ASK FATHER: In time of high risk contagion, nitrile gloves for distribution of Communion?

From a reader…


Are disposable nitrile gloves acceptable of a Priest distributing the Eucharist? Nitrile gloves are proven to help prevent the spread of pathogens.

Yes, this can be done.  Should it be done is another thing.

Holy Communion can be delivered by means of an inanimate object, such as a tweezers or forceps or tube.  I don’t see a problem with a nitrile glove, other than aesthetics.

Perhaps the color of the day would help?    Blue gloves… hmmm.

It is easy to purify metal objects, but less easy to purify the gloves.  They could be put into water, to dissolve particles of the Host, and then eventually burned.

This brings in several points.  Would the people receiving, and receiving in the hand (blech), wear nitrile gloves?   What would that look like (other than increased risk of profanation of the Eucharist… as every Communion in the hand obviously is)?

I suppose that the gloves would have to be immediately stripped off, dropped into water for a bit, the water drained into the sacrarium or onto the ground, and then the gloves burned.  Would there now have to be a Minister of the Glove Bucket?

Of course if tongs can be used, why use the gloves?

I wonder if it would get to this point.

In a case where the disease is that dangerous and easily transmitted, I suspect you won’t have many people in church for Masses.  Some will want to pray, naturally, and have Mass.

The more urgent question is the procedure for the priest giving last rites including Viaticum.  In that case, Fathers, yes, you can use a nitrile glove or a tong or a metal fistula or straw or an eyedropper to give Communion.    Also, it is possible to anoint using a tweezers or forceps to avoid contact or also simply to reach a person.  I had to do that once in a hospital.

It is an interesting question and I am glad that it came up.

We need questions and information to help us game things out in our heads, which ought to be a constant, commonsense, practice of situational awareness.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. jf3vieira says:

    My thought about nitrile gloves to prevent the spread of contagion is that it MIGHT keep the priest safe. [That’s not nothing. Unless, of course, you want to be without priests.] However, in my opinion, worthless unless one changes gloves between every parishioner. To my knowledge the gloves themselves only act as a barrier not a disinfectant. I would expect that it would also increase the risk of the Precious Body being dropped due to loss of tactile sense.

  2. Gaetano says:

    If the Eastern Church can use Communion Spoons, why not Communion Tweezers/Tongs for the Latins!

  3. Greg Hlatky says:

    If there’s a high risk of contagion to be concerned about, how about cutting out the handshaking and hand holding during the OF Mass?

  4. Dan says:

    “Would there now have to be a Minister of the Glove Bucket?”
    GREAT IDEA!! then we could get another layperson ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING! Pretty soon we will not even need pews anymore because everyone will be up in the sanctuary participating. It will be wonderful. Maybe we can all do a synchronized dance up there too!

  5. tho says:

    Get a backbone, and remember Father Damien administering to the lepers on the island of Molokai. There are so many incidents of priests, putting themselves in harms way, to make this gloves thing ridiculous.

  6. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    A massive outbreak of disease/virus is a reason for the the priest alone to receive communion at Mass. Sadly, in our current climate where communion has become an entitlement, it would be difficult for many modern Catholics. But before anyone reaches for the tweezers, spoons and tongs, a Google search for an Act of Spiritual Communion would be a better option.

  7. JakeMC says:

    Gloves are a bad idea for distribution of Communion. Believe it or not, there are people who are actually allergic to the supposedly hypoallergenic nitrile gloves. My best friend gets severe allergic reactions just to being touched by someone wearing them; I shudder to think what would happen if she actually ingested something touched by those gloves.

  8. iamlucky13 says:

    “Perhaps the color of the day would help? Blue gloves… hmmm.”

    Not yet, of course. We’re all still waiting for approval of blue as the liturgical color for Marian feast days.

    Meanwhile, I will continue my usual precautions (handwashing, limiting contact, confession, etc) unless and until there is some evidence that coronavirus is a higher risk than influenza.

    Currently, influenza has the Wuhan coronavirus beat 1/4 million to 258.

  9. Nathanael says:

    If we continue to insist upon Communion in the hand, it seems to me that the least we can do is have everyone (excepting the clergy) wear gloves every time.

  10. White Pine says:

    I think gloves wouldn’t make a difference unless the distributor him/herself was infected. Otherwise you would need to change gloves after every person.

  11. majuscule says:

    Discussion in another place caused me to look up Spiritual Communion as an alternative to actually receiving.

