QUAERITUR: Communion in the time of Swine Flu

I haven’t been hearing too much about Swine Flu these days… but I suppose it is still around.

This question is from a reader:

I attended an Ordination Mass at ___ in ___ this past Saturday. Prior to Communion, the Pastor made an announcement that the Bishop has mandated Communion only be distributed in the hand, due to the Swine Flu. The Pastor stated that no person would be allowed to receive Communion on the tongue.

During Communion, a number of people (including myself) refused to present their hands, and were eventually given Communion on the tongue. In other parishes in the area, however, the priests are refusing to give Communion other than in the hand.

People are being turned away from the Communion line, without receiving the Blessed Sacrament, because they will not receive Our Lord in the hand[The priests might say it is because they are obeying the bishop and people are not obeying.]

Is it in the local Bishop’s authority to mandate that Communion only be given in the hand? If I am not mistaken, I thought that the reception of Communion on the tongue was the norm, and that the option to receive on the tongue would always be given to communicants.

Do you have advise for those of us in ___ who are being asked to receive Communion on the hand or not receive Communion at all?


I will refer you to what I wrote before on this topic, here.

After consultation with a friend in the Congregation for Divine Worship, I am more convinced than before that Redemptionis Sacramentum 92 cannot be rescinded or overridden by local authority. 

Keep in mind what the Holy See’s document Redemptionis Sacramentum 92 clearly states, namely:

Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

You may also receive in the hand if you so choose.

In some places/parishes someone who dislikes Communion on the tongue may try to take advantage of the situation and attempt to say that people are forbidden to receive on the tongue.

No one may be prohibited from receiving on the tongue. A lower authority (e.g., bishop, pastor) cannot amend the legislation issued by the Holy See.  They can recommend, but they cannot forbid. 

At the same time, people should carefully consider their circumstances and consider what is best to do in charity

Try to determine if the recommendation is reasonable and don’t freak out.

ADVICE: If you cannot obtain from the local authority an explanation of Redemptionis Sacramentum 92, then you have the right to seek a clarification from the Congregation for Divine Worship.


[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.  It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.


His Eminence
Antonio Card. Canizares Llovera
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and
      Discipline of the Sacraments
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
P.za Pius XII

It helps to have written documentation of everything that happened.

See also my tips for writing to ecclesiastical authority.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. wolskerj says:

    So receiving on the tongue from a priest (who, after all has just *washed his hands*) is less sanitary than receiving on the tongue from one’s own hand after you’ve just shaken hands with a dozen other people? That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Nevertheless, sometimes obedience (or compliance) is the greater form of reverence.

  2. Tim says:

    I always bring a bottle of Purell to Mass and disinfect my hands after the Sign of Peace. Works for me!

  3. TJM says:

    I stand with the folks who didn’t allow themselves to be conned into taking Holy Communion in the hand. I am not a scientist but I assume we have commentators here who are. I’d like them to comment on the “science” of this situation. If Communion in the hand is necessary to ward off swine flu then I assume these same dioceses are demanding that people not hold hands during the Pater or shake hands during the Pax (I’m not holding my breath on that one). Tom

  4. Michael J says:


    true, but your obedience to the Bishop does not mean that you must take Christ’s Body into you own unconsecrated hands. It is a huge sacrifice, I know, but there is always the worthy option of not receiving at all until the Bishop recinds his command (if, in fact he made such a command at all)

  5. Jeff R. says:

    Father Z., rather than send you another email that you’d have to go through, I figure I’ll take my chances and hope you see this question in the combox:

    While I definitely understand why someone would, even in a situation like this, desire to receive on the tongue, isn’t it also true that no one has a “right” to receive communion?

    The reason I ask is because I’m thinking about what a tough place it would put a priest in that diocese in. If he’s been instructed by his bishop for sanitary reasons not to distribute communion on the tongue – but at the same time is not allowed to force a layperson to receive on the hand – is the best option simply to not distribute communion to the individual in question?

    Would this be a situation that is at least somewhat like what might happen if a priest at an extraordinary form Mass opted not to distribute communion to an individual who insisted on receiving in the hand? I recognize that there are some pretty significant differences here, but the situations would appear to be similar at least insofar as the concern the priest’s ability to exercise discretion in giving communion.

