Support for Fr. Joseph Illo. Fr. Z rants about denial of Communion


I want to offer my public support for Fr. Joseph Illo in San Francisco at Star of the Sea (beautiful title).  He wrote about a tough call he had to make as pastor.  HERE

The basics: A women took her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s to Mass.  The old mother took the Host out of her mouth and dropped it on the paten.  The priest at the parish suggested that it was no longer a good idea for her mother to receive Communion since she didn’t seem to understand what she was receiving.  The daughter, a product of Catholic schools but poorly catechized (as usual) got mad at the pastor when he called her to explain.

Let’s pick up Fr. Illo’s post… my emphases:


I’m sorry that I must be blunt, but most Catholics don’t believe in the Eucharist for the simple reason that most clergy don’t believe in the Eucharist. At least, we don’t believe in the Sacrament enough to impart this faith to our parishioners. “Communicating the Eucharist” requires a lifelong commitment to hard work, sacrifice, misunderstandings, and marginalization. And so most of us priests don’t teach and administer the Holy Eucharist with consistency and conviction. If we did, more Catholics would believe in it. Jesus Christ taught the Holy Eucharist with conviction, fully knowing it would get Him crucified. In fact, most of his disciples left him when he insisted on it, as you can read in John 6:35-69. How many bishops today would insist on any Catholic teaching that would turn 90% of their friends into enemies? But that is what the great High Priest Jesus did. Thank God we have a High Priest!
I made another enemy today, and it ruined my day. The woman I talked with will no longer bring her mother to my church, and she will tell all her friends that the priests at Star of the Sea are doctrinaire, intolerant, perhaps even hateful. I knew it was a lose-lose before I returned the call, and perhaps I should not have even called her back. But on the other hand, she deserved a return call, and she deserved the truth. A priest’s job is to deliver the truth, even if he cannot do it very well. I tried the best I could, but my gifts of intellect and empathy are limited. May it not be held against me!

I support Fr. Illo.   It is NOT fun to tell people hard truths which upset them.  We don’t relish it.  We don’t like having to do it.  But tell the truth we must, because we are going to face the Just Judge one day.  It’s our job to keep you out of Hell.   If we don’t attend to that, we are going to be in serious trouble.  As Augustine preached to his people so long ago, I will preach whether you believe or not because I want to save my soul.  But, “Nolo esse salus sine vobis…. I don’t want to be saved without you.”  We will hold your hand if you need that, but we won’t go to Hell for you by lying or telling half-truths or ignoring our doctrines and disciplines.


It is right to underscore that so many Catholics today have blurred or completely false notions about the Eucharist.

For many, Communion or Eucharist means “that’s the white thing they put in my hand before we sing a song”.  It is, for them, a token of affirmation: you are nice, we are nice together.  That’s about it.   Then when they encounter The Truth about the Eucharist they become angry.  That’s reasonable: they are being confronted with something they sense really is important and they get their back up because deep down they know they’ve been doing something wrong.

I don’t blame them.   It’s not their fault.

I, like Fr. Illo, point my finger directly at bishops and priests, especially of the older stripe who have so screwed up our Church in these USA that I doubt our institutions can survive the tumble into the sink-hole how opening up beneath us.

Something positive is emerging from the stark divisions and polarization now taking place in The Present Crisis™.

Quite a few people are beginning to make real choices about their Faith.  When they hear something strange, they are checking out the Church’s authentic teachings.  They are opening long closed books.  They are asking questions.

Also, younger priests are taking a stand and even denying Communion when warranted.

The situation above is NOT the same as denial of Communion to a manifestly scandalous and unrepentant pro-abortion politician.  However, due care of the Sacrament is on the rise.  That flows from witnessing the dire fruits of decades of neglect and misdirection.   Some younger guys actually learned something about the Eucharist and they are taking their responsibilities seriously.   Again and again these days I have heard of young priests taking a stand about Communion for someone, including that case in Michigan, but also some other cases that aren’t public.  In the Grand Rapids case, the bishop backed the priest, thanks be to God.   In some others, however, the priests are being crucified by their pastors and bishops.

They need support in prayers and probably material things due to the punishment they will experience at the hands of those who ought to back them.

Perhaps a prayer to a potential “patron saint of priest defenders”, the late Bp. Robert C. Morlino, the Extraordinary Ordinary, is in order.  I don’t worry about the state of his soul, not one little bit.  He was extraordinary also for letting priests know that he had their back.  I recall one sermon he gave at an ordination when he riffed on Job and his persecutions, making an analogy with what happens when people in a parish attack priests for doing something like moving a chair or preaching on contraception.   When the trials come, he said, we repeat with Job, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”, and he assured them that he was with them.  He was with them when they took hell for preaching the truth in charity.

Truth is a necessary component for charity.