    I don’t know that many would go for that these days. As mentioned above, entitlement…don’t ya know…

    These days Spiritual Communion is mainly suggested for the divorced and remarried or those who haven’t yet been absolved of mortal sin.

    If we are told at my NO parish not to receive on the tongue, I will make a Spiritual Communion. I have done it before and felt the better for it. I will be closely watching what happens at the TLM I attend, also in the same diocese.

  12. Kathleen10 says:

    Coronavirus has our attention. We hear the virus is passed person to person before the first person even knows they are ill. That’s bad. Then, the severity can escalate to pneumonia, and for fragile or young or old, oftentimes not a good outcome.
    Everyone should always think about having enough food and supplies if they had to hunker down at home for awhile. It’s just a good idea. Avoid crowds, wash your hands a lot and don’t touch your face unless you just did wash your hands. Don’t bother ordering virus masks, they are being price gouged. I ordered them from a reputable medical supply company, and was just told they “aren’t available”. But I see the price has gone up exponentially online. Ah. Mankind.

  13. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  14. Charivari Rob says:

    I suppose it could be done, though I have my doubts as to whether any particles of the Eucharist could be properly removed before the gloves were disposed/destroyed. I was glad to see JakeMC’s comment above – I was wondering if there was any glove-material powder residue issue with nitrile.
    I’d imagine tongs would be a better option, honestly.
    I could see gloves being an important option if there was an active local health emergency, or bringing communion to somebody in some degree immune isolation (thinking of the protocols in place when a cousin of mine got a heart transplant…)

  15. Percusio says:

    For whom is the concern for coming down with a virus, the priest or the lay faithful? Perhaps those receiving are so concerned about losing their priest for any amount of time, they should like him to distribute with “gloves”. In fact, it seems that should a person receive communion like a fish going after feeding flakes, the fingers of the priest will touch the tongue of the infected and then possibly touch the tongue of others down the “line”. I think it works wonderfully if people would keep their head still and not gobble up our Lord when they receive. That will solve the problem for the most part, at least that is what I have been told.

  16. Hidden One says:

    This all makes sense.

    What magisterial documents/theological manuals should be consulted in order for one to have sources on this to cite for academic usage?

  17. TonyO says:

    Before we go off the deep end, can we take a look at the facts? Right now, the death rate is approximately 2%, which is very high – as diseases go. It will almost certainly drop to a much lower rate as (a) people become more aware of the problem and the symptoms and seek help, and (b) as first-world health care comes to play, as opposed to mainly lesser health system.

    Right now there are 7 US cases. No fatalities. We are taking active measures to contain the problem early. The conditions now are ripe for being concerned and cautious, not for being overwhelmed with fear. Not for hunkering down inside the house and refusing to go out. If you are very concerned, at least go out to go to confession!

  18. rcg says:

    I ask this in all seriousness and serious ignorance: what if the server accompanying the priest had a chalice of consecrated very high alcohol wine and the priest dipped his fingers in it between distributing the host to each communicant? Not only sanitizes his fingers but solves the intinction/both species question for some folks.

    I am ready for correction.

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    Coronavirus is a droplet-borne virus, so it is airborne. I suspect the odds of getting the virus is greater walking up to receive Communion than it is actually receiving Communion, especially, in dry air. How long do the incense stay in the air, after all.

    Really, until person-to-person contact takes off in the West, the odds are still low that most people will get infected, at this time.

    A 1-2% death rate is not that high for an Ro of 2-5, but we are nowhere near an Ro of 2-5 in the West, yet, because of the quarantining of symptomatic people. Things could get worse, but this is not at panic stage in the West, yet. Parts of China are a different story.

    The Chicken

  20. chantgirl says:

    Kathleen10- Check your local hardware store. My husband picked up some 5-packs of 3M n95 masks last week at Home Depot for about $22/box. These same boxes are now selling on Amazon for $60 and up, but a hardware store might still have them.

    My husband and I went out and got enough supplies to last us three months (diapers, formula, paper products, food, medicine, batteries, bottled water, first aid, emergency kit etc). Hopefully it won’t come down to bugging in for several months, but if it does, I don’t want to be watching my children go without and being responsible for it. If things blow over, we just won’t have to go to Costco for awhile lol.

  21. Lynn Diane says:

    To answer Reg’s question: 70% or 90% alcohol is not a particularly good disinfectant, and wine is a poor one. Much better is a freshly-made 10% solution of household bleach. That kills everything. It’s almost a sterilizant.

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