Featured Image
At St. Peter’s Basilica on November 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI distributes Holy Communion on the tongue to the kneeling faithful.

PRAYER PLEDGE: VP Pence is right. We need prayer to fight coronavirus, not political antics! Sign the petition here.

March 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A number of Catholic priests, a bishop, and a lay group are challenging the argument that banning Holy Communion on the tongue in favor of receiving in the hand decreases the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The priests and bishop have pointed out that not only that receiving in the hand constitutes a risk of losing precious fragments of the consecrated host, but also that reception in the hand actually increases the risk of spreading diseases and germs.

Their warning comes as a number of dioceses around the world begin to implement bans on Communion on the tongue.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has issued guidance for parishes that say that in the current situation, where there are very few cases of the coronavirus in the U.K., “anyone with cold or flu symptoms” should be asked to receive the host on the hand only. The bishops add, “We should be doing this anyway, every flu season.”

The bishops go on to state that should the situation develop such that there are a “number of cases in local communities or a case specifically linked to a parish community,” then it is likely that parishes will need to suspend distribution of the Precious Blood from the chalice and for “the host to be given on the hand only.”

A number of dioceses in France have already taken the step of banning Communion on the tongue, while still allowing Communion in the hand. Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi, auxiliary of Malta, has also issued a directive to churches in the country banning Communing on the tongue “pending further directives.” In response to the coronavirus, Catholic authorities in Jerusalem, Singapore, the Philippines, some U.S. dioceses, and other parts of the world have also issued either directives or guidelines in favor of giving Communion in the hand but not on the tongue.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, however, has argued that “Communion in the mouth is certainly less dangerous and more hygienic compared to Communion in the hand.”

“From a hygienic point of view, the hand carries a huge amount of bacteria. Many pathogens are transmitted through the hands. Whether by shaking other people’s hands or frequently touching objects, such as door handles or handrails and grab bars in public transport, germs can quickly pass from hand to hand; and with these unhygienic hands and fingers people then touch often their nose and mouth. Also, germs can sometimes survive on the surface of the touched objects for days.According to a 2006 study, published in the journal ‘BMC Infectious Diseases’, influenza viruses and similar viruses can persist on inanimate surfaces, such as e.g. door handles or handrails and handles in transport and public buildings for a few days,” he said.

He described any ban on Communion in the mouth as “unfounded compared to the great health risks of Communion in the hand in the time of a pandemic.”

Schneider said it’s as if some Church authorities are using the coronavirus as a “pretext” to trivialize reception of Communion.

“It seems also that some of them have a kind of cynical joy to spread more and more the process of trivialization and de-sacralization of the Most Holy and Divine Body of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament, exposing the Body of the Lord himself to the real dangers of irreverence (loss of fragments) and sacrileges (theft of consecrated hosts),” he said.

Schneider said nobody can “force” a Catholic to receive the Body of Christ in a way that “constitutes a risk of the loss of the fragments, and a decrease in reverence, as is the way of receiving Communion in the hand.”

He recommended making a Spiritual Communion rather than receiving Communion in a trivial manner.

“In these cases, it is better to make a Spiritual Communion, which fills the soul with special graces. In times of persecution, many Catholics were unable to receive Holy Communion in a sacramental way for long periods of time, but they made a Spiritual Communion with much spiritual benefit,” he said.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, headed by Archbishop Alexander Sample, issued guidelines on March 2 affirming the right of Catholics to continue to receive Holy Communion on the tongue in response to local priests who were banning the practice due to the Coronavirus. 

“After consulting with the Archbishop this office would like to clearly communicate that a parish cannot ban the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, nor may an Ordinary or Extraordinary minister refuse a person requesting Holy Communion on the tongue. [Cf: Redemptionis Sacramentum 92. “Each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue at his choice.”],” the guidelines stated. 

The Archdiocese said that it had consulted two physicians regarding the matter, one of whom was a specialist in immunology for the State of Oregon. 

“They agreed 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.” 

In an article on the New Liturgical Movement website, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski highlighted a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, dated 24 July 2009, the year of the “Swine Flu” pandemic. 

The letter states that the faithful “always” have the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.

This Dicastery observes that its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (25 March 2004) clearly stipulates that “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue” (n.92), nor is it licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful who are not impeded by law from receiving the Holy Eucharist (cf. n. 91).

Dr. Kwasnieski went on to cite a number of Church texts, all explaining that Catholic faithful should not be obliged to receive Communion on the hand, rather than the tongue.

U.S.-based priest Fr. John Zuhlsdorf explained on his popular blog that based on his experience of “nearly three decades of distributing Communion in both ways,” he doesn’t believe that Communion in the hand is safer than Communion on the tongue.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf states: “When distributing Communion directly on the tongue, I rarely, rarely, have any contact with the tongue. When distributing on the hand, there is often, quite often, contact with the communicant’s fingers or palms.”

“I don’t buy for a moment that pushing for Communion on the hand reduces the risk of spread of disease. I think that proper Communion on the tongue is safer,” he said.

The priest stated that a bishop “cannot require Communion in the hand at the Traditional Latin Mass.”

“The legislation of Summorum Pontificum is for the universal Latin Church and bishops cannot override it. The Instruction Universae Ecclesiae 28 says that Summorum Pontificum derogates from all liturgical law after 1962 that doesn’t agree with the laws of 1962.”

He said that if the coronavirus situation gets worse, so that there is “truly a great risk of contagion when out and around, A) you don’t have an obligation to fulfill and B) you don’t have to go to Communion to fulfill your obligation. You can make a spiritual Communion, since you are in the state of grace. Father could, in fact, opt not to distribute Communion.”

A number of other priests who frequently distribute Communion both in the hand and on the tongue have echoed Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s observations.

Fr. Ryan Hilderbrand and Fr. Ray Blake have both taken to Twitter to state that they “never” make contact with members of the faithful when giving Communion on the tongue but often do when distributing Communion in the hand.

The U.K.-based Latin Mass Society (LMS), an association of Catholic faithful dedicated to the promotion of the traditional Latin liturgy of the Catholic Church, has issued a statement explaining that in “celebrations of the Extraordinary Form and other traditional Rites and Usages of the Latin Church, such as the Dominican Rite … Holy Communion (the Host) may not be distributed in the hand, according to the universal liturgical law applicable to them.”

The LMS notes that the guidelines from the bishops in England and Wales “do not take the form of a decree with the force of canon law.”

Their statement also observes that “the distribution of the Host in the hand does not appear to be less likely to spread infection than the distribution on the tongue.”

“On the contrary,” the statement continues, “distribution on the hand has the result that the Host touches possibly infected surfaces, the palm of the left hand and the fingers of the right hand of the communicant, which is avoided in distribution by a priest directly onto the communicant’s tongue.”

The statement by the LMS makes it clear that should the spread of COVID-19 “necessitate the suspension of the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue, this would mean the suspension of the distribution of Holy Communion to the Faithful in these [Extraordinary Form] celebrations.”

Like Bishop Schneider, the LMS statement advises that in such circumstances, Catholic laity can make a Spiritual Communion.

Bishop Schneider has said that any ban on Communion on the tongue, while allowing Communion in the hand, “constitutes an abuse of authority” and has pointed out that “during the Church’s 2,000-year history there were no proven cases of contagion due to the reception of Holy Communion.”

March 5, 2020, update: This report has been updated with additional comments from Dr. Peter Kwasniewski and the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland.