GUEST POST: Response to claim that Communion on tongue will spread influenza (and whatever else)

Appended below is letter by longtime Fr. Z’s Blog reader and participant to the pastor of the reader’s parish. It seems that in Sunday’s parish bulletin the pastor alleged that priests touch communicants’ tongues when people insist on receiving on the tongue. He uses the upcoming flu season as a pretext for exhorting people to receive on the hand instead.

The parishioner’s letter touches succinctly and calmly on the relevant issues.

Fr. _________,

I’m reading in today’s bulletin your statement that receiving Communion on the tongue often involves accidentally touching the tongue. A major part of the problem here is that we are standing rather than kneeling, and are often at the wrong angle plus are swaying slightly. That’s what causes the accidental touching of our tongues.

A great solution would be what Pope Benedict did, which was to put portable kneelers in place just at the time of communion, and the people who wished to receive on the tongue could kneel. This puts the communicant at the correct angle, plus they won’t be swaying. Benedict was leading by example, in the hope that more people would return to receiving Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue. It is a humble position and means of reception, which will lead people to remember more strongly just Who it is Whom we are receiving.

A well-known priest, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who says Mass in the Extraordinary Form nearly always, has written on his blog several times that he has almost never accidentally touched anyone’s tongue in his many years of distributing Communion. He explains that this is because the communicants are kneeling and are at the right angle with their mouths open, and they aren’t moving.

A further point is one of common sense: people who aren’t feeling well should stay in the pews and not go up for Communion at all. In fact, if they are sneezing and feverish, they really should stay at home. A sneeze, even when covered, shoots tiny droplets all over the place for several feet around them. People who come to Mass when sick, and who still decide to come up for Communion, are being inconsiderate of the rest of us.

Wouldn’t it be better to just ask people to not come up for Communion when they are under the weather, rather than making those of us who receive on the tongue feel as if WE are the ones being inconsiderate? And wouldn’t just two portable kneelers for the two center lines of Communion be an easy enough situation to manage? They could be set in place quickly, and gotten back out of the way quickly. And anyone who wants to receive Communion on the tongue would know to get in one of those two lines. And anyone receiving on the hand can still hold out their hand over the kneeler while standing, and it wouldn’t be in their way at all.

Thank you for listening to me, Father. And I hope you’ll consider these solutions to the problem. Stigmatizing those who receive on the tongue is not a charitable solution, in my opinion.
God bless!

[NAME]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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61 Responses to GUEST POST: Response to claim that Communion on tongue will spread influenza (and whatever else)

  1. Dutchman says:

    I believe the Lord, present in the Eucharist, would never allow someone to get sick in receiving Him. To suggest otherwise is a way of saying the Eucharist is just a cracker, after all.

  2. george says:

    One wonders if, along with telling people to not receive on the tongue for fear of spreading the flu, Father also will not be having people receive under both species during the flu season. If *anything* would spread disease, I would think drining from the same chalice would be among the top.

  3. VexillaRegis says:

    We should do it the way they do in the Lutheran Church of Sweden (seen at confirmations there):
    Kneeling at the altar rail, recieving on the tounge, and using Madeira, Sherry or Port with just a hint of water. :-)!

  4. tzabiega says:

    Actually, kneelers are not even necessary. There is a Polish language Mass that I go to where everyone going to Communion kneels on the first step and receives Communion only on the tongue. As in Poland, even the most frail elderly people will kneel (nothing wrong with a little discomfort for the Lord) and I have yet to have any priest (even visiting non-Polish priests not used to giving out Communion in this way) ever touch my tongue (I have had it touched numerous times when standing). Another consideration would be very small, easily dissolvable hosts I saw in one parish where the priest literally drops the Host into the communicants mouth. Maybe the CDC should fund a study between the U.S. (where almost everyone stands for Communion) and Poland (where everyone kneels, even when Mass is outside) and see where the transmission rates for influenza are greater at Mass.

  5. Skeinster says:

    As we have new people coming to our EF parish all the time, the Frs. frequently review
    how to receive on the tongue:
    Tilt head slightly back.
    CLOSE YOUR EYES (this is very useful for them)
    Stick out your tongue.
    If you are holding a baby or toddler, restrain their little hands.
    Easy peasy.

  6. CruceSignati says:

    Our pastor noticed that many people in St. Raphael’s (my home parish, Ordinary Form) stick to traditional, common-sense, Catholic things, such as kneeling for Holy Communion. So he did as Pope Benedict had suggested and put out portable kneelers at the time of communion. Easily three quarters of the people make use of them now. I am very grateful to Our Blessed Lord for our priest, our Pope Emeritus, and for the parish I belong to.

  7. CruceSignati says:

    Our pastor noticed that many people in St. Raphael’s (my home parish, Ordinary Form) stick to traditional, common-sense, Catholic things, such as kneeling for Holy Communion. So he did as Pope Benedict had suggested and put out portable kneelers at the time of communion. Easily three quarters of the people make use of them now. I am very grateful to Our Blessed Lord for our priest, our Pope Emeritus, and for the parish I belong to.