    Thanks a ton!


  6. Jeff R. says:

    Just a further clarification: The above question is assuming that the local ordinary has explicitly instructed the priests not to distribute communion on the tongue, as opposed to a situation where the local ordinary has asked the laity not to present themselves for communion on the tongue. It seems to me that only the former situation would involve a priest in disobeying their bishop if they were to distribute.

  7. michigancatholic says:

    1) I don’t think they can do that.

    2) The biggest source of contagion between people is the hands, as any medical person can tell you. People sneeze, cough and sniffle in their hands in case you hadn’t noticed. Laypeople also feel the back of the kid’s pants to see if he’s crapped, pick their toenails, touch their teeth, put their hands in their dirty pockets, pick their seat to make their pants more comfortable, pick up things off the floor (the kid’s pacifier?) and who knows what else. And you know more than 1/2 of all the communicants at most weekend masses receive from other laypeople. It’s a fact. Even if the “lay ministers” watch where their hands have been (which I doubt), you know they touch the palms of the hands of many people ahead of you, because many of them do that (some even on purpose). Do you really think that all of those laypeople ahead of you avoided all their habitual and useful dirty-hand activities for the last 45 minutes? I think not. Laypeoples’ hands stay clean no time flat after washing, especially laypeople with little kids. I know this: I raised snotty-nosed, diaper-filling wonderful little boys.

    3. If they really wanted to reduce the chances of spreading swine flu during mass, they’d cut out the “handshake of peace,” which is an epidemiologist’s nightmare gone neon.

  8. Andreas says:

    At a certain parish where I am in the habit of attending morning Mass, out of three priests alternating, two will give communion on the tongue, while a third one made an announcement that he would only give communion in the hand. It was, he said, to comply with a mandate from the bishop. Curiously, at least one of the other priests also shares the Chalice with the Extra-ordinaries around the altar. So on the days when the “hand only” priest celebrates Mass I abstain from receiving. I thought of confronting him but then I decided against it. Why should I state the obvious?

  9. dcs says:

    While I definitely understand why someone would, even in a situation like this, desire to receive on the tongue, isn’t it also true that no one has a “right” to receive communion?

    No, it is not true. The faithful have a right to the Sacraments. While there are certain conditions under which one can be denied Holy Communion (the famous Can 915, for example), in general, the Sacraments cannot be denied to the faithful who ask for them.

  10. Willebrord says:

    It makes me happy that I’m located in a diocese with a sensible bishop.

    I only have received in the hand twice in my life, once when I was not paying enough attention (which I regret a great deal), and other time in which the priest forced it into my folded hands before I had time to react.

    I don’t want to ever receive in the hand a third time. Though it would be a hard choice, if it came down to it. After all, it IS Jesus, all the same. However, remembering Fr. Z’s posts on the crumbs being left on those gloves, I think I might abstain communion in that case.

  11. Andrea says:

    Well, Swine Flu is certainly in the news here in Australia with about 400 confirmed cases – fortunately, mild and treated swiftly. The only guidelines I have seen (thanks to Australia Incognita) were published by Archbishop Hart of Melbourne. Victoria has been hardest hit with about half the cases, which may explain this. The main points were: a) Extraordinary Ministers to use antibacterial handwash before and after distribution of Holy Communion; b) for the Sign of Peace, bow or nod your head instead of ” shaking hands, kissing or embrasing”; c) do not hold hands for the Our Father; d) Holy Communion should only be distributed under the species of the Consecrated Host and not the Chalice; e) “Prudence suggests that the reception of Holy Communion be on the hand but with respect for the freedom which the Holy See provides in this matter”; f) Stay home if you are sick, particularly if coughing or sneezing.

  12. Mitchell NY says:

    “Priests are obeying the Bishop, and people are not obeying…That’s a good one, because all the Bishop’s say is held in such high esteem, Right..I have written before, they are there own worst enemies..They were part of the dismantling of the hierarchial powers and obedience. And now they want us to obey something that they do not have the absolute power to override. Where was the respect to the faithful when we requested to receive on the tongue all these years? I am sorry but it works both ways, if not you get to where we are. And I guess according to same Bishops Swine FLu will not pass thorough the Chalice…Give me a break on this one…Can anyone say AGENDA.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    In my diocese, our bishop ordered the same thing because of the Swine Flu. It lasted about three weeks before everything returned to normal. I obeyed the bishop. This was a special case. If a bishop or priest said “Communion in the hand all the time or else”, well, that is a very different story.

