ASK FATHER: Visiting priest says don’t receive Communion on the tongue because of colds and influenza

From a reader:

Today at Mass, a visiting retired priest sat down after communion and proceeded to admonish those of us who receive the Holy Communion on the tongue saying that we should cease to do so because it is unsanitary especially in flu season. I felt quite dejected after this and wondered why he would feel it necessary to do so…at a parish he is simply visiting because one of our parish priests is gone. What are your thoughts about the health issues of receiving on the tongue? He represents my spiritual father, but I wonder what my responsibility is to obey him.

Firstly, what he said was absurd.   However, it is a good moment to remind people how to receive well directly on the tongue.   I can’t do better than this great old graphic from an old, dependable catechism.

Mind you, in different parts of the world there are slightly different customs, such as taking the Host with the teeth.  I don’t think that a very good practice.  If you put your tongue out, and stay still, the priest has a good target.  He will know how to place the Host on your tongue without touching you.

You don’t have to reach with your tongue for your chin, like that oddball in that ridiculous big-hair rock band.  Just put out enough so the priest has a good target surface.  And stay still.

Also, if the visiting priest did that on his own, without consulting with the true parish priest, then he overstepped himself.  It has always been cold and flu season.

Also, Redemptionis Sacramentum 92 reiterates your right to receive on the tongue.

Lastly, and most important, don’t be dejected.  These are times we have been given.  Turning the sock inside out, you have been given to these times.  God wants us to be active now.  You were given an opportunity to be, in this Church Militant, on the “front line” for a moment.  This is not a matter for dejection.  This is a matter to feel honored but the experience of the ongoing struggle for reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

Go the next step now.

Pray and fast for that priest.  Make some act of reparation.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    This layman would have reminded the visiting priest after Mass that my salary pays his whiskey bill and that my children are my children, not his or anyone elses and that if he wants to refuse communion of the tongue he should perhaps go find a parish full of mutes somewhere.

  2. APX says:

    You’re probably more likely to get sick from your take-out coffee than receiving on the tongue. We come to work when we’re sick. When we’re sick, the manager puts us where we won’t have to directly deal with customers. Those two places are preparing your drinks and preparing your food. No one covers their mouths when they cough and most don’t wash their hands after they finish blowing their nose. Just slosh on some hand sanitizer (if time) and back to work. I’m amazed I don’t get sick more frequently.

  3. Jean-Luc says:

    In Malta until 2009 everyone used to receive communion on the tongue, then the Archbishop ordered the faithful to receive it in the hand because of a swine flu outbreak. Once the epidemic was overcome, almost everyone kept receiving communion in the hand.


  4. Dan says:

    Not to mention it is an ignorant position. There are far more germs on the hand than the tongue

  5. If there is a real concern about spreading cold and flu germs at Communion, then why don’t we stop the practice of 50 or 100 people all putting their lips to the same chalice?

  6. fmsb78 says:

    Unsanitary communion on the tongue but “nothing to see here” with the sign of peace that takes place before communion. Here in Latin America people shake hands and hug 15 other people before communion but again “nothing to see here”. Just put your hand out full of germs, “take” communion and remember not to kneel because you may get some dirt on your pants and that is also “unsanitary”.

  7. Benedict Joseph says:

    A confection he employed to advance his own agenda.

  8. pacelli says:

    excellent point. thank u

  9. Rob in Maine says:

    Ugh! I can smell the alcohol and hear the sound of chapped hands rubbing Purell all over them even now! Alter boys with pattens have been replace by servers whose two job is to pass the sanitizer.

  10. tho says:

    Years ago, with the midnight fasting rule, receiving Holy Communion seemed more solemn, and purposeful. Today, even at the TLM, it sometimes reminds me of the thundering herd, and very few remain in the pews. I guess that I am being judgmental, although it is not my intention. Perhaps if the fasting rules were revised, the reception of Holy Communion would take on the other worldly experience that is it’s essence.

  11. DanMan says:

    Simply ignore the visiting priest. The flu has been around a long time. I think that this priest has been programed to administering Communion in the hand for most of his life and has not been skilled much in giving on the tongue. If he had, and more people were receiving on the tongue, there would be no problems here. Scaring people from not receiving on the tongue seems to be another tactic of the demonic.