  8. capchoirgirl says:

    Close your eyes? Why is that? At my parish, we receive at communion rails, and almost everyone receives on the tongue, but they’ve never asked us to close our eyes. I’m curious. :)

  9. mamajen says:

    Accidents happen whether you’re standing or kneeling. In our parish almost 100% of communicants receive on the tongue kneeling (except the disabled), and still, once in a while, the priest touches the tongue. That said, I have never really worried about contracting the flu or anything else that way.

    I am in complete and total agreement that people should stay home, or at the very least refrain from communion when they are sick! This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Recently I took my baby to the crying room and there were sick adults decamped there, hacking and sniffling away. When my son gets a cold, he ends up on a nebulizer. I think priests should remind people that it’s okay to stay home if they are sick. Offering up one’s sufferings is good and all, but in a crowded place it’s not all about you.

  10. wcampbell78 says:

    capchoirgirl:

    The eye closing is recommended to eliminate distractions for both the recipient and the priest. Having been an altar server with paten in hand, it is a little disconcerting watching the person track the host or stare at the priest.

    Eye closing also eliminates the “snapping turtle” syndrome where the recipient attempts to close the mouth immediately after the host is placed. Nobody wants to be bitten :)

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “And anyone who wants to receive Communion on the tongue would know to get in one of those two lines. And anyone receiving on the hand can still hold out their hand over the kneeler while standing, and it wouldn’t be in their way at all.”

    While I sympathize, this is in no ways a method to stop the spread of the flu. The flu virus can be spread just as easily by the hand due to sweat as on the tongue due to saliva. The amount of liquid need only be very small, but unless the pastor touches his hand to his face between each recipient, the odd of his contracting the flu in this method is minimal, provided he sanitizes his hands before doing anything else, when done. Could he spread the flu from communicant to communicant if he retains some saliva from person to person? Sure, so he should wipe his hands either on a moist towelette or on his vestment if he should get some saliva on his hands. In reality, it has very little to do with communion posture and everything to do with getting the flu virus in vivo. Unless the pastor has a cut or rubs his nose/face, there is little chance of flu infection from giving Communion, if the proper post-Communion protocols are observed.

    The Chicken

  12. Ferde Rombola says:

    I am an extraordinary minster of the Eucharist. [of Communion, not of the Eucharist] Many in my parish receive on the tongue. I have found that pressing the Host to the tongue causes it to stick to the tongue even if only a quarter of an inch is actually making contact. Works every time and I don’t have to touch anyone’s tongue.

  13. Nordic Breed says:

    This makes way too much sense for the ideologues.

  14. capchoirgirl says:

    wcampbell:
    Thanks. I was wondering about that. My eyes are always on the host, so it’s not like I’m staring down the priest. :) :)
    I’ve never had a priest touch my tongue–my *teeth*, yes, from nervous student brothers who are just getting the knack of distributing to people. That sort of hurts when it’s done fast! :) But they’re learning.

  15. The letter in this post looks like an excellent model for parishioners to follow in addressing a pastor about a liturgical concern. Obviously well-informed about the matter at hand, positive and respectful in tone, presenting constructive discussion and suggestions, rather than merely complaining or whining.

  16. Muv says:

    Dutchman – Bravo! A wonderful declaration of faith.

    If Communion on the tongue caused disease to spread the entire Carmel at Lisieux would have followed St. Therese and succumbed to tuberculosis, wiping out the community early in the 20th century. In fact, her sister Celine, Soeur Genevieve de la Sainte Face, lived to 1959, outliving her younger sister by almost 62 years.

    I have never once received Communion in the hand, having been well instructed as a child that the consecrated host must be touched by no hands other than those of a priest. When the fashion for Communion in the hand took hold here in England I refused to follow the trend. By the same token, I always join the queue for the priest and avoid the queues for lay people administering the hosts.

    A portable kneeler is such an eminently sensible and obvious solution to enable communicants more easily receive on the tongue. I have often toyed with the idea of suggesting they should be provided at our local cathedral, but I know I would be told to take a walk. So I approach the priest with hands down, eyes to the floor, kneel on cold hard marble, and receive on the tongue.

    Apart from the discomfort on an old girl’s bony knees, there are also the following irksome little worries and penances:-

    1. Having to reply “Amen” at OF Masses means moving the tongue when I would rather be putting it gently into position.

    2. In churches where the priest stands on the step and you end up kneeling on the floor below him, it can be an awkward angle for him. With no server with a paten, which is more worrying – a younger priest with scant experience of administering on the tongue, an older priest with bad joints who can’t bend so easily, or a priest of any age who is ill-disposed towards traditional practices and does not administer with the care required?

    3. After receiving the host, getting up without any rail for support and then weaving against the flow away from the queue for the Chalice.

