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Alberta bishops use ‘ecclesiastical authority’ to ban communion on tongue out of COVID fears

The ban comes even though the Church states clearly that a Catholic ‘always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.’
Wed Aug 12, 2020 - 8:58 pm EST
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August 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Citing “ecclesiastical authority” to “regulate rights in view of the common good,” the Catholic Bishops of Alberta’s largest dioceses have “temporarily” banned the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue as part of their coronavirus safety measures. The ban comes even though the Catholic Church states clearly in Redemptionis Sacramentum that a Catholic “always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.” 

The ban on communion on the tongue comes as part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton and Catholic Diocese of Calgary’s “Guidelines for the Reintroduction of the Public Celebration of Holy Mass.” These were published in late May to comply with the Alberta government's Guidance for Places of Worship.

The guidelines were developed by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary. 

A section in the bishops' guidelines titled “Distribution of Holy Communion” states clearly that “Holy Communion may only be received in the hand.” 

The guidelines refer to Redemptionis Sacramentum, which gives the faithful the right to receive on the tongue but then cites “ecclesiastical authority” from the church’s Code of Canon Law to regulate such a right.  

“Holy Communion may only be received in the hand. A small table will be placed next to the priest, on which is to be placed a corporal and a bottle of sanitizer. If, during Holy Communion, a priest feels that his hand has touched the hands of a communicant, he must immediately pause, place the ciborium on the corporal, sanitize his hands, and then continue to distribute the Eucharist,” says the guidelines

“Acknowledging that receiving Communion on the tongue is a right of all the faithful (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 92), nevertheless ecclesiastical authority is to regulate rights in view of the common good (can. 223, §2). In the present circumstances, Communion will not be distributed on the tongue. This is a temporary measure to be reviewed on an on-going basis in the light of developing medical advice.”

The Code of Canon Law 223-1 states, “In exercising their rights, the Christian faithful, both as individuals and gathered together in associations, must take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others, and their own duties toward others.”

Canon 223-2 says, “In view of the common good, ecclesiastical authority can direct the exercise of rights which are proper to the Christian faithful.” 

In a recent episode of The John-Henry Westen Show, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski argued that a bishop “abuses” his authority when he denies the faithful the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. 

“They’re supposed to uphold Canon law, and Canon law is really clear that the faithful have the right to receive communion on the tongue. That's it,” Kwasniewski told Westen. 

“Communion in the hand is an exception. It's what's called an indult. It is a permission,” adding, “I think what this coronavirus is bringing out is a real crisis in the faith of the bishops, in the real presence of Our Lord and in the reverence and adoration we owe him.”

Kwasniewski told Westen during the show that “there's a very heightened awareness” early on in the Church regarding the “awesomeness of the Sacrament.”

“In fact, it's this growing sense of reverence that leads the church over time progressively to restrict and finally to abolish communion in the hands. Except, of course, for the clergy … but for the laity, by the time you reach the year 1000 … communion in the mouth is universal … what we're dealing with here is, in my opinion, a clear example of organic development,” Kwasniewski told Westen. 

In a blog post titled “5 reasons why Catholics should only receive Holy Communion on the tongue,” Westen cited Canonist Cathy Caridi, who stated that a bishop can “absolutely not” refuse communion on the tongue due to coronavirus safety measures. 

“It’s astonishing that in quite a number of different parts of the world, diocesan bishops (and in some cases, parish priests acting on their own initiative) have made public declarations that in order to prevent the spread of the virus, the faithful are henceforth forbidden to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and must receive It in the hand.  Quite apart from the fact that no medical officials have suggested this be done as a precaution—because there is no scientific evidence that distributing Communion to people on the hand is any more germ-free than distribution on the tongue—the Church’s laws on this matter are not subject to change by any cleric at the local level,” wrote Caridi in a “Canon Law Made Easy” blog post, in response to a question from someone asking if a Bishop can decree communion in the hand “only.”

In her blog post, Caridi wrote that “Historians cannot pinpoint the moment in time when the Catholic Church formally adopted the practice of distributing the Body of Christ to the faithful on the tongue, but it definitely began in the early centuries of Christianity.”

She added that the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued the instruction Memoriale Domini in 1969, which “raised the possibility of permitting, in certain areas of the world, the reception of Communion in the hand.”

She noted that Memoriale Domini “did not grant the entire Catholic Church permission for the distribution of Communion in the hand,” but that it instead allowed Conferences of Bishops to decide whether they “even wished to introduce this practice in their territories.” 