  14. Sharon says:

    So, have people in Orthodox churches been instructed to cease receiving from the common spoon?

  15. This came up at Mass today when I was trying to receive on the tongue and kneeling…I reluctantly received it the hand…my rant is listed here…http://truthbloggedhere.blogspot.com/2009/06/liturgical-rant.html

  16. Michael J says:

    Through simple osmosis – catching headlines and watching TV commercials – I have learned what michicancatholic reports that “The biggest source of contagion between people is the hands”.

    Given that a Bishop is charged with the pastoral care of his flock, I would expect that he be better informed about this issue than I am. So what’s with the “Prudence suggests that the reception of Holy Communion be on the hand ” nonsense?

    So please, tell me why I should not believe that a Bishop who implements such a policy is deliberately risking the health of those under his care in order to push some agenda?

  17. the_crescat says:

    how truly nonsensical. Is the priest worried the communicant receiving on the tongue is going to lick his fingers and slobber in his hand? How is this any more unsanitary them shaking hands with half the congregation at the peace sign [ugh] and then palming the Blessed Sacrament with my own unclean hands?

  18. the_crescat says:

    Sharon, good point. The intinction spoon [cochlear] has never touched my tongue or lips, just as a priest’s hands have never been in my mouth when receiving on the tongue.

    More on the holy spoon and practicing hygiene


  19. Hidden One says:

    I’d love to hear a report of a bishop saying that “Prudence dictates that reception occur on the tongue only”.

  20. A Random Friar says:

    If it’s the archdiocese I’m thinking of where this happened (I was at a Mass that fits the description), then yes, the ordinary also asked folks not to exchange hands at the sign of Peace or hold them at the Our Father. He was not singling out Communion on the tongue. Disagree with him, fine, but I do not believe he merits some of the ulterior motives ascribed to him for asking people to receive in the hand.

  21. John Fannon says:

    Methinks that the Bishop/Priest is using this as an excuse.

    This reminds me of the Egyptian Govt ordering the slaughter of all the pigs in Egypt ‘to guard against swine flu’, and by the way, only Christians own these animals.

  22. Faith says:

    I’ve read that due to that weird illness people get on cruise ships, the priest was told to distribute Communion wearing rubber gloves. He negotiated that he would only give in the hand.

  23. Joan M says:

    Actually, it is not hands that cause most of the spread of flu and colds. When we sneeze or cough, even if we can be quick enough to use a handkerchief to cover our mouths, there is no way we can contain the breath loaded with virus that emits from our mouths.

    Flu and colds is caused by us breathing in what was just emitted from an infected person by way of sneeze, cough, or just heavy breathing. So, unless we can stop breathing, sneezing or coughing around others, we will cause others to get sick. Contact with others’ hands, tongues, etc., is just a small part of it.

  24. “So, have people in Orthodox churches been instructed to cease receiving from the common spoon? Comment by Sharon — 1 June 2009 @ 9:50 pm”

    The spoon never touches the Communicant. That which is in the form of bread — in the case of infants who are baptized/chrismated, a mere portion of the Precious Blood — is picked up by the spoon (a “diskos,” I believe they call it), and is dropped into the open mouth.

  25. I hope the bishop is also forbidding SHAKING HANDS at the sign of peace or the pre-mass welcome (of some parishes) since the same hand that touches others will then contaminate the Host placed upon it.

  26. Paul Knight says:

    The whole pig flu thing is blown out of all proportion.

  27. David2 says:


    Refusing Communion is not an option. It would be unlawful unless the “communicant” were impeded by law from receiving for some reason (ie, was excommunicated, or “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin” – as set out in Can 915).

    Canon 912 clearly provides that “Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.”

    It is simply not open to a priest to refuse the sacrament for any reason not recognised by the law. And there’s nothing about swine flu in Codex Iuris Canonici!