    I have attended Masses and received Communion in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Poland. The OF priests in this country should visit a Polish parish here and watch and learn.

    Never have I been refused Communion on the tongue, despite defying our local Bishop’s flu season directive a few years ago, but I always fear that the day will come. The Bishop in the notice posted in churches said that he was following advice from the health authorities, who of course have the last word in all matters ecclesiastical.

    My approach to the flu excuse from Bishops is this:-

    1. Be last in the queue, so you can counter any fatuous arguments that you are exposing the people behind you to disease.

    2. Trust the priest to do the right thing. Once he is presented with a tongue he has only seconds in which to act. He is holding Our Blessed Lord in his hand – Our Lord will guide him to follow the ancient practice of the Church. If the priest refuses and puts the Bishop’s instructions first, then God help both priest and Bishop.

  17. MrsMacD says:

    Good Jesus! Holy Jesus! Jesus who loves sick people. Jesus who we need to show our greatest respect and reverence toward. Perfect Jesus. Does Jesus come with a cross? Does he come with sickness? Does He come with death? As long as He comes. As long as I am reminded that He is Jesus, whom I do not deserve to receive, but who I need. We can get all caught up in, ‘human principles,’ and start preaching them as doctrine but then it smacks of the pharisees accusing the apostles of not washing their hands. St. Francis found his conversion when he kissed a leper. It wasn’t safe! He could have died! Life goes on.

    We want someone to blame, “Mrs. Smith did it by bringing all her snotty nosed children to church! She should have stayed home! ” I know a couple of families whose children were sick from september to July. They really suffered but suffering in this life is inevitable. We have to be careful not to be the rich man who wouldn’t even give Lazarus the scraps from his table, or Jesus the reverence that is his due. No kicking sick people out, no lack of reverence for God.

    Maybe sick people could go to the back of the line. When Nicole Sadunaite worked as a midwife in the concentration camp and she only had one basin of clean water she would bathe the babies with typhoid last so as not to infect the well babies.

    From personal experience (it’s all about me);As a mother I’m often nauseous and under the weather. Am I pregnant? Am I sick? Who knows? Should I refrain from Communion? I need Jesus. My children need me to receive Jesus, so I can be a good mother. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall not have life in you.” Life without Jesus is spiritual death, worse than any flesh eating disease. The only thing that should keep people from receiving Communion is mortal sin. At least we can all approach Him as a sick man to the physician.

    Just my two cents.

  18. AnnTherese says:

    Like Dutchman, I believe that whether we receive the Eucharist on our tongue, in our hands, or drink from the cup, we are receiving Jesus, the greatest Healer. How could germs be transmitted or make us sick when the Eucharist itself heals? Where is our faith?

    I do truly miss being able to receive the Blood of Christ from the cup at Mass each week. I know the Church teaches that we fully receive Christ in either form. Still, I don’t understand why we would want to leave out half of Jesus’ actions and directives from the Last Supper on a regular basis. He could have easily held up the bread and said, “This is my Body and Blood,” yet he chose to present these separately, and invited his disciples to eat AND drink. Please– I’m well aware of the Catholic answers/reasons for this alteration of the Eucharistic meal, so no need to lecture me on them– simply voicing my thoughts and disappointment.

  19. Martlet says:

    On attending Mass while sick, I have often felt that it is a difficult call to make. There is a difference between being under the weather, having a few snuffles which may include sneezing from time to time, and full blown flu. In fact, judging from the last time I had the flu, many years ago, I doubt anyone could manage to get much further than their beds. So where is the line? Mindful of some of the churches of old, with their leprosy windows, where a leper could stand outside the church and still participate, I have wondered why, in this day and age, those in that “Quite unwell but not bad enough” stage of coming down with something contagious, we cannot go to church, park in the car park, if available, and “attend” Mass via small screens. Okay, please don’t shoot me. Just tell me if there is something wrong with the notion of attending without going in.

  20. frahobbit says:

    I can kneel with a bad knee, I just can’t get back up. Two hefty persons would have to take each arm and haul me away! ; )

  21. Peregrinator says:

    I once had a priest very deliberately touch my tongue. I had not stuck it out far enough, apparently, so he grabbed it between his ring and little fingers to pull it out further so he could place the Host on it!

  22. Elizabeth D says:

    And then there was the time when an extremely liberal retired priest did not want to give Communion on the tongue and when I did not offer my hands he forcefully attacked me with the Host. I later found when I simply mentioned the priest’s name multiple people volunteered to me that this priest had attacked them or others with the Host when they approached him for Holy Communion. This disturbing abuse was obviously his way of opposing Communion on the tongue.

  23. tzard says:

    There are practical aspects the letter didn’t touch on (no pun intended) – but would probably confuse the issue.

    When the communicant is standing, unless the priest is significantly taller, he’s going to be reaching UP. It makes it even more awkward to tilt your head back while standing. He may not be able to see where he’s going. If the priest is significantly shorter, it’s even worse.

