CDWDS responds on question of H1N1 and restriction of Communion on the tongue

I don’t know how many e-mails I have received from people in distress about parishes or even dioceses attempting to issue edicts which effectively forbid reception of Holy Communion on the tongue because of the risk of contagion (e.g., Swine Flu, H1N1).

Many thanks to our friends at Rorate for digging this up.

I think it is legitimate to suggest that people receive in the hand, but it is not proper to compel them.

Now there is a development…. or rather a development has come to light.

While this is not an official declaration or clarification of the Congregation for Divine Worship, this is nevertheless not nothing.

The means of a letter dated from July 2009 the CDWDS’s Sotto-Segretario Fr. Anthony Ward responded to a question about this matter.

In several entries here and in many e-mails I have go back to the key document in this regard, the CDWDS’s 2004 instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum.

"But Father! But Father!", you might be saying.  "Why that document in particular?  Don’t you know that permission has been given for Communion to be given on the hand?  Don’t you know that many bishops think it is to be preferred?"

Yes, I know those things as facts.  But Communion in the hand remains an option, and not even the normative option.  Permission was given to do something other than receive directly on the tongue.  Reception on the tongue is the actual norm and standard. 

This is affirmed by the Holy See.

Here is the text of the letter sent my the Under-Secretary of the CDWDS to the questioner, a layman in the UK asking about a diocese where Communion on the tongue had been restricted because of H1N1:

Prot. N. 655/09/L

Rome, 24 July 2009

Dear ___

This Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments wishes to acknowldge receipt of your letter dated 22 June 2009 regarding the right of the faithful 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).

The Congregation thanks you for bringing this important matter to its attention.  Be assured that the appropriate contacts will be made.

May you persevere in faith and love for Our Lord and his Holy Church, and in continued devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.

With every good wish and kind regard, I am,

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

(Fr. Anthony Ward, S.M.)


This pretty much clears up that point.

Diocese or parishes or any other institution/community cannot… may not… forbid Communion on the tongue, even in time of contagion.

In your particular circumstances you might hear suggestions and arguments that Communion on the tongue should be curtailed for a time, but it cannot be forbidden or denied.

Clear enough, I think.

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  1. jim123 says:

    The reply from CDWDS doesn’t explicitly say “even in time of contagion”, so it is not totally clear that the right to receive on the tongue is an absolute right. The most that can be deduced is that in the current circumstances (with a virus that is dangerous, but not excessively dangerous) there is not enough cause to change the current rulings (as given in e.g. Redemptionis Sacramentum).

    On the flip side, that the faithful have a right does not make it an invariably good idea to exercise that right. If one’s local Bishop says that it is a good idea to refrain from receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, one would have to have an extremely good reason to refrain from heeding that advice — else one would risk behaving in an uncharitable way towards others exactly at the point of receiving the Eucharist.

  2. Leonius says:

    It explicitly states that you cannot be denied from receiving on the tongue for any reason wahtsoever.

    You can be denied from receiving at all, but you cannot be denied from receiving in this particular form only.

    So receiving on the tongue can never be outlawed in favour of receiving in any other way.

  3. Kimberly says:

    jim123 – The reply doesn’t explicitly say ALOT of things – I don’t think we are dealing with dummys that have no idea of what is happening over here.

  4. Norah says:

    We don’t kow if this letter is a reply to a letter asking about swine flu; we are told that it is. Is it a good idea to disobey one’s bishop who is probably thinking of the health of his flock as well as possible law suits if someone comes down with swine flu and it can be proven that that person received Holy Communion on the tongue. Is it a good idea to question prudential decisions of one’s ordinary?

  5. Traductora says:

    I’m a little puzzled. The dirtiest part of the body is actually the hand, and when people touch the host, they are also bringing whatever they’ve picked up on the back of the pew, on the hand of the person with whom they had to do the “handshake of peace,” etc.

    Normally, the priest’s fingers don’t touch anybody’s mouth, or if they do, it’s only occasionally. So on the whole, I’d say Communion on the tongue is probably actually more hygenic.

    Now let’s talk about “the cup” and the “cup bearers”…What? Silence?