Bishop Athanasius Schneider said at the 2020 virtual Rome Life Forum hosted by Voice of the Family that the pope should ban Communion in the hand.

“The Pope should also forbid the practice of Communion in the hand, for the Church cannot continue unpunished to treat the Holy of Holies in the little sacred Host in such a minimalistic and unsafe manner,” Schneider said. 

LifeSiteNews reached out to the Calgary diocese for comment regarding the bishop's order for not allowing communion on the tongue. 

Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Calgary, responded to LifeSiteNews by only confirming that Calgary has the same rules in place as Edmonton. 

“The guidelines are from the Alberta bishops,” Chin Jon said. 

One parish in Calgary, however, is allowed to continue giving Holy Communion on the tongue. St. John’s, under the direction of a different bishop, is continuing with its practice of Holy Communion “at the altar rail upon the tongue.” 

"Bishop Lopes has requested that St. John’s take careful account of the protocols issued by the Bishops of Alberta and so we will be working in harmony with the circulated safety measures,” St. John’s website stated. 

“There will be deviations where they relate to our specific circumstances as a parish of the Ordinariate … our Bishop has asked us to retain the current practice of receiving Holy Communion at St. John’s which is normally received at the altar rail upon the tongue. Our celebrating priest cleanses his hands between each communicant (or household) and each person (or household) approaches the altar rails individually at the instruction of the usher. The altar rails are also cleansed between each individual or household."

St. John’s is a traditional Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, in full communion with Rome, which was created by the Vatican in 2012 “for people nurtured in the Anglican tradition who wish to become Catholic.” 

According to their website, parishes and communities in the Ordinariates are “fully Roman Catholic, but retain elements of Anglican traditions in their liturgy, hospitality and ministries.” They are also under their own bishop. 

Provinces across Canada began to reopen churches for public worship with crowd limits and health restrictions in May and June. 

In their initial phase of allowing places of worship to reopen in May, the Alberta government first only allowed up to 50 worshippers to be present. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney later announced in June Phase 2 of the province’s post-coronavirus relaunch. Kenney said that as part of Phase 2, churches in Alberta along with all other places of worship will be allowed to fully reopen with no limits on congregation size as long as social distancing and health protocols measures were still in place. 

Despite being able to operate without limits, most Catholic churches in Alberta have imposed size limits, and Mass-goers must pre-register to attend. 

In churches in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, the distribution of Holy Communion is done with single-use disposable wooden spoons. They are burnt after use and then “properly disposed after usage” according to the Eparchy’s “Re-Opening of Churches and the Resumption of Public Liturgical Services guidelines.”

The Archdiocese of Winnipeg has a similar policy in place for the distribution of Holy Communion as Calgary and Edmonton, stating that it “is to be distributed only on the hand of each communicant with great care not to make physical contact.” 

In the province of Saskatchewan, the Diocese of Saskatoon, which makes up the northern part of the province, allows for communion on the tongue under certain conditions. 

Their coronavirus directives for the resumption of Mass state that if wishing to receive on the tongue, they must be the last in line, and after responding ‘Amen,’ they are asked to open their mouth “widely and extend their tongue far enough so that the Sacred Host can be placed on the tongue. This is to prevent the host from falling and in order for the priest to avoid any contact with the communicant.”

The priest is to then “disinfect between communicants with the exception of those receiving from the same household.” 

The Archdiocese of Vancouver’s coronavirus guidelines state that the “faithful have the right to receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue.” 

Similar to the guidelines from the Saskatoon diocese, Vancouver’s note that if one is wishing to receive on the tongue one must be the last in line, and that it is recommended that “the minister purify his fingers and use hand sanitizer after each person who receives on the tongue.

For respectful communications:

Calgary Catholic Diocese
Bishop William T. McGrattan
120 17 Ave SW
Calgary, Alberta  T2S 2T2
Phone: 403-218-5500
Fax: 403-264-0526 
[email protected] 

Archdiocese of Edmonton
Archbishop Richard Smith
8421 - 101 Avenue NW
Edmonton AB  T6A 0L1
Phone: 780-469-1010
Toll-free: 1-844-469-1010
Fax: 780-465-3003
Email Contact Us Link

Correction 08-13-20, 17:30 EDT: A previous edition of this article mislabeled the Diocese of Saskatoon as an archdiocese. LifeSite regrets the error.


  archdiocese of edmonton, canon law, catholic, catholic bishops of alberta, communion in the hand, communion on the tongue, diocese of calgary, memoriale domini, redemptionis sacramentum, richard smith, sanitizer, william mcgrattan

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