    Or so it would seem to me, I’ve only been on one end of this.

  24. Choirmaster says:

    I have to disagree with the Dutchman and AnnTherese. I think you could easily become infected by pathogens through the vector of shared cups (even Chalices!) and contact between hands and mouths. It strikes me as a bit superstitious to think that the Real Presence would somehow change the rules of biology and physics such that you would not transmit disease the same way through consecrated bread and wine as you would—ceteris paribus—through similar matter unconsecrated.

    Remember, the accidents of the host (as our senses tell us) have not changed, only the substance. It is in the accidents that we recognize vectors of infection and matter of transmission. Therefore, just because the matter is consecrated and, in substance, is the Real Presence of Our Lord, that does not grant magical powers over the material world, only in a sense over the spiritual, having the power of salvation and damnation.

    On the other hand…. “quoniam infirmus sum, sana me, Domine”…

  25. Traductora says:

    I don’t really think there’s any difference between receiving on the tongue and receiving in your hand, as far as the possibility for infection goes. Unless you’ve been standing in a special hermetically sealed bubble at Mass, your hands have touched the pews, touched the hands of others around you, touched the door to the church, etc. So if you touch the Host with your own hands, it seems to me that (unless we give out Purell at every mass just before communion and have a new Vatican II ritual handwashing!) the possibility for getting the flu from Communion is about the same if not more than that where the priest alone touches the Host, even if he occasionally makes contact with someone’s tongue. (And yes, kneeling is easier for the communicant, too, and makes this less likely.)

    The thing that really seems to me to have major potential for spreading contagious disease is the “cup,” as they call it. That and the “Handshake of Peace” need to go away if they’re really concerned about lessening the likelihood of contagion. But believe me, these things will never go away.

  26. TMKent says:

    Our priests have been gently encouraging reception on the tongue for about two years. We are a large parish and they have limited extraordinary ministers to Sundays and replaced multiple cups with intinction only by the priest at the center isle. For about 1 year we had a single pre dieu and for the past several months a 4-person kneeler.
    From the moment these priests arrived I began receiving on the tongue for the first time i had done so since I was a teen in the 70’s. These priests never touched my tongue – even when I was new to the procedure and standing.
    I sing in the choir and for convenience and time it was decided that one of the EMHC’s would come to us for communion. EVERY time they touch my tongue – there must be some technique or practice needed.

  27. Kathleen10 says:

    I have a little concern with portable kneelers in that it is easy to envision the elderly tripping over them, or falling over when they try to stand up. We don’t always realize how hard a movement that can be for older people. It requires some strength and flexibility, and a good sense of balance, which is often just not there. It’s a risk, and what could be worse than for that to happen? Anyone falling over a temporary structure in the way is in a position to seek litigation as well.
    It may very well work great 99% of the time. It’s that 1% though…
    Far better to have a permanent kneeler available that would not be near the area people walk through. One simply chooses the permanent kneeler or to receive in the hand.

  28. AnnTherese says:

    Choirmaster: “superstition” and “magic” are interesting interpretations. Catholics have often believed in miracles that illustrate “power over the material world,” no?– such as weeping statues of Mary. But we don’t call them magic. We call them miracles of God. I hardly think there is anything magical about the Eucharist. Miraculous– yes. Powerful– indeed.

    I have no room for fear in my heart when I receive the Eucharist. But, you go ahead and be careful if you are nervous about germs and need to feel safer.

  29. Choirmaster says:

    AnnTherese: Yes, miracles of course, but they are things far out of the ordinary and defy reason and logic. Something that would predictably and repeatably defy reason and logic, and contradict other, predictable and falsifiable, laws of the material world would indeed be “magic”.

    If I were to believe that extraordinary powers over the physical world, such as preventing the transmission of disease through supernatural intervention, can exist as a matter of course, I would certainly be “superstitious”.

    And I do have a great fear and trembling when I receive the Eucharist because, if done unworthily, it can lead to the eternal damnation of my soul (and maybe even scandal to others), and because I am receiving the King of Fearful Majesty, who will one day come in power and judgment over me and the whole world. I do not “fear” or “feel” anything in regards to the transmission of disease, because that consideration is scientific and rational, rather than spiritual or emotional.

  30. jacobi says:

    Father,

    This is now a hoary old one that has been repeatedly tried in the campaign to abolish reception by mouth, which in turn is part of the campaign to turn belief in the Real Presence “incremenatally”, if I may?, into something merely symbolic.

    As the parishioner said anyone feeling ill should not be at Mass. And that includes the priest.

    Just think of, or watch perhaps, the number of times people wipe or brush their hand against mouth or nose, or cough or sneeze into the hand, and then offer a sign of peace handshake. Perfect transmission mechanism!

    The most efficient way of transmitting flu is by sharing the Communion Chalice. You simply could not improve on that. The last person to sample Communion Wine will, given the extraordinary technology of today, have detectable amounts of all participants’ bacteria, fungi, DNA, and if it’s there, influenza viruses in their mouth. And you don’t need many flu viruses to get things going.