  12. capchoirgirl says:

    You know, as an immunocompromised person, I’m very alert to these things.
    And I always receive on the tongue. I don’t really think this is an issue. This sounds more like an excuse.

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    It is absurd for multiple reasons, including because that priest assumed episcopal authority for himself.

    The only cases where the communion in the hand may legitimately be recommended are those where due to an outbreak of some very serious and highly contagious disease locally, i.e. not just the common cold, a Bishop and only a Bishop may temporarily authorise communion in the hand instead of on the tongue ; though the far more frequent measure that is taken in such cases is communion with the Precious Host only, and not the Precious Blood.

    There are no other circumstances where any such substitution can be requested of the Faithful, and even in such circumstances, I think the Faithful wishing to receive on the tongue despite the presence of such diseases cannot be forbidden from doing so.

    So Jean-Luc’s reference to a Bishop of Malta ordering rather than temporarily authorising Communion in the hand is another example of an abuse, even though one particular outbreak in Europe of swine flu was actually killing people.

    Adding to the absurdity is the fact that since the inventions of the vaccine and of the antibiotic, the circumstances where such danger to life through infectious diseases may exist have dwindled to almost zero, so that in practice, the only possible reason for any such temporary measures can no longer be said to exist ordinarily at this time.

    And, as the scientific understanding increases of how the various infectious diseases can be spread among the population, some far less dubious measures can be and generally are taken towards the Faithful who might be suffering from or be at risk of contracting those diseases, than to disrupt the Eucharistic practices of an entire Congregation through active discouragement of the ordinary Communion on the tongue.

    Frankly, this instance sounds more like the use of a pretext to attack the normal Eucharistic practices themselves than anything else.

  14. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    1. Don’t people who are worried about catching the flu get their annual flu shot? We’ve gotten our annual flu shots for the last 27 years, and have never become sick with the flu, never, not once.

    And even if you do catch the flu having gotten a flu shot, which can happen, you’re much more likely to get less sick for a shorter period of time. So instead of being prostrated, completely miserable, with a 103 degree fever for a week or so, with a flu shot, you might have what seems like a bad cold, a slight fever, and feel very tired. Which is not good, but better than being sick with the flu.

    2. Immunocompromised person deserve special care and accommodation. Perhaps it can be arranged ahead of hand that they can receive Jesus on the tongue after Mass is over, immediately after the priest has washed his hands in the sacristy.

  15. TWF says:

    Here in Vancouver, I think reception on the tongue is much more prevalent than in the rest of Canada. At our cathedral, we always have the option to receive kneeling at the altar rail, and I would say about half do so at all 7 Sunday Masses and 4 daily Masses. There are always 6 – 8 priests in residence at the cathedral. They take turns helping distribute communion throughout the day to minimize the need for EMHC. The chalice is never distributed. At the sign of peace, due to the significant Asian influence, the faithful are more likely to now than shake hands. Cold and flu is not a concern IMO.

  16. TWF says:

    *i meant to say BOW not now above (re: sign of peace).

  17. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    If Visiting Father is really concerned, he’d be more conscientious about inserting commentary into the Mass in ways not sanctioned by the rubrics. Someone should remind him that the Mass does not belong to him – that he’s not up there putting on a one-man play where he gets to ad lib the parts.

  18. Ages says:

    Don’t tell father that in the Eastern Rites everyone receives from a common spoon, and in some traditions then proceed to drink a little unconsecrated wine from a common cup to ensure the mouth is clear of every particle.

    Then the priest consumes what remains in the chalice, the spoon having been dipped back into the precious blood after every communicant has touched it with their mouths.

    It has been done this way for thousands of years. Nobody has ever gotten sick from germs transmitted in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is incorruptible.

  19. APX says:


    That’s incorrect. Rome got involved when the then bishop of Calgary suspended the Latin Mass because the priest refused to give communion in the hand during the H1N1 overreaction. He had said the same thing you said, but Rome said no, because receiving on the tongue is the universal norm.

  20. khouri says:

    Chris, no one pays for my whiskey or many other priests drinks. some of us don’t drink. We might not agree with the priest mentioned but do you need to denigrate priests?

    And to those who do not “approve” of receiving the Lord’s Blood just don’t receive it and shut up about it. “Take this all of you and drink of it, this is the chalice of my blood…” This is a Dominical command, not a suggestion.

