Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Recently, I took my 4-year-old grandson to Mass. Above the altar, we have a very large crucifix and I noticed that, while looking at it, the boy was visibly shaken and quite upset. How does one explain Jesus on the cross to a 4-year-old? (Davenport, Iowa)

A. Recognizing that I know precious little about child pedagogy, I will nevertheless venture an answer. First, there is no way to prevent children from seeing a crucifix and asking their elders about it.

Many years ago, our seminary class was studying sign language so we could transmit the Scriptures to the hearing-impaired. I recall very little from that time, but what I do remember is that the sign for “Jesus” was to point to the center of both palms. So ingrained in our consciousness is the suffering of Christ that his nail prints identify him.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal stipulates, in No. 308, that on the altar of every church, or near it, there should be a cross with the figure of Christ crucified, clearly visible to the congregation.

I do take your concern as a helpful caution against display or descriptions that are overly graphic. In explaining the passion of Christ to your grandson, there is no need to highlight the nails, the scourging, the crown of thorns.

I think that I would say something like this: Many years ago, they used to punish people who had done something very wrong by hanging them on a cross. Jesus didn’t do anything wrong at all. In fact, he was the nicest and the kindest man there ever was.

But other people have done many wrong things, and Jesus still loves them. So he told his father that he wanted to offer his own life to make up for those other people, so that they could one day be with him in heaven. Jesus suffered a lot that Good Friday, and he died because he loved all of us so much. But the nice thing is that three days later, his father brought him back to life again. He saw his friends and his mother some more after that, and now he is very happy and lives in heaven.

That would be my approach, but you’re a parent and I am not, and, without a doubt, you can do better.

Q. I would like to take holy Communion more often from the chalice, but I am concerned about contracting someone else’s illness.

Has anyone ever studied how “clean” the cup really is after a quick swipe from the cloth? Has anyone been able to document whether illness could be transmitted even to a whole congregation in this way? And lastly, has the church ever considered using small single-serving plastic cups, as some Protestant churches do? (Newport News, Va.)

A. In 1998, the American Journal of Infection Control tried to answer this question along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying that “a theoretic risk of transmitting infectious diseases by using a common communion cup exists, but that risk is so small that it is undetectable.” Further, the statement explained, “…a recent study of 681 persons found that people who receive communion as often as daily are not at higher risk of infection compared with persons who do not receive communion or persons who do not attend Christian church services at all.”

However, during a particularly virulent outbreak of influenza (most notably in early 2013) some Catholic dioceses recommended that Communion from the chalice (and even the handshake of peace) be temporarily suspended.

Some dioceses recommend that eucharistic ministers regularly use hand sanitizers before distributing Communion and that the faithful should not receive from the chalice if they are feeling ill.

As to the manner of receiving, some Protestant denominations (especially, evangelical ones) do, indeed, use individual plastic disposable cups. While larger Catholic congregations may need six or eight metal or glass vessels on Sundays for the consecrated wine, the use of individual containers is believed to stray too far from the Last Supper ideal of the sharing by Christ’s disciples in the one cup.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.