    Therefore, if there is flu around, consider not going to Mass if at risk, ensure the priest is not infected, ask the priest to use the standard method of the edge of the Host down on the tongue, and above all, stop reception of the Holy Blood by sharing the chalice.

    Again may I say, so much of the problems arise from the post-Vatican II attempt to turn the Mass into a protestant type communion service. We are not as Catholics required to receive Holy Communion at every Mass, only once a year, and that at Easter or thereabouts. That is still the “rule” insofar as I have been able to find out.

  31. Uxixu says:

    jacobi captures my thoughts on it. Surely this pastor under discussion must have withdrawn the Precious Blood, as well?

    The shared Chalice, the spoon, the fistula, were all tried with the consideration of avoiding accidental sacrilege yet all fail from a hygienic perspective…

  32. pseudomodo says:

    I agree with chiormaster and sorry Dutchman, I disagree.

    We believe that we recieve the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. This is Transubstantiation.

    We do not believe in Transaccidentiation.

    In addition to recieving Christ we can also recieve viruses and germs which can make us sick.

    I hope you are not suggesting that a celiac is immune to gluten or that a communicant cannot get drunk if they were to consume a quart of precious blood.

    Even though the substance has changed, the accidents remain with all thier effects even if they are adverse effects.

  33. SpesUnica says:

    I think it is pious naivete to think that God would universally prevent the spread of infection via reception of the Eucharistic Species. We know by faith that the Son is Really Present, but all the accidents of the ordinary food remain. If you are an alcoholic, the Blood may still be problematic for you to receive, if you have Celiac Disease, the (formerly-) gluten will still cause you to be ill. Is it still alcohol, or gluten, anymore? Maybe not, but they still BEHAVE chemically in the same ways.

    Anecdotally, I know priests who have come down with a cold or flu after consuming and purifying the chalice offered to ill parishioners. Could he have gotten sick anyway? Sure, but we needn’t be silly about this. To deny that ordinary things can still happen in reference to the Blessed Sacrament is to misunderstand why sacraments exist in the first place, or even the Incarnation itself. God comes among us and hides his glory behind lowly, humble forms. It’s like people who are scandalized by the idea of Jesus using the bathroom.

    I have said Mass at parishes with both no, on the one hand, and almost universal, on the other, kneeling to receive on the tongue. In my limited experience, height and “angle of attack” are really helpful for an non-dramatic reception of the Sacrament. It drives me nuts when I am visiting a place where all the ministers–ordinary and extraordinary–tromp to floor level down the sanctuary stairs and give up the “high ground!” I am not short, but there are some tall folks out there! The step up, or alternatively, the difference made by kneeling, I personally find to be helpful when giving Communion on the tongue.

  34. Choirmaster says:

    Oh, how right you are, pseudomodo!

    One time, quite wrongly, I allowed myself to be convinced to consume all the remaining Precious Blood leftover after a Mass in which I was, suspend your disbelief, the Choirmaster. What a scary drive home that was! The fact that I made it safely back, and the other drivers on the road also, could be the greatest Eucharistic miracle of my life!

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Like Dutchman, I believe that whether we receive the Eucharist on our tongue, in our hands, or drink from the cup, we are receiving Jesus, the greatest Healer. How could germs be transmitted or make us sick when the Eucharist itself heals? Where is our faith?”

    Is everyone who receives Communion suddenly healed of their illnesses? No. Why should one assume that one will, similarly, be prevented from contracting an illness? After all, viruses are invalid matter, so they are not transubstantiated. Traductora is correct, the accidents, including infectious properties, remain after the Host is confected. Likewise, bringing the host in contact with your mouth is not going to make your saliva any less infection. Technically, that is superstition of a sort (improper worship of the true God (indebitus veri Dei cultus)), but more correctly, it is presumption:

    It may be defined as the condition of a soul that, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation [in this case, from acting negligently] without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them.

    In ages past, due to ignorance, it might be argued that God could have blocked the spread of disease through receiving Communion, but God expects us to use the knowledge we have and will not, generally, substitute a supernatural means where a natural one would suffice. Since, in this age, we know about viruses, God expects us to use natural means to prevent their spread.

    The Chicken

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    Quote on presumption from the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.

    The Chicken

  37. lizaanne says:

    Communion on the tongue has been practiced for centuries. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t ever recall hearing of any massive outbreak, pandemic, epidemic, syndemic, or other buzzeezez wreaking havoc due to the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

    Silly people. Stay home if you are sick and solve most of the problem right there.

  38. Geoffrey says:

    I too am an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. I very rarely touch someone’s tongue or mouth when distributing the Host. However, I am always end up touching people’s hands…

  39. Phil_NL says:

    I see no reason to believe that transsubstantiation would also mean that no germs would inhabit the Sacred Spieces. One might hope that our Lord would look kindly on those about to receive Him and prevent anything untowards happening, but bad things do happen.

