Some Presbyterians and many high liturgists have resorted to intinction in the Lord’s Supper. Intinction was a minority practice in the early church in which the consecrated bread was dipped into the wine. The bread was often served on a spoon to prevent the possibility of dropping or dripping the elements.

The Eastern Church appears to practice this. On the other hand, the Western church has quite uniformly resisted this. Julius I (337-352) forbad this practice because he believed it was not biblical. The first Council of Braga (675) also decreed against it. Pope Urban II (1088-1099) similarly prohibited it except in cases of necessity and so did his successor Pascal II (1099-1118). The Convocation of Canterbury (1175) similarly condemned the practice. The Western church has always opposed this practice. A few however, tried to argue for its practice. Rolandus of Bologna (a twelfth century divine) argued pragmatically that it was easier to serve a larger congregation.

The reason why intinction should be permitted, according to Roland, is that it is an easier way to administer communion than by the host and chalice separately. The fear of dropping the host, or of accidentally spilling the contents of the chalice, he notes, may make some communicants anxious. This anxiety may undercut the proper state of devotion and receptivity which they need to bring to the sacrament. Their worry, indeed, may keep them away from communion altogether. And so, for practical pastoral reasons (curis secularibus) intinction should be allowed.[2]

The Western church did not believe that both elements were necessary (contra communio sub utroque specie = communion under both kinds, that is, both the bread and wine were required in order to have communion). Intinction also ran afoul against the growing doctrine of concomitance (which taught “that Christ exists wholly in each of the elements, so that those who receive the consecrated host, partake of his blood no less than of his body.”)[3] This theory of course assumes the doctrine of transubstantiation. So the Western church argued for communion sub una specie. She has consistently prohibited the practice of intinction.

When we read the Bible, we find that only one person received the sacrament by intinction (if we count it as such), i.e., Judas: “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” (Mk. 14:20) But the practice appears to be unique to the institution. In Mark, the words of institution came after the dipping.

In Mark 14:22, Jesus blessed and broke the bread and said, “Take; this is my body.” It is a separate act to v. 23 which says, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.” They did not eat of the cup but drank from it. Eating and drinking are separate acts. The commands are to eat (Mt. 26:26, “Take, eat”) and to drink (“Drink of it, all of you.” Mt. 26:27). The practice of intinction therefore cannot comply with our Lord’s words of institution.

[1] [This short post is taken from my lectures notes on ecclesiology. Some have asked me about this practice in our denomination so I have uploaded my preliminary thoughts on the topic.] References used for this are the following: McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature; A Catholic Dictionary, ed. Donald Attwater; Schaff’s History of the Christian Church; Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines; various theological reference works. Other related concepts are “concomitance” and communio sub utroque specie, etc.

[2] Marcia L. Colish, Peter Lombard (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), 570.

[3] Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines, § 195.

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