  6. moon1234 says:

    It can be proved, as has been on this blog, that receiving communion on the tongue by a priest, while kneeling has the LOWEST possible risk of contageon. Communion in the hand has the HIGHEST risk of contageon.

    The norm is the BEST way to receive our Lord. NO ordinary has providence or any other part of the Church on his side when he suggests that people MUST abdicate the norms of the church for what is a supposed risk. Communion is only required to be received twice a year. If the Bishop preceives communion to be too great a risk, then we need to ask ourselves if have many people together in one place is too great a risk?

  7. kellym says:

    I was at the 7:00 AM Sunday Mass earlier this year at my parish here in SF and was in the queue to receive Communion. I always hold my hands clasped close to my body to indicate that I will receive on the tongue. The priest (who was neither our Pastor nor Parochial Vicar) refused to acknowledge this, and pressed the host into my hands which were not in a position of reverence, if you get what I’m saying. I was appalled that I had to handle the host in such a disrespectful manner in order to get it to my mouth. The previous winter’s warning over flu contagion had been lifted at this point so there was no problem. Sometimes it isn’t always about the flu…..

  8. Geoffrey says:

    I always receive on the tongue, but in the hand when the bishop has requested it during flu season. Recently he once again made this request but I hadn’t heard it was announced, so I was receiving on the tongue and noticed the priest being “extra careful”. At the end of Mass on Sunday, the priest did say that the bishop had again requested it. All this time he didn’t deny me, but I feel funny disobeying the bishop… what to do, what to do…

  9. moon1234 says:

    Just respond that you are honoring the Holy Father’s wish that the norm for the church being that all receive on the tongue as demonstrated by his personal request that all receiving from the holy father be on their knees and receive on the tongue.

  10. dcs says:

    All this time he didn’t deny me, but I feel funny disobeying the bishop… what to do, what to do…

    Not honoring a request is not disobedience, nor is not complying with an unlawful command:

    “[T]he obligation to obedience to superiors under God admits of limitations. We are not bound to obey a superior in a matter which does not fall within the limits of his preceptive power. … Neither can a superior claim our obedience in contravention to the dispositions of higher authority.”

    Since the bishop has no authority to ban the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, we are not obligated to obey any such ban.

  11. Central Valley says:

    Communion in the hand is pushed in the diocese of Fresno, Ca.But, as recent history in Fresno has shown, what Rome says does not matter.

  12. StMalachy says:

    Traductora, for the record – I live in a diocese where reception on the tongue was “banned”. Communion under both kinds was banned at the same time and at the Sign of Peace we weren’t supposed to shake hands anymore but to bow to each other “Asian” style.

    The really bizarre thing is that in our particular area swine flu cases are, right now, at their highest numbers yet the restrictions have been lifted.

    Much panic over nothing in my opinion.

  13. C. says:

    I would propose that the response “Long Live the Pope” be said sotto voce to any minister who doesn’t get this memo and tries to deny you Communion on the tongue.

  14. Mark Pilon says:

    Thank you very much for posting this Father.

  15. CPKS says:

    Something interesting has been happening in the south of England: see

    Same story in Portsmouth.

  16. What about denial of communion for kneeling to receive? Is there any official word on that? Thanks.

  17. Gary Page says:

    A couple weeks ago I was at a Saturday morning Mass in Orange County, California. At communion I approached the EM to receive on the tongue and was instructed that I must receive in the hand. However, they were distributing communion under both species with most communicants receiving from the chalice(s)as well! How crazy is that!

  18. Melody says:

    Sorry to hear that happened Gary. If you would like, I live in OC and can help you locate Latin masses and conservative parishes.

    Something occurred to me today at mass: The TLM is the safest way to deal with H1N1! Just see to it that all the priests are vaccinated. Problem solved.

  19. Fr. Z.>>I think it is legitimate to suggest that people receive in the hand<<

    but Father! is it right? I think Dante might tell us of a hopeless place
    (or ‘state of being’ to use the politically correct term) populated by thousands
    of bishops who did legitimate things which were not right!

    American bishops may be’legitimate’ in ignoring the Holy Father’s clear example
    and obvious invitation to have all able-bodied kneel and receive on the tongue.
    But! They are not right!

    Is it not a sin to casually instill the children in their dioceses with a casual
    attitude towards Jesus Christ?


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