Swine Flu Musings

The April Newsletter of the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship is out.

Inter alia there is an article entitle, "Ten Questions on Influenza/Swine Flu and the Liturgy"

After Q&A about how influenza is transmitted, in #8 we are told that Ministers of Communion should "practice good hygiene".  Newsflash.

However, we go on to read:

9. What about further adaptations or the restriction of options at Mass?

The Diocesan Bishop should always be consulted regarding any changes or restriction of options in the celebration of Roman Catholic Liturgy. However, the need for the introduction of widespread liturgical adaptations for the prevention of the transmission of influenza in the dioceses of the United States of America is not evident at this time.


"Hmmm…", muse I.

People all over the USA have been sending me notes from their own dioceses with recommendations that Communion be distributed only in the hand, namely that It not be given on the tongue.

I wonder, … if it is not evident at at this time that there should be any liturgical adaptations, and if it is not really possible to deny Holy Communion on the tongue (because of Redemptionis Sacramentum), I wonder if… when the risk of influenza abates… will there be letters coming from diocesan chanceries saying that it is okay to distribute Communion on the tongue again?  

You can bet that there will be notes saying that it is okay to distribute Communion with both species.

you can bet that there will be notes saying that it is okay to give the Sign of Peace.

Will there be notes saying that Communion on the tongue is okay?

I’m just askin’…

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  1. Joseph says:

    Priests in Corpus Christi Diocese have refused people who wanted to recieve on the tongue.

    I will be writing to the CDW but I dont think I will get a reply as things take a long time.

    Rome has to get a grip on this situation, maybe some Bishops felt uneasy with statements coming from the new prefect of the CDW regarding communion on the tongue.

  2. Kat says:

    Perhaps it’s naivete or wishful thinking, but I have always “felt” that Our Lord is not going to allow the spread of a deadly disease to those desiring to receive Him, through that reception. Even non-deadly illnesses (e.g. colds, strep throat, etc.) I just don’t worry about catching from the priest’s hand at Holy Communion.

    If someone does get sick in that manner, then Our Lord is allowing it to bring a greater good. I just go up, trusting Him.

    I wonder if there is any record of what happened in earlier times when flu and plague and death were rampant. Did the churches close? Did they resort to Communion in the hand? I don’t know.

  3. avecrux says:

    Kat – I’ve always felt the same way as you.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought I had heard that one of the greatest miracles of Lourdes was how many people were dipped in that water but there was no cross-contamination. When my husband went to Lourdes as a boy with his school, he was the only one who went into the bath because the rest of the boys thought it was too unpleasant to be dipped in water where a bunch of sick people had been dipped.

  4. Theresa says:

    The Flu/Swine Flu Guidelines for the Diocese of Phoenix are available on its website. I recommend reading the explanations to understand why some of these precautions are suggested. I especially appreciate the reminder that hand holding during the Our Father is a spontaneous gesture, not a prescribed one.

    What a delight to hear our priests announce on Sunday that everyone should refrain from forcing people near them to hold hands at the Our Father!

    Also, the suggestion of receiving in the hand is to protect the priests’ health. I prefer to receive on the tongue but was ok with complying with our pastor’s request. Our son had to have a crash course in the pew though, as he’s only received on the tongue!

  5. paul says:

    I agree- there is no way Our Lord would allow a communicant to get sick via His Holy Body and Blood. The only people who got sick or died according to scripture were unworthy communicants. The Holy Eucharist is an instrument of LIFE not death!!

  6. dcs says:

    Also, the suggestion of receiving in the hand is to protect the priests’ health.

    But there’s no evidence that receiving on the tongue is more dangerous to the priest’s health than receiving in the hand.

  7. Simon says:

    I wouldn’t go to Holy Communion expecting that there was no chance whatsoever that I could catch anything if I lived in a time (as we may all do soon), when a highly infectious disease is gripping the country. Assuming one is going to be protected by Our Lord because of one’s noble intention is indeed wishful thinking, in my view.

    During the Black Death, priests would of course go from place to place, visiting the dying. Not only would they often catch the disease themselves, but also pass it on to everyone else. I think in some places, a temporary solution was found whereby bishops ordained men ‘just like that’ to hear confessions etc, though in that case, it sounds like a bit of a poisoned chalice! I’m sure they would have gone to heaven for their sacrifices, but we cannot be sure that in performing pious duties in times of disease and what not, we shall be protected from death to this world.

