Word of the week

Word of the week: intinction

Earlier this month I mentioned the word intinction in this piece about the closure of a local restaurant. Non-Catholics are unlikely to be familiar with the term, and many of my fellow Catholics may also benefit from a reminder of what it means. Intinction is the practice of dipping the host in the wine at Communion. This simple definition might need some further explanation.

In the Catholic church, here in the UK in 2018 at least, Holy Communion is taken in two forms: bread (the host) and wine. The bread is usually in the form of flat white discs, which look like small wafers. The wine is usually the strength of sherry, or similar fortified wines, so that it doesn’t turn to vinegar after the bottle has been opened. The cup in which it is served is known as a chalice. During the mass the priest blesses both bread and wine, transubstantiation takes place (usually accompanied by the ringing of at least one bell), and both elements beco.me the body and blood of Christ. That’s the Roman Catholic doctrine anyway. Protestants do not adhere to the same belief. This has been at the heart of 500 years of doctrinal disagreement, to put it mildly.

Currently our local diocese (the Archdiocese of Westminster) discourages the practice of intinction. This may also be true for most other diocesan areas. Here’s what happens if any member of the congregation attempts to walk away from the priest (or eucharistic minister, a lay person who can also administer the host or communion wine) holding onto their wafer, with the intention of dipping it into the wine. They will be instructed to consume it within view of the priest. If they get away with it, and manage to reach the chalice with their host still intact, the person administering the wine will place a hand over the cup and indicate that intinction is not allowed. I have seen this happen more than once.

Until the 1980s (again, here in the UK at least) Communion was only served in one form: the host. Intinction was, literally, not possible. I still regard Communion in both forms as something of an innovation, and rarely take the wine. Some people I know, who have gluten intolerance, only take the wine, even though gluten-free hosts are now available. Transubstantiation might turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ but it doesn’t guarantee that the former is gluten-free.

The first time that I saw intinction in action was in 1997, in Rocamadour, France. It’s one of the four main Christian pilgrimage centres from the days before Protestantism. The other three were Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. Big indulgences were available for pilgrims who completed the set. Rocamadour is home to the statue of the Black Madonna, and it was in the church that houses her that I first saw people dipping the host into the wine. The host was the consistency of regular leavened bread too, not the wafers that we are used to. The wine soaked into it easily. I watched what the other members of the congregation did and followed suit. It’s the only time that I have done so. When in Rocamadour and all that.

Fans of “Seinfeld” will remember the scene in which George Costanza is instructed not to double-dip the dip. He has been observed taking a potato chip, dipping it into guacamole (or something similar), biting into it and then dipping the potato chip back into the dish for another go. He is advised that it’s “like putting your whole mouth in there”. In our diocese the current view on intinction discourages even single-dipping.




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