    Secondly, while undoubtedly many of the flu+communion-on-the-tongue talk is partly inspired by aversion to more traditional Catholic praxis, and partly by a poorly informed ‘yuck factor’, I do think it’s unwise to dismiss it completely. With an experienced priest, kneeling and steady communicants it should not be a problem. If father has Parkinson, or people can’t kneel, or can’t present a stable ‘target’, sooner or later things can and will go wrong. Siliva can spread all kinds of germs, and no matter how carefully done, the margin of error between father’s fingers and the recipients siliva is mere milimeters.

    And more likely than not, that is going to be on father’s mind as well. Maybe he did have a recent ‘mishap’ with it.

    Therefore, if father feels uncomfortable doing it, because he doesnt trust his own abilities or fears problems will less-than-ideally behaved recipients, I’d not press the issue. Perhaps he can hone his skills next time he goes on a retraite (in a place where communion on the tongue is the habit). But I think that a full church in flu season is probably not the best time to get father out of his comfort zone. And if there are other reasons , well, then you’re probably better off in another church, or, should no decent alternative be present, that’s a cross you will likely have to bear anyway. And pray for priests who receive proper training.

  40. Will D. says:

    Ditto to what Geoffrey says. Oddly, though I kneel when receiving and nearly always receive from a priest, my tongue gets touched far more than I ever touch a tongue distributing communion.

    As for the Eucharist being supernaturally protected from transmitting disease: a thought experiment. Imagine a priest sniffling and sneezing his way through Mass. He suddenly has a sneezing fit and inadvertently sneezes into the ciborium. Would you readily receive one of those hosts? I don’t think I would.

  41. A.D. says:

    I noticed no one mentioned how to hold the Host when giving Communion in the mouth. When I was an EMOC, I very carefully used the “thumb under/index finger over” technique instead of the opposite “thumb over”, etc. One has more control of the edge and can guide the Host to the tongue without having one’s hand touch the recipient’s mouth. Taking time to do this also helps. There is no hurry.

    When giving the Precious Blood, one should wipe the area used by the recipient with some slight friction (not dab at it) and turn the cup to a different spot for the next recipient. A different area of the cloth should be used each time (which means one has to unfold it and use all areas). Believe me, people will appreciate your diligence.

  42. Mary Jane says:

    I attend Mass at an FSSP parish. Only the priests distribute the Eucharist. I receive kneeling, head back, tongue out, and eyes shut. I have had my tongue touched a couple times, and my teeth got bumped once, too. In those times I’ve just prayed that God would preserve me from any germs that were transferred. Once the server hit my tiled back throat with the paten…whew that hurt.

  43. Mary Jane says:

    Btw…this problem of transmitting germs is also a problem when relics – or the Cross, on Good Friday – are venerated. Usually the servers wipe the kissed spot with a different section of cloth every time, but still…we just do our best and pray we don’t get sick. Needless to say, people should use common sense (like don’t go up to venerate a relic if one is are sick).

  44. KM Edwards says:

    Good note from the parishioner – a great segue to promote communion KNEELING DOWN and on the tongue.

    There is however a very cogent medical argument against communion in the hand … the recent Ebola scares have highlighted them.

    The best way to counter Ebola and other viruses including influenza is a very rigorous HAND WASHING discipline. When we receive or allow communion in the hand, from a worldly perspective strictly, this is what happens:

    – You have just driven your car into the parish parking lot – you have handled your steering wheel, your automatic or manual stick shift, your keys, your doors, your remote keyless. When is the last time you sanitized these inside components of your vehicle? Have you sneezed on them since that time? Did you pump gas at a station and touch your VISA card and the VISA machine, or handle cash? Do you have ANY idea how many people have handled that cash before you did?
    – Okay, so let’s say (Just sayin…) you walk to the parish washroom and wash your hands properly (sing the “happy birthday” song for the correct duration needed to lather your hands with a sanitizing soap and rinse well, and do NOT touch the washroom door on your way out)
    – you did your hands into the holy water font, kneel down, make the sign of the cross, and find yourself a pew. You take your coat off, handling the pew rail or seat in front of you. Do you have any idea how many people have touched that pew, the seat or the rail who haven’t washed your hands. Okay, so you settle down and sanitize your hands with your nifty $1 bottle of hand sanitizer.
    – throughout the Mass, you sit, kneel and stand, rubbing shoulders with friendly brethren and likely touching those pews along the way … but, and your powers of mental focus intact as you listen to Father’s prayers and homily, you regularly sanitize your hands throughout the Mass.
    – You are called to offer peace to another – everyone is shaking your hand, or waving at you – did they wash their hands after the last time they picked their nose? Or drove their car? And walked into the Church?
    – Having frequented a fair number of public washrooms – at work, in public malls, etc – I can vouch that not an insignificant number of people do not use soap – a number of people just run the tap water over their hands, shake it off, rub ’em dry on their pants and are out the door – no sanitizing value whatsoever. Keep that in mind the next time you shake someone’s hand at Mass …

    Communion time now … and Father and Eucharistic Minister layman have been passing the Lord’s Body and Blood into several people’s hands. Each of them with a billion and more germs, and each of them transmitted from one communicant to Father and EM layman to the next communicant. And this does not even account for what Father and EM layman did since the last time they washed their hands before Mass …

    Is this REALLY the process we need to medically isolate the spreading of viruses at Holy Communion? Seriously???