  8. dymphna says:

    Isn’t it amazing that this country has fallen so low that we have to be reminded to wash our hands? I learned that from my mother 30 years ago.

  9. irishgirl says:

    Kat and Avecrux-I’m thinking the same thing, too.

    Does anyone know what happened during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918? How did the priests distribute Holy Communion then?

    Blessed Francisco of Fatima suffered from influenza/pnemonia-and he received his First [and Last] Communion from the priest on the tongue…just a thought….

  10. PS says:

    I used to be of the mind that it was foolish to worry about taking something into your body other than our Lord during communion. After all, why would God permit such a thing in such a necessary, blessed event? How could so holy a thing as our Lord’s body and blood be tainted by illness?

    Then it occured to me that I was running pretty close to “putting the Lord to the test.” We don’t, for example, stop wearing seat belts on the way to Mass. As far as illness “tainting” the Communion… I would suggest that we may often permit something nasty to taint the Sacraments purely because of some deeply bred-in concupiscence. I often forget my biggest sin (pride) in the Confessional because it is so close to me (so much a part of me). Similarly, and I admit this isn’t a perfect analogy, (and I also want to stress that I am not suggesting that by our own sins are we made to suffer every cold we get) if we are to get the flu from the chalice or the Priest is to get a cold from the tongue of a communicant, then I suggest that this is purely a function of our imperfect mortal bodies, not of some sort of defficiency in the Eucharist.

  11. Fr. A says:

    Most priests will tell you that the hand of the priest and the mouth/tongue of the communicant rarely, if EVER, come in contact. I can’t honestly remember the last time I touched a communicant while giving them Communion on the tongue.

    On the other hand (pun intended), the suggestion that giving Communion in the hand is more hygentic is silly, given that a priest almost ALWAYS touches the hand of the one receiving in the hand.

  12. Butters Stotch says:

    Obviously no one here is a real germophobe :-). To receive in the hand, after the sign of peace? Come on. The sign of peace should be altered to discourage hand to hand contact.

  13. RichR says:

    I’m interested in how liturgy offices are approaching the faithful holding hands at the Our Father. It’s not an official posture, yet to address it officially would seem to acknowledge the practice and legitimize it. After the swine flu abates, to encourage parishes to resume the aberration would sound like an imposition.

  14. Clement says:

    All that matters is that we get, with the Grace of the Holy Ghost, our souls to heaven.

    If we are recieving the Blessed Sacrament then our souls must be in a state of sanctifying grace and we have nothing to worry about if we die.

    After all we all shall die.
    And we had better be ready to go at any time.

  15. avecrux says:

    Hi Simon.
    Kat didn’t say she was sure that no one would get sick – she just said she approaches and trusts and if someone does get sick, she assumes it is for the greater glory of God. I think we have to consider that God can protect us from contracting flu via receiving the Eucharist – simply because He can – but He needn’t. We assume the risk – both lay people and Priests. We trust God and don’t panic.

  16. Wrote a few things on my blog today:

    “[T]here has been nothing established, to maintain that the remote prospect of hand-to-tongue contact, is any more dangerous than the very likely prospect of hand-to-hand contact.”

    “[T]he United States Center for Disease Control has just announced that all the schools in the country that closed down due to the previous warnings can now open again. The acting Surgeon General has already publicly downplayed the original scare. But you can bet…”

    “[N]umerous parishes… have also used recent events to eliminate Communion from the chalice. After all, that drinking from a common cup was already linked to hepatitis types A and B, not to mention the common cold, is insufficient reason to panic.”

    Yep, still waitin’ on that evidence.

  17. shadrach says:

    1, The sign of peace is the best sure-fire way of transmitting germs from person to person. Hand to nose, Hand to hand, Hand to other nose. Scotch the sign of peace in the Novus Ordo and great blessings temporal and spiritual will result.

    2, We know neither the day, the way or the hour of our passing. The Good Lord will do what He wills. Thank God.

  18. Ella says:

    In the hand or on the tongue, the host is still going in your mouth…if the priest is sick or has come in contact with someone who is sick, the germs still get you. Might as well suck it up and take on the tongue :-)

  19. pelerin says:

    Shadrach – how I agree about the sign of peace. This flu epidemic would be an ideal time to discontinue the ‘sign of peace’ and not restore it. Apart from the health reasons and disruption with some people even crossing the aisle to shake hands it can be very painful for those with arthritis when you receive a strong grip. Those readers with strong hands, please remember this!