It is not charity to defy the truth of people who should not receive the Eucharist because a) they are too young to understand,  b) they are cognitively impaired and do not understand, they believe but they are manifestly scandalous figures, d) they manifestly don’t believe what the Church teaches.

Can. 916 lays down that people who know they should not receive must not receive.

Can. 915 lays down that priests must not give the Eucharist to those who manifestly must not receive.

A priest is not being “mean” by denying the Eucharist.  A priest, knowing the law and knowing the situation accurately actually violates the human dignity of those who approach and must not receive if he administers the Eucharist to them.  In that moment, he instrumentalizes those people as if they are objects for his own self-satisfaction or justification or virtue signaling.

So, I support Fr. Illo.  He did the right thing and he needs to know that we have his back.

You priests and bishops out there.  Straighten your backs!  You seminarians, start getting your heads into that place where you can suffer when you do the right thing.  For now, keep your mouths shut and put on a smile and do your work and pray well.  But start thinking about the days after seminary.  Start playing out the scenarios in your heads now.  Think of it as Propaedeutical Situational Awareness.

Lay people: Support your priests.  Give them some kudos when they stand upright on the hard issues and take flak.   Ask for their blessings and thank them in the confessional.  Pray for them.  Fast and storm the heavens for your priests.

And you ladies out there, please please please consider the Seven Sisters apostolate.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Mail from priests, Priests and Priesthood, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    “We will hold your hand if you need that,…” So that’s the true meaning of “accompaniment”.

  2. AAJD says:

    I spent several weeks with Fr. Illo teaching English in Eastern Europe nearly two decades ago now. He is not only a fine pastor but a very gracious human being. I’m quite sure this difficult and unpleasant situation was handled by him with all the grace and gentleness I saw in him then.

  3. John V says:

    I recalled that the esteemed canonist Ed Peters had written something about persons with Alzheimer’s disease and Holy Communion. He seems to have a contrary opinion about the propriety of refusing the Eucharist based on the perception that the communicant “doesn’t seem to understand what she is receiving.” Here’s the link to his blog post.

  4. acardnal says:

    This event brought to mind an incident at my former parish in Virginia. The pastor was distributing holy communion and one person received in the hand and did not consume it immediately but began walking back to her pew. He noticed, interrupted communion, quickly followed her down the aisle and before she was seated he demanded she return the host to him . . . which she did.

    I’ve listened to Fr. Joseph Illo’s talks available at “Keep the Faith” website and recommend them.

  5. acardnal says:

    I’ll try again.

  6. ChrisP says:

    As I read it, it’s not based on understanding what you are receiving, it’s the issue of consumption. If the poor mother had consumed, I suspect no problem. She didn’t. As Fr Ilo points out, the priest HAS to ensure consumption of the Blessed Sacrament.

    Ed Peters is talking about understanding ALONE.
    That’s how I read it anyway.

  7. Ages says:

    I’m not sure if being able to understand the Eucharist should be the basis for distributing it. The Eastern Rites commune infants, they don’t understand what is happening.

    I think we need to draw a line between someone blaspheming the body and blood by their public sins, and a tragic situation of an elder having lost their rational minds.

    If a person with alzheimers or some form of retardation are at risk of causing violence to the Eucharist, that’s something to be dealt with pastorally and hopefully privately, but it ought not to be justified on a basis that they don’t understand it.

  8. rcg says:

    If I get to the point that am unable to treat the real presence with the respect it deserves you all have my permission to tie me to my bed. In return I will tell my Judge, when we meet that, however He may judge me, to bless everyone that helped.

  9. jwcraig11 says:

    This should not even be up for discussion. If a priest approached the woman’s mother at a nursing home with Communion and she spit it out, the priest would wisely (and correctly) decide that she should no longer receive Communion. There should be no argument about this. The woman is no longer mentally able to receive Holy Communion. It is no reflection on the state of her soul, just an acknowledgement that her body is failing. Thank God for the young priests – they just may save our Church.

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    My understanding is that people with severe Alzheimer’s often have trouble eating or drinking, because they can’t easily chew or swallow. A Host would potentially be torment or troublesome, so of course they instinctively spit or take it out. Same thing with drinking from the Cup.

    This sounds like a case for the liturgical eyedropper fistula.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    That said, I think it would be more appropriate, for a person sick enough to receive by fistula, to receive Communion privately instead of at Mass. (Even if that meant “right after Mass, in a calm quiet place.”)

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It also occurs to me that, if the USCCB is so fond of making rules and guidelines, they could put together a pastoral flowchart for Sacraments given to the infirm. And to make sure parishes have liturgical fistulas, for that matter!

  13. ChesterFrank says:

    I suspect the daughter might have been under a fair amount of stress. I wonder if the priest would have objected to the mother receiving communion outside of Mass and in a form she was capable of receiving such as a partial host. I have trouble understanding the statement”no longer a good idea for her mother to receive Communion since she didn’t seem to understand what she was receiving. ” when it is contrasted with the reception of Viaticum . I’m not arguing against Fr. Illo, just a little confused.