  21. Pius Admirabilis says:

    As a layperson, I wash my hands with soap before heading off to Mass, and I wash my hands with soap once I get back home.

    Priests often wash their hands with soap in the sacristy before putting on the sacred vestments.

    Hygiene is important! If everyone washed their hands with soap, many germs would not be spread. However, not receiving on the tongue out of fear of germs is ridiculous. If you are so scared, don’t receive at all bc on the tongue is the only way to go.

  22. Pius Admirabilis says:

    @tho: Thank you for this comment! I can only second that.

    I almost never receive. My last Holy Communion was last week, and before that, I didn’t go to Holy Communion for months (maybe 5). Not because I don’t love the Lord – but because it’s such a solemn moment I want to be prepared for well.

    Our Eastern brothers sometimes only go once a year and fast and do penance for weeks before that. I used to think that this was a strange custom, but now I can understand it, and I respect this practice. Frequent Communion might be very benefitial for some, but not for all! That is why, in times past, people had to ask their spiritual guide whether they could receive. The couldn’t just go.

    And it pains me when I see all of the congregation kneeling at the Communion bank. For some HC really has become a commodity – and many evils come from that (not from Communion, but seeing Communion as a commodity).

    Whenever I receive, I try to keep the fast from midnight. It really isn’t that of a big deal. You don’t need a 3 am snack, and you can do without coffee until after Mass. The Lord should be worth it. One hour before Communion is ridiculous (of course I am not judging people who only fast this one little hour).

  23. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    “Take this all of you and drink of it, this is the chalice of my blood…” as Khouri rightly notes is a Command of the King.

    As has been taught by the Church from the beginning, the Sacred Species – the consecrated host and the consecrated wine – each contain both the Body, the Blood, the Soul, and the Divinity of His Majesty. Thus those who receive the Eucharist under only one form do not lack for anything compared to what is bestowed on those who receive under both forms.

    If we come away lacking in anything after receiving the Eucharist, that would be on account of the imperfection of our own interior dispositions: Although we believe ourselves at present to be in the state of grace, we have attachments to sin – habitual venial sins or mortal sins. Or, we are overly attached to the things of this world, including our own status, accomplishments, pleasures, etc. Or, we are overly attached to our own will. Where the interior dispositions of our souls aren’t sufficiently prepared to receive the King – that is, when the garden within us, where we receive the honor of His visit, isn’t ready, then He will, indeed, be unable to offer us His treasures in their fullness, or to sow the seeds for the fruits He desires to find in their due season upon His later return.

    When He comes to us, will He find the the path to our garden gate brightly illuminated? Or will it be lit, but only dimly lit, cheerless and gloomy for His arrival; the maidens’ lamps having burned low, using up most of their oil, forcing Him and His companions to wonder: Do we even desire His visit?

    Will there be much good soil in the garden of our soul, or will much of our soil have become rocky, stony soil, as a result of unattended and toppled paving stones and the fallen stones of the garden’s protecting walls? Such soil the Divine Planter won’t sow, for it’s bound to be occupied by birds who will gobble up all the seed sown by the Kingly Planter. Is the protecting wall around our garden well-maintained? Or have segments of these walls been kicked in by His enemies, and we must admit, we never sent for His help to repair them. . . . ? Will His way in be clear? Or will His way be partially – not completely, but partially – blocked by our garden’s overgrown brush, fallen trees, upended paving stones and benches, a toppled fountain, and large, low-hanging branches hanging in His face above His path . . . ? If so, these represent the sins and attachments that are present in the soul of one who hasn’t sufficiently prepared herself or himself to receive a visit from the King.

    Can we clean all this up by ourselves? No, we need help – much help. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and our mother, knows how to repair and refurbish the garden of our soul, wherein He seeks to enter – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And as Queen of Heaven and Earth, she has only to sigh in the direction of an entire choir of angels, or give a glance to the thrones of the patriarchs and holy women of old, and they instantly respond, and at her command, and with our putting our shoulder to the Cross, the work in us will begin anew.