    By comparison … consider a Mass where Father only touches the Holy Vessels during Mass. Each communicant kneels at the kneeler to receive – no one has shaken hands to offer ‘peace’ to the brethren because they focused strictly on the One who gives us peace – and each receives on the tongue at a decent “angle” to prevent accidental tongue touching.

    Okay. it is isn’t perfect from a medical perspective – but it is orders of magnitude more sanitized that having a horde of barbarians handling everything with their hands and then handling the Lord “a mano” as they consume him. I treat my movie popcorn with more care washing my hands before I pop the stuff in my mouth.

    And we haven’t each touched on the practice of having hundreds of parishioners sharing the Blood of the Lord from the same chalice …

    Therefore, this decree against communion of the tongue … looking at the real-world implications of communion in the hand and the sharing of the chalice … can be nothing less than a red herring designed strictly to abuse traditional communicants, period. Ebola and influenza season are great reasons to abolish communion in the HAND, chalice sharing of the Eucharistic Blood, Shaking hands at the Peace offering, Holding hands at the Our Father and many other liturgical novelties inherent in the Novus Ordo.

  45. Imrahil says:

    There’s something you do if you have contact to many people and don’t want to get the flu nor distribute it.

    It’s called “vaccination”.

    Security to the point of actually avoiding contact, not so much. There’s always one level of still more security, anyway. (I am not speaking of an actual, temporary, extraordinary state of emergency, in an epidemy, where additional measures have to be taken. “Winter”, though, is no such state.)

    As for mere colds, they’re pretty much part of normal life.

  46. Marissa says:

    I am an extraordinary minster of the Eucharist. [of Communion, not of the Eucharist]

    Can someone explain when it is proper to use either of these words? For instance, another church in my diocese uses the term “Eucharistic Celebration” instead of “Mass” on their website. Is it just another way of saying the same thing? I’m a new Catholic, please forgive my ignorance.

  47. Marissa,

    The 2004 Vatican instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum says

    [154.] . . . . . Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the Priest alone . . . .

    [155.] In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ’s faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan Bishop . . . .

    [156.] This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not “special minister of Holy Communion” nor “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” nor “special minister of the Eucharist”, by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.

    Thus the only correct term is “extraordinary minister of holy communion” (EMHC).

    Yes, “Eucharistic celebration” is a way—if not an especially good one—of referring to the Mass. A more complete description would be “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”.

  48. Imrahil says:

    “Eucharistic celebration” seems to indicate a eucharistic celebration. Such as Mass, or also Adoration, or the Corpus Christi procession.

    But then, of course, “celebration of the Eucharist” (which is Mass, although as Henry Edwards said we might question the value of this term) is rather lengthy in English. We could say Eucharist-celebration for shortness, but that does not sound grammatical in anything but in German.

    We could, of course, just say Mass.

  49. The Masked Chicken says:

    It occurred to me that I might have been a little too harsh on those people who think that the Lord will protect them from getting infected via Holy Communion. Of course, Jesus can do as He pleases and perhaps the simple faith of some will cause Him to keep them from getting infected. One cannot squash such faith in a rush to be scientific. The point is that God expects us to use the knowledge we have, in humility. For those aware of viruses, they ought to use that knowledge, properly. One can always receive the Eucharist in a state of moral superiority, deeming that science has done away with the need for such beliefs as the Lords benevolence towards those who love Him with regards to catching the flu. One does this at one’s peril (such is the way they treated St. Bernadette). Still, it is also a blessing to know about viruses so that one may use natural means to deal with a natural problem.

    So, if I have damaged anyone’s faith, I apologize, That was not my purpose. One ought to seek the truth at all times and the reality of God’s love and the reality of viruses must both be taken into account in the moral calculus.

    The Chicken

  50. stpetric says:

    This is a question of some interest to me, since I am not only a priest of the Catholic Church, but I also hold a Master of Public Health degree. An admittedly quick search of the medical research literature turns up one pertinent review article, “Infections associated with religious rituals”, appearing last year in the International Journal of Infections Disease. The authors conclude that “there is experimental evidence suggesting that sharing a communion cup contaminates the wine and cup. However, there has never been a documented case of illness caused by sharing a chalice reported in the literature” [emphases added]. This is important because I suspect that communion from the chalice would be a much more direct route for the transmission of saliva-borne pathogens from one communicant to another than receiving the Host from the hand of a priest even if he may inadvertently have brushed the tongue of an infected communicant. It would be interesting research to conduct, but until it is, I would echo a conclusion the authors cite, that the risk of spreading disease cannot be excluded but is extremely low. The bishop’s intervention is unwarranted.