  28. Kevin says:

    The bishop where I was, in addition to forbidding communion on the tongue and receiving the Precious Blood, also forbade shaking hands at the sign of peace. It’s a pity the handshaking will return soon; if we’re going to have a sign at all, I much prefer the “Slight Inclination of the Head of Peace” to the handshake of peace.

  29. Course: Propaganda 101: How the media manipulates the masses…

    Bishops and priests… What is it exactly they are worried about? How about practicing not touching people’s tongues when distributing Holy Communion?

    Perhaps we could have a training course.

  30. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: I haven’t been hearing too much about Swine Flu these days… but I suppose it is still around.

    Apparently, most places it’s only still with us liturgically.

  31. raymond says:


    we never tire of this topic at kneelingcatholic.blogspot.com

    our bishop has never officially lifted his ban on Communion on the tongue, even thoguh EWTN’s canon lawyer has even stated that any bishops who have done so, have, as you point out gon against Redemptionis Sacramentum.

    I’m also going to tie Dr. Tiller’s murder into liturgical abuses…in a couple of days. I have a weird mind, what can I say?

    K. C.

  32. Biff says:

    Polls have shown that a majority of EMHCs depart from the Church with respect to Her teaching on the 6th and 9th Commandments. With all the disease possibilities that entails, I think we should suspend the practice of laity distributing. The espiscopacy will be slow on this but we can help by kneeling and making a spiritual communion. And then attend an extra daily mass small enough that EMHCs are not “required”

  33. Biff says:

    “EWTN’s canon lawyer has even stated…”

    I’m sure they’re quaking in their boots.

  34. mbd says:

    There is a somewhat valid concern about transmission of germs from one recipient to others through the medium of contact by the fingers of the priest or EM with the mouths of those receiving communion. The proper solution, however, would seem to be for those giving communion to be instructed in the proper method of doing so without making contact with the recipients’ mouths. Many priests have no problem with this; others, particularly those who rush their actions, often push the Host into the mouth making contact between the fingers and the mouth inevitable.

  35. Ken says:

    People! Stop being such pushovers. If there are Eucharistic Ministers, stay in your pew. If the pastor tells you to put out your hand, bow and return to your pew.

    Non of these things are disobedient.

    I had a priest deny me communion for not sticking out my hand. I wrote to the St. Joseph’s Foundation and the gave me the bit about germs and bird flu. So, I wrote to Arinze and the local.
    Guess what, Fr. Flapdoodle may give me a nasty smirk but he’s doing as he was told.

    Since this is a bishop, I’d go to Rome. I would not rule out, however, that the bishop didn’t say this and it was just the pastor’s pet peeve

  36. B Knotts says:

    At our parish, this swine flu nonsense has already been discontinued.

  37. pdt says:

    When the perceived swine flu crisis began, it was competent medical professionals who advised our bishop to take his actions limiting communion. They are the ones who are now leading the movement to remove those restrictions. This has been done in a sensible and orderly fashion.

    For people to brush aside legitimate concerns regarding the health and welfare of an entire congregation so they can get things done their way seems the height of impudence. They knowingly and willingly placed all of the other communicants in grave danger and possible risk of death. And they persisted in this grace sin while in the very act of demanding communion. They induced the priest to participate in their conspiracy and become a party to the act.

    Christ never asked people to cast aside common sense. When He told the man who wanted to be saved to sell all he owned and follow Him He didn’t have to qualify it with “pay all your debts, make sure the wife and kids are set for life, etc.” Those things were assumed.

    The individuals involved showed reckless disregard for the welfare of others — rather a heinous violation of Christ’s #2 commandment — and a willingness to sacrifice God’s created lives around them — which blows away Christ’s #1.

    Hopefully the priest can contact these people and direct that they not do so again.

  38. Crusader says:

    Our priest has used the Swine Flu scare to encourage us to refrain from giving each other the Sign of Peace – we now proceed directly to the Agnus Dei after “Peace be with you. And also with you”.


  39. Michael J says:


    I may very well be mis-reading what you write, but I find it hard to believe that competent medical professionals recommended receiving on the hand as opposed to receiving on the tongue as a better way to limit the spread of swine flu.

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