  24. Simon_GNR says:

    Last evening I went to an Ordinariate Mass, and the celebrant stated clearly: “Here the laity receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue.” Although I prefer to receive in the hand (but kneeling), I went along with the norm that the pastor of that congregation has set, so I received on the tongue. At my local parish church it’s in the hand or on the tongue as the communicant prefers, but the set-up is such that one is expected to receive standing. I go along with the practice there because that’s how the parish priest prefers to do things. I suppose I don’t want to rock the boat and make a fuss. I’m just glad that there’s a Church, a priest and a Mass. At the local Church however, there is one lady who makes a point of kneeling on the floor in front of the priest (she always goes to the priest, not to the EMHC) at the head of the queue of people waiting to receive standing. At my age, and with the state of my knees, I wouldn’t be very confident about getting down to kneel and back up again smoothly without disrupting the flow of people up to the minister, otherwise I might do the same as that woman. If the church hadn’t stopped using and then removed the altar rail 20 years ago things would be different!

  25. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Pius Admirabilis wrote:
    “you can do without coffee until after Mass.”

    Maybe *you* can, Pius. Lucky you.

    Until after we’ve had our second cup of coffee, some of us are in no fit state to operate a motor vehicle on the public roadway. (Which some of us have to do, to travel to Mass.)

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  27. brasscow says:

    $100 says this one has a reason for every season.

  28. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    If received by hand, you have just as many if not more chances of spreading germs. It is not dropped on the hand it is placed in the hand. So the priest’s hand is touching everyone’s hands that ends up in the mouth. With the mouth the priest is not actually touching anyone.

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  30. If one could get sick from the Eucharist, then I’d be continually on my death bed. In the Orthodox tradition, the laity receive the two species via a spoon, which is then used by the deacon(s) after the Divine Liturgy to consume all the Holy Gifts. Consuming the remains of two chalices, typical in our parish, leaves me a bit divinely loopy (and eager for some coffee in the fellowship hall), but I’ve never gotten ill from it. I understand there is no documented case of anyone (in the Orthodox world) becoming sick from Holy Communion. Otherwise it would be well known that deacons, canaries in the coal mine, were the sickest men in the Church, and that simply is not the case.

  31. JabbaPapa says:

    APX :

    That’s incorrect. Rome got involved when the then bishop of Calgary suspended the Latin Mass because the priest refused to give communion in the hand during the H1N1 overreaction. He had said the same thing you said, but Rome said no, because receiving on the tongue is the universal norm.

    That is why I said that “the Faithful wishing to receive on the tongue despite the presence of such diseases cannot be forbidden from doing so“.

    A Bishop cannot forbid receiving on the tongue, but he can permit receiving on the hand in those circumstances.

    A priest cannot usurp the episcopal Authority, whether by refusing communion on the tongue, or by refusing communion in the hand when his Ordinary has expressly permitted it to the Faithful on that temporary basis — but a priest can of course insist on communion on the tongue in any ordinary circumstances, as our own PP does, whereas there are no circumstances where a priest or Bishop may insist on communion on the hand.

    And any Bishop who tries to forbid Communion on the tongue in whatever circumstances is of course engaging in an outright abuse of authority.

  32. Kerry says:

    “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.”
    Worse than influenza.

  33. Ellen says:

    A couple of years ago, we had a nasty flu outbreak. The bishop suspended receiving communion from the chalice for the duration.

  34. JakeMC says:

    Shouldn’t receive on the tongue because of the risk of flu. That’s got to be the flimsiest excuse I ever heard; anyone who knows anything about how the flu is transmitted knows that Communion in the hand carries exactly the same risk, despite the ubiquitous (and dangerous!) use of hand sanitizers.

  35. Zavodny Margarett RBC says:

    As a priest, Father, surely you must know that Christ is completely present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in each of the species. [Ummm… yes. Of course. That doesn’t have anything to do with this topic, but, yes. Of course I do.] There is no need for the laity to receive from the cup. Only the celebrant need donso for the Mass to be valid. [Again… of course. Moreover, there’s no need for the laity to receive at all, except for once a year.]

  36. Hidden One says:

    As one who has distributed Communion on the tongue and in the hand and who consistently receives on the tongue, it has been my experience that when the minister distributing Communion and the people receiving on the tongue know what they’re doing, the minister’s hand never touches the communicant, but the minister still frequently touches the hand of the communicant when communicating him/her by that means even when both minister and communicant behave properly.

    No matter how particular communicants choose to receive in the OF, my anecdotal observation has been that the majority of them will carry out their chosen method incorrectly, even when reverently.

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