    Citation: Pellerin J, Edmond MB. Infections associated with religious rituals. Int J Infect Dis. 2013 Nov;17(11):e945-8.

  51. The Masked Chicken says:

    “However, there has never been a documented case of illness caused by sharing a chalice reported in the literature” [emphases added]. This is important because I suspect that communion from the chalice would be a much more direct route for the transmission of saliva-borne pathogens from one communicant to another than receiving the Host from the hand of a priest even if he may inadvertently have brushed the tongue of an infected communicant.”

    Of course, there has never been a documented case. How would you go about proving it? You can’t extract any of the consecrated Species for testing and the incubation period of the flu is such that there is no way to establish a direct causal relationship between drinking from chalice and a coffee cup a half-hour, later. One could. in theory, try an experiment using ordinary, non-consecrated wine, but heck, this test could take up to a million dollars, because each person in the building would, first, have to be proven to be virus-free in order to establish a baseline. Then, a single person would have to be introduced with a known concentration of virus, then, the experiment repeated with varying concentrations of virus and alcohol, then the experiment repeated with two exposed people, etc. On the other hand, one could create a theoretical stochastic model using Markov chains to test this. It might be a useful paper of a theoretical model, but I doubt that doing empirical experiments would be possible without major funding from the NIH.

    On the other hand, the food-service industry, both public and hospital, must have many studies relatable to this scenario.

    The Chicken

  52. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    “You can’t extract any of the consecrated Species for testing and the incubation period of the flu is such that there is no way to establish a direct causal relationship between drinking from chalice as opposed to the coffee cup one drinks from a half-hour, later.”

    The Chicken

  53. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: various things said above — Even though people in ancient and medieval times didn’t know about germs, they did know that disease could be transmitted in some fashion through the air, or by animals. Very often, churches were closed and curfews and quarantines instituted during times of plague.

    In any case, any time when there wasn’t frequent Communion, there was a lot more chance to pass diseases by being in church than by receiving Communion along with sick people. Only the clergy usually had to worry about Communion being a problem.

  54. APX says:

    Fwiw: The nuclear medicine physician who oversaw my radioactive iodine therapy did not see an issue with me receiving communion on the tongue (daily) while I was still emitting radiation, particularly via bodily fluids, nor did our priest since the odds of my tongue being touched were very slim. I was just advised to try to avoid sitting next to children and pregnant women for extended periods of time.

  55. Mary Jane says:

    Imrahil, I’m not convinced that 100% of people who receive a flu vaccine avoid catching the flu…I’m just not convinced that it’s that great of a vaccine.

    Best way to avoid spreading germs – stay home if you feel you’re contagious and could pass something on to others.

  56. Robert_Caritas says:

    I kneel to receive communion and I often get a bit of the priest’s finger on my tongue…

    Could someone please tell me the right way to hold your tongue out (head angle etc…) when receiving communion? Or is there a photo somewhere which shows it?

    This has actually been bothering me for a while.

  57. AnnTherese says:

    Masked Chicken: Nice self-awareness, despite your follow-up “moral superiority” jab! :) Don’t worry–you didn’t damage my faith. My faith isn’t easily shaken. Honestly, catching germs has never ever been on my mind when receiving Communion or sharing the Sign of Peace. I guess I’m focused on… well, Jesus. And peace. This post really triggered curious–and at times, comical–commentary. Aaaaa-aaa-CHOOO!

  58. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear AnnTherese,

    What moral superiority jab? I really am concerned that, sometimes, in my zeal or impatience, I say some things that could be taken the wrong way and do spiritual harm to people. This is not the first time I have done so and it probably won’t be the last. Many people (and I was not referring to you, in particular) have a deep, simple faith that can be wounded if one is not careful. There is a story about Moses who spied a young boy who used to set a bowl of milk out for a fox everyday and Moses, thinking he was being helpful, went and told the boy that foxes don’t drink milk. The Lord was very angry with Moses, because he took away from the boy a simple act of compassion. Even if it were unnecessary to the fox, the boy grew in grace by his concern. Many people grow in faith by little acts of trust, including with regards to receiving Communion and the possibility of infection. It takes great wisdom, beyond mine, to know when commenting on the act is appropriate. So, my comment was not meant to be morally superior, but an act of humility in possible reparation for my hasty comments, earlier.

    The Chicken

  59. Dr. Eric says:

    Back in A.D. 2000, a sacristan poisoned the wine before the Mass and a priest was hospitalized after drinking from the Chalice during the Mass.

    http://cathnews.acu.edu.au/002/138.html

  60. Dr. Eric says:

    Curiously, some Anti-Catholics have pointed out that since people have been poisoned by receiving tainted materials during Communion, therefore Transubstantiation is a “Romish” superstition.

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