  20. Fr. A says:

    “Might as well suck it up and take on the tongue :-)”

    Well said, Ella. :-)

  21. quiet beginning says:

    Joseph wrote:
    “I will be writing to the CDW but I dont think I will get a reply as things take a long time.”

    I’ve written to the papal nuncio (at that time, Cacciavillan) regarding several atrocities in my diocese, not the least among them the following: the head theologian’s teaching that homosexual relationships, in which sodomy is practiced, are “not necessarily sinful” if the individuals involved are faithful to each other; the pouring of consecrated wine down the drain after Mass; the bishop’s teaching (stated in a letter presented to the Vatican which he co-authored with several other southern U.S. bishops—a letter, incidentally, which was “approved” by said Vatican) that in cases of rape and incest a woman should not be considered in a state of sin for procuring an abortion.
    I received a form letter in response to one of my complaints, and no response whatsever to any of the others. This same bishop told me to my face that John Paul II was in accord with his views on the abortion issue. After years of seeing things like this I finally just stopped going to the Sunday “gathering.”
    This is the reality of where we are now. Most conciliarists either don’t care or they take the ostrich approach to the evil that permeates that which now publicly passes for the Catholic Church.

  22. While at Easter Sunday mass at my sister’s NO parish, the lady in front of me was repeatedly blowing her nose. Came time for the peace handshake, and she extended her hand, complete with used tissue, to me to shake. Makes it a little hard to worry about a priest putting a host on my tongue. And I’d be surprised if the normal distribution of Communion puts the priest in any particular danger, either.

  23. Milehimama says:

    I really don’t understand why Communion in the hand is being promoted as less germy. After all, the hands touch the pews, books, people, everything. And then the communicant puts their hands to their mouths.

    Can you elaborate on a practice I’ve heard of wherein the pries uses Purell just prior to distributing the Holy Eucharist? I was raised in TLM and don’t know the rubrics for NO, which I have been attending for the last year. Is that allowed?

    Wouldn’t skipping the whole putting it in my hand actually be MORE hygienic? The priest will be touching the host either way.

  24. Boniface says:

    Here’s the most in depth analysis of this trend of forbidding communion in the tongue that I have seen…


  25. mfg says:

    In this time of hyped up swine flu scare I can’t help suspecting that the Bishops, and some priests, are subverting the ‘crisis’ to their own agenda in forbidding reception on the tongue. Following the ‘crisis’ nothing will be said and their agenda will have been moved forward a notch. No bricks today.

  26. DominiSumus says:

    At both my parish and the parish where I work, the sign of peace has been turned into a brief smile or wave to those around you and Communion under both species has been suspended. Nothing has been said about not receiving on the tongue.

    It would seem to me that receiving on the tongue would be the most hygienic method since our hands have touched the door handles, the pews, and the hymnals and it is likely that the priest or Extraordinary Minister has just used Purell.

  27. Theresa says:

    RichR wrote:
    “[Holding hands] is not an official posture, yet to address it officially would seem to acknowledge the practice and legitimize it.”

    From Bishop Olmsted’s Guidelines for the Diocese of Phoenix:
    “6.) Omit the spontaneous gesture of hand-holding during the Our Father. There is no prescribed gesture for the People of God during the Our Father.”

    Now me:
    It seems to me that Phoenix, at least, is using this as an opportunity to instruct people that Our Father hand holding is not a prescribed part of Mass. I am cautiously optimistic that the hand holding will not come back in full force in our parish.

    Also, the parochial vicar specifically said not to do the waving, peace sign business in place of the exchange of peace. So, that’s good.

  28. C. says:

    I understand that these regulations are at least in some part due to the squeamishness of some people who think that receiving on the tongue necessitates “sharing saliva” and will thus refrain from Holy Communion on these grounds (even though with influenza, saliva is less a worry than one’s own filthy hands). Such people are offended and scandalized when other Catholics exercise their right to receive on the tongue ahead of them in line. Sometimes, priests are included among these people, and we should remember that priests need to perform the Ablutions after Mass. We should also be sensitive to those with compromised immune systems.

    So here’s my recommendation:

    * Those who want to receive on the hand can receive normally. Caveat receptor.
    * Those who want to receive on the tongue, line up kneeling at the altar rail. They will receive last.
    * Because of the distance between the minister’s hand and the tongue, it is necessary that a minister be appointed to hold the paten below the communicant’s mouth.
    * At the Ablutions, the traditional practice of using wine as well as water should be reintroduced, so that the priest does not have to expose himself to any germs from the communicants’ saliva.

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