  14. Kerry says:

    Fr. Illo, “Stand your ground”.

  15. HvonBlumenthal says:

    “Something positive is emerging from the stark divisions and polarization now taking place in The Present Crisis™.”

    I have thought for a long time that Pope Francis is a great grace because he has given us clarity. Under the hermeneutic of continuity we were taking aspirin and not feeling the pain, even as we grew sicker. Now, under the hermeneutic of rupture, there is only pain. But it is a pain that tells us where the sickness lies, allowing us to diagnose.

    All over the place I see conservative Catholics waking up to the realization that they’ve been had.

  16. JoanM says:

    I had the priilege of bring Communion to Dame Hlda Bynoe who had been Goernor General of Grenada . for some time. I became friends with her when my husband and I started keeping a seat for her at 8: am Mass on Sundays. Dhe was usually brought to Mass by a taxi. Somtimes the taxui was not aailable and Dame Hilda was comfortable in phoning us and asking us to pick her up in the morning. When she was 9 or 91 she had a stroke. I was asked to isit her on Sundays and bring her Communion. I did thid for seeral weeks. She had some diggiculty speaking, but I found if she had a little water to drink she coyld swallow qyite well. Evwntually there came a orning when she was unable to swallow the host. I managed to transfer the host from her lip to my Pyx. and returned to the Church and ge it to a priest who did the necessary. It was clear to me the my seruces were n longer required. She died about 1 days lter. She was a lovely woman, and I was very happy to assist wheb I cold. During the time I sered her On 2 occasions I brought her a priest, and she was anointed, the first time she was able to confess, the second time she was only able to indicate inability to spesk, so the priest gae her absolution. She had been a cradle Catholic.

  17. brasscow says:

    Part of being a man is doing what needs to be done, especially when it’s tough. That’s what separates the men from the soy boys. Do it with utmost charity and try not to beat yourself up.

  18. ArthurH says:

    My wife and I, in our efforts to bring Communion to the homebound on a regular basis for several years, had the same kind of an issue more than once, and esp once with a wonderful old woman who had had a stroke. She was unable to swallow a whole host, and she could not really speak beyond a faint word or so, but she surely responded to interaction with others and was alert, such that it was not a concern as to her mental ability to receive.

    What we did re her physical ability, with our pastor’s knowledge, was to take her a host and to break off a small piece of it and put it on her tongue. She would close her mouth, some saliva would flow, it seems, and she could swallow that little bit of total volume. I consumed the remainder–the largest part– of the host.

    All that is not really possible on a Communion line, which suggests that the elderly woman should have had a host taken to her… IF she were able to understand what was happening. If not, then all said above seems right to me.

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    The word, “understand,” is a little equivocal. It is sufficient that one understand that the Eucharist is something to be swallowed, even if the person, young or old, doesn’t understand what it is they are swallowing, for reception to be allowed. If, however, whether young or old, they (mis)understand it as something not to be swallowed or even spit out, then Communion becomes either futile or a danger of inadvertant abuse.
    The thing that saddens me even more than the mother’s Alzheimer’s is the poor catechesis of the daughter. That concerns me very much. That is the point of failure in this story. Unless the bishops, as a group, push for a well-formed laity, these things and worse will happen. Since Catholic laity, on the whole, seem to be being less or even misinformed, despite the ease of finding answers, these days, I have to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the bishops, primarily, and parents, to a lesser degree. Converts are leading the way in evangelization, in part, because they are forced to think about their religion. Conversion usually costs them something.
    One wonders what goes on in catechism classes, these days, to bring about the dumbing-down of the laity. People are forced to study driving because doing it badly can get them killed. Ought we not study Catholicism with at least as much diligence, because doing it badly can get a person in much worse shape.

    The Chicken

    P. S. I hope the daughter will still allow Fr. Illo to anoint her mother (and receive the Eucharist on occasion if he can tell that there is no danger to the Eucharist, since Alzheimer sufferers have good and bad days and it is unclear from the story if this were just a bad day or a continuing state).

  20. Felipe says:

    Prayers for Fr Illo, and I hope our Lord sends us more Holy and heroic priests to the Bay Area

  21. Gerard Plourde says:

    This raises a serious conundrum. Would an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient as part of receiving Last Rites be permitted to receive Holy Viaticum?

