity of Christ, to lessen the humanity of Christ. And so our unworthiness pushed us (to become) separated from it.”

In contrast, today Catholics receive Communion at least weekly, to become more like Christ, said Mudd.

“The aspect of receiving Communion — and the whole reason we receive it — is not just for the adoring Christ, but it’s for us to become Christ, and take Christ out to the world. It’s to change us,” he explained.

“So it has to be a living thing to do that. It’s such a big deal that it’s not just the bread and wine laying on that altar, but it’s our very selves that are laid there,” he said.

With the passage of time, came the restoration of the cup at Communion. In 1963 — nearly 550 years after the Council of Constance — the Second Vatican Council restored the option to receive Communion with the Precious Blood. And in 1978, the bishops of the United States began encouraging the distribution of the Blood further.

It was February of 1979 when Archbishop of Louisville Thomas Joseph McDonough sent a letter to pastors, encouraging them to offer the cup “to all the faithful at Masses on Sundays and Holy Days,” beginning the first Sunday of Lent, March 4.

Archbishop Thomas J. McDonough lifted the chalice during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in this 1981 file photo. Two years earlier, the archbishop began to encourage pastors in the Archdiocese of Louisville to offer the Precious Blood beginning in Lent. (Record File Photo)

Art Turner, the director of the Office of Faith Formation, said during a recent interview that the Archdiocese of Louisville tends to lean in to changes made by the magesterium.

“I think we’ve been blessed with bishops who were very much favorable toward the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, who very much wanted to implement those documents,” Turner said, noting former archdiocesan leaders, Archbishop McDonough, Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. “We’ve had a series of bishops who very much embraced the teachings of the council and have wanted to move forward.”

Turner was in eighth grade when the cup was introduced at his parish, Good Shepherd Church in Columbia, Ky., and he remembers the excitement that surrounded the change.

“I remember what a big deal it was that the cup was coming in,” he said. “Because I was 13, 14, in eighth grade, I had never experienced that. And of course, for all the adult Catholics, that was new. So it was a big deal.”

It’s a newness that hundreds of Catholics who have joined the archdiocese in the past three years will be able to experience for themselves this year. Permission to offer the chalice in the Archdiocese of Louisville was suspended at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, but will be reinstated at the feast of Corpus Christi, to be celebrated at weekend Masses June 10 and 11.

“When it was announced that the cup was coming back, there seemed to be excitement and enthusiasm around that,” Turner said. “I think the adults will be able to embrace it again. And I think even those who have gone through RCIA, in some respects, this would be a kind of a continuation of their formation. Because that’s another piece they haven’t experienced.”

Mudd and Turner said the only grumblings they have heard echo the same resistance voiced back in 1979: hygiene.

Citing a Centers for Disease Control report from 1998, Mudd said there had never been an outbreak of infection related to the Communion cup.

“The result of the study was that the alcohol content in the wine, the fact that there was wiping the rim of the chalice, the metal vessels” made it safe, Mudd said. “Unless someone had an immune system that was compromised, then it was safe. You wouldn’t get sick from that or it was very unlikely that you would. 

“But they also said … that you’re much more likely to get sick at church from the doorknobs, from the hymnals,” he said. “Those things would be where you would get sick, not the cup.”

Mudd believes the more that people believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the more people will want to receive Communion under both forms.

“The Church says that we receive Communion fully under either form, but says it’s a fuller sign to receive under both the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood.”

Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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