Question: Why don’t we receive Holy Communion from the Chalice as well as the Host? How long has this been the practice?
Answer: It is necessary for the priest to receive Holy Communion under both forms (“both species” is the technical term), for by the separate Consecration and Communion the sacrificial aspect of the Mass is re-presented. The “outward sign” of the Sacrament appears to separate the Body and Blood of the sacrificial Victim. Saint Thomas tells us:
But for those who are not celebrating the Mass, whether they be clergy or laity, it is enough to receive Holy Communion under one form, for in Communion we receive the living Jesus in His entirety—humanity and divinity—in the living Jesus, His human Body and Blood are united to one another and to His divine nature by the hypostatic union.
But on the part of the recipient the greatest reverence and caution are called for, lest anything happen which is unworthy of so great a mystery. Now this could especially happen in receiving the blood, for, if incautiously handled, it might easily be spilt. And because the multitude of the Christian people increased, in which there are old, young, and children, some of whom have not enough discretion to observe due caution in using this sacrament, on that account it is a prudent custom in some churches for the blood not to be offered to the reception of the people, but to be received by the priest alone.[v]
Saint Thomas refers to the possible spilling of the Precious Blood. In modern times we must add the fear of contagion, and the aversion of some of the faithful to the appearances of alcohol.
The general practice of distributing Communion under both kinds persisted for roughly the first millennium of the Church, disappearing at various times in various places; perhaps for the laity before the deacon and other clergy. Though the Chalice was withdrawn in the West no later than the twelfth century, the practice in Eastern Catholic churches remains, to this day, to give Communion under both forms (usually by dipping the Host into the Chalice).
Nonetheless, the Church has, under various circumstances, distributed Holy Communion under one kind since the earliest times. Communion taken to the sick, or reserved in the desert cells of hermits, or reserved in a tabernacle for the Presanctified Liturgy of Lent has been under one species for many centuries. There are also instances of children receiving Communion after Baptism under the single form of consecrated wine.
Objection to the reception of the Sacrament under one kind has generally come from those “reformers,” like Hus, Luther, and Cranmer, who minimized the Real Presence, and perceived the need for reception under both kinds to secure the symbolic value of the two separate species. Against such men, the Council of Constance (1414-1418) declared:
The Council of Trent wrote at length, and issued these succinct canons: