Since my bishop banned the common chalice to the laity about two months ago due to concerns about spreading the H1N1 Flu virus, I have had several people, including my parochial vicar, question the reason for this edict. Their contention is that if we really believed in the Real Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharistic Species of either Bread or Wine, then God would not allow harm to come to us; He would preserve us from that contagion by our act of faith by receiving our Risen Lord in Holy Communion, either the Host, the chalice or both. One parishioner wrote, "Since it is our belief that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, we should have no fear in taking Communion in any way. Perhaps one day I will be proven wrong, but how could something that Holy cause me harm?"
I am moved by people's testimony of faith and I know that faith can move mountains and that our Eucharistic Lord can perform miracles even in the case of a deadly poison being added to the Precious Blood in a chalice.
On the other hand, our Church teaches that faith and reason walk hand-in-hand. Scientific research in no ways compromises faith nor does reason. At the same time, science only or reason only are inadequate when separated from faith and questions of faith that arise because of the "natural order of things." For example, many people of faith question why good people suffer in such terrible ways and are made to die like in Haiti's earthquake.
Some religious people, like the Rev. Pat Robinson, declare that it was the sinfulness of Haiti and the practice of Voodoo by some there that brought the catastrophe of a monster earthquake to the Haitians. Not really an adequate or even "Catholic" explanation and quite judgmental about every Haitian I would say.
Scientists would explain that earthquakes are random events caused by shifting Teutonic plates. Anyone, good or evil, in the way of this shifting or in buildings above will be injured or killed. Yes, this is true, but the religious question of why people suffer so greatly is not answered. The religious answer is quite complicated and entails not only science but doctrine and theology as well as philosophy and a philosophical way of looking at good and evil, sin and redemption. I don't have time in this blog to go there right now.
But the question, can a person get sick or receive a bacteria, germ or virus from the common chalice containing the Precious Blood of our Risen Lord remains. My contention from the point of faith is no. Of course, the Precious Blood is meant for healing and redemption. Sick people, more than likely, are drawn to Holy Communion seeking health of mind, body and soul. Some with contagious diseases that could kill them seek the Lord's Real Presence in either Form that Christ is offered. Who could blame them? They are seeking miraculous cures. Look at the number of sick people who make pilgrimages to Lourdes seeking miracles for their illnesses.
But from a biological point of view, from scientific research, we do know, not believe, that a deadly poison added to the Precious Blood can kill you, although I am not barring the possibility of a miraculous incident in this regard, but I suspect that would be rare, not common. The deadly poison, although invisible when mixed with the Precious Blood, does not become the Precious Blood, it corrupts the Precious Blood but remains independent of it. The Precious Blood is "desecrated" not only by the poison but by the one who adds the poison.
I don't think that people of good faith "intentionally" desecrate the Chalice containing our Eucharistic Risen Lord when they drink from it while also carrying a virus, bacteria or other contagious disease, but in a sense they are "contaminating" what the Chalice contains or at the minimal, the metal of the Chalice, in particular its rim. You can get sick from sharing in this virus or bacteria and if you are elderly or already compromised health, you could die if you catch something from "additives" on the chalice or in the Precious Blood.
One last note on my paranoia motivated by my bishop's mandate to cease giving the chalice to the laity because of the H1N1 contagion (a ban now lifted by the way). When I was in Augusta, a very young, healthy 19 year old contracted, it is believed, bacterial meningitis from kissing her boy friend. There is now a vaccine for young people, especially those who go to college, who can contract this deadly form of meningitis. You can also get it from drinking after someone, like from a coke can, a beer bottle, etc. It is a rare bacteria and disease, but some healthy people do get it and in the manner just described--it doesn't take much.
The next day, this poor soul had flu like symptoms. She came home from college to convalesce. The day after that, her fever was so high, her parents brought her to the emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital. From that point on, her health spiraled out of control. There was talk by the doctors that she would need multiple amputations. Her white skin turned dark black, all over her body. I was called in the middle of the night to offer her the "last rites," the Anointing of the Sick. When I got there, the nurses told me to take every precaution by "gowning up" with total face mask and surgical gloves so as not to be exposed to her contagion myself. I learned that the doctors and nurses themselves feared entering her room out of the very possible threat of contracting her deadly disease! I placed my faith in the Lord, called on His protection for me, and went in and offered her the "Last Rites." She died the next morning. I could have been exposed to this and died too, but this was a risk I was willing to take to offer this poor child of God the sacrament and last rites of the Church. My point though, is that this poor child of God died from kissing her boy friend. She could have died, like some have, from simply drinking after a friend from their coke can or beer bottle. YIKES, I exclaim! What your parents told you about not drinking after your friends is not just an "urban legend!"
The common Chalice is a novel liturgical addition to the Latin Rite Mass, that came into being only in the 1970's by mandate of progressive liturgists. Originally it was implemented illicitly as was communion in the hand despite the Vatican's and local bishops' reiteration that this was not the liturgical law of the Church at the time. But like the use of altar girls, the grassroots lawlessness led Church officials, including the Vatican to allow these novelties. These novelties became "legalized" in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
However, the liturgical law of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal envisions the sharing of the common chalice for small group celebrations of the Mass, in convents, monasteries and other "small" parochial events. This instruction does not foresee its common practice in large parish Sunday Masses as an "every Sunday" event. It is viewed as a "special occasion" event for smaller celebrations. Intinction is clearly an option, although listed after the common chalice, which is seen as the "normal" practice in the USA.
The local bishop must give permission for the common chalice and the bishop as in the case of the Diocese of Savannah, can ban the common chalice either completely or for a short time. However, once the bishop allows for the common chalice, the local pastor or priest can choose to implement it or not, but he must follow the norms of the American adaptation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 2001. This clearly shows the second option of "intinction" which local priests can employ as well as the first option of the common chalice for smaller groups, if the priest chooses to do so.