Bishop directs priests to give Communion to faithful outside church during COVID-19 outbreak
FORTH WORTH, Texas, March 19, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, asked the priests in his diocese to distribute Holy Communion outside of the church during their private Masses in response to the coronavirus epidemic. At the same time, however, he prohibited the reception of the Eucharist on the tongue.
In a pastoral letter published Wednesday, the bishop announced the cancellation of all public Masses in his diocese.
“After consultation with my priests and civic officials at local and state levels, and in cooperating with them for the good of society, I am informing you that Mass will continue to be celebrated at the scheduled times throughout the territory of the Diocese of Fort Worth, but without a congregation physically present in the church,” Olson wrote.
The bishop asked that priests “celebrate these Masses assisted by a deacon and server/acolyte for the published intention at the scheduled time in the main sanctuary of the parish church.”
Holy Communion, he explained, will be distributed at the regular part of Mass, but outside of the church “in designated spaces after Mass for those who are present in their cars or separated by a safe distance.”
In case of bad weather, “Holy Communion may be distributed in the church with safe social distancing and without crowding with due respect for the limits on gathering size.”
However, Olson prohibited Catholics from receiving Holy Communion on the tongue “to prevent the spread of contagion.”
In his March 12 pastoral letter, the bishop had only “strongly encouraged” the faithful “to receive the host in the ancient form of on the hand out of charity for their neighbor.”
As Peter Kwasniewski, a theology professor and LifeSiteNews columnist, has pointed out, today’s way of receiving communion in the hand is not actually reviving some ancient practice.
“The ancient record bears witness to beliefs and attitudes that would, over time, develop into the longstanding traditional communion praxis of both the Latin West and the Byzantine East,” Kwasniewski wrote.
“In the West, Communion on the tongue, kneeling, is the natural and suitable result of St. Cyril’s Eucharistic piety. The attempt to turn back the clock to antiquity—an antiquity, moreover, deceptively misrepresented and fictitiously reconstructed—is, in the end, nothing but a Trojan horse for Calvinistic sacramental theology.”
Several dioceses in North America have pointed out that the reception of the Eucharist directly on the tongue is not more dangerous than reception in the hand.
The diocese of Arlington, Virginia, released a statement saying public health experts “assisting the Diocese have advised that receiving Communion on the tongue does not pose a greater risk of spreading illness than receiving Communion on the hand.”
An updated version of that diocesan statement, “Prevention and Response to the Coronavirus,” published by The Arlington Catholic Herald, no longer contains that sentence.
The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, declared that “a parish cannot ban the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue.”
After consulting two doctors on the question of the manner of receiving Holy Communion, there was agreement “that done properly the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand pose a more or less equal risk.”
“The risk of touching the tongue and passing the saliva on to others is obviously a danger however the chance of touching someone’s hand is equally probable and one’s hands have a greater exposure to germs,” the archdiocese’s statement pointed out.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, also emphasized the equal risk.
“The manner of receiving the host (in the hand or on the tongue) is the choice of each individual communicant. Both methods may risk the spread of disease, so it is important for ministers of Communion to exercise good hygiene,” the bishop wrote in his temporary regulations.
In the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki stated that the reception of Communion on the tongue “is very sanitary when done properly.”
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone emphasized that germs can be spread “just as easily by hand-to-hand contact as by hand-to-mouth contact.”
Accordingly, those distributing Holy Communion “should try to avoid physical contact with the communicant...Those who present themselves to receive Communion on the tongue should not be denied their right to receive Communion in this way.”
Bishop Olson of Fort Worth, while prohibiting the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, emphasized that efforts should be made to give the Eucharist “to those who are sick and deprived for any reason of Holy Communion in ordinary circumstances.”
He asked priests and deacons older than 60 not to distribute the Eucharist “for the sake of their health,” but left the final decision to their own judgment.
The bishop encouraged priests to open churches “for published and scheduled periods for individual adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament and prayer with scheduled opportunities for Confession behind the screen.”
Regarding the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, Olson said it should be done “with a cotton stock and not the bare thumb. The cotton stock is to be burned afterwards.”