  22. Kathleen10 says:

    We were in this situation with my Mom, who became a Catholic at the age of 75. I can’t tell you how this delights me now and gives me peace. My mother was not baptized as she was the only Protestant in the family, but we never gave it much thought. When we did realize she had not been baptized, baptism became an imperative, and she was baptized. At 94, she finally began to really fail, and Father was called to hear her Confession, which she was not really up to, as it turned out. What she said wasn’t making sense, and it would have been horrifying if Father had tried to give her Holy Communion and it didn’t work out. My mother would not have wanted that. We’re grateful Father did not offer her Holy Communion.
    For heaven’s sake, our first priority should be Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, who can give your loved one all the graces they would receive from receiving, so it is not necessary they receive. We all can make a spiritual communion, and it is impossible that God in His infinite mercy cannot see the intent and the reality and bestow those graces on your loved one. They are not being denied nor are they missing anything. But you may be if you have a hissy over the fact your loved one didn’t get the white thing. You’ve missed the whole point. People need to grow up and get themselves a Baltimore Catechism so they can get up to speed on things, stop being such calamitous babies.

  23. Fr_Sotelo says:

    jwcraig11 above is correct. Among Catholics of the Latin rite, this is not even a matter to discuss. Liturgical law has always made it clear that the Blessed Sacrament cannot be given to an adult who might commit profanation (even unwittingly). It is a very different situation from giving Communion to an infant in the Eastern Church.

    In my time as pastor, I have always informed families that when their elderly have advanced Alzheimer’s or diminished capacity (dementia), they will likely spit up the Host. They often spit up their regular food or let it sit in their mouth, not realizing that they should swallow it. As such a point, they are not to receive Communion.

    There was never a case where a family protested, when all was explained about the objective sacrilege involved when the Host was spit up. It is very sad and upsetting to see how Fr. Illo was treated in this matter, when he was doing what a good pastor must do. Perhaps if he had been given a chance to conference with the family a while back, they might have taken the news with less bitterness.

    But such is the parish life. There are times when the priest is doing his very best to be kind and pastoral, and is still treated like the Antichrist by people who long ago lost all sense of respect for Holy Orders. And this loss of respect is shared by the very radical, dissenting Catholics all the way to those who glory in the adjective “traditional.”

    Although the seasoned bishop or pastor pretends not to be bothered, and puts up the bravest front even if acid is splashed in their face, it still gets to you. If the cleric has coated his heart in teflon and ice, he is not affected because when needs be, he can look at the faithful with contempt and disdain. But those who still care, like Fr. Illo, must suffer brutally because that is life in the trenches today.

  24. Shonkin says:

    To all those who think it’s fine for people to consume the Blessed Sacrament without understanding what they are doing or Who they are receiving, I recommend reading 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 again. I think Saint Paul said it all.

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  26. JonPatrick says:

    I agree with what the Masked Chicken said about poor catechesis. However in many places the way the Eucharist is treated does not match what we say we believe about it. Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. (I’m not saying this is the case at Fr. Illo’s church but just as a general observation). The best catechesis would be to act the way we say we believe.

    Unfortunately too in today’s world the emphasis on Relativism where each person gets to decide for themselves their own truths, it is hard to get people to see that there are objective Truths as taught by the Church. This makes it even harder to catechize.

  27. Semper Gumby says:

    God bless Fr. Illo. JoanM thanks for your comment.

  28. Kirk says:

    I have often thought that the receiving the Holy Eucharist, in a state of sin, leads one to believe it is nothing special. I look back at my life and see that is how I felt. It was not until I came back to the Church (actually taken back by Jesus) and going to my second confession at age 38 ( then confirmed shortly after) that I realized how Awesome our God is at Mass.

  29. robtbrown says:

    I disagree with the priest’s comment that most people, incl clergy, don’t believe in the Eucharist. Rather, I would say that unfortunately they have a vague belief in the Eucharist. That of course is a consequence of poor catechesis, which is of course the consequence of poor theological formation of those studying for the priesthood. After I taught the concepts of ex opere operato and ex opere operantis to seminarians, I told them that they now understood what none of the 4 priests in my hometown did not. Nb: I was not exaggerating.

    The situation with the Alzheimer’s patient seems to call for another solution–just a drop from the chalice on the tongue.

  30. Gaetano says:

    It seems that the problem here is that the Eucharist was not being properly consumed.
    While the Latin Church has it’s own discipline, doesn’t the fact that Eastern Catholic Churches have infant Communion weigh against a belief that one must understand what is being received?

  31. eulogossusan says:

    I would like to support Fr. Illo for following his conscience and being courageous in defending the Eucharist. At the same time, I don’t believe that understanding is intrinsically necessary to receiving Our Lord and the graces which come with receiving Him. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, infants receive from the time of their baptism. If they can, I would think that the elderly who no longer have full use of reason should also be able to receive. The question would be whether Latin canon law allows this. I do not know but there is a link in a post to a piece by a canon lawyer which suggests it does. A priest with this dilemma ought to consult a canon lawyer, probably one of those his diocese has for such purposes. Finally, I think the old woman needs to receive either a tiny fragment of the host, or a drop of the Precious Blood, just as infants do.

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