ASK FATHER: Suspension of Communion on the tongue because of #Coronavirus

From a reader…


Father, in the Philippines a bishop told people to stop receiving Communion on the tongue and receive only in the hand because of Coronavirus and don’t have the chalice too.

What say you?

We have seen this movie before, with the outbreak of various strains of influenza and viruses.

Here are a few commonsense observations.

Firstly, it is not allowed to distribute Communion in the hand during the Traditional Latin Mass or when using the Rite for Distribution of Communion outside of Mass, or during sick calls with the older Rituale Romanum.  Also, in the older Rite, Communion is not distributed under both kinds.  That takes care of that.

I don’t see a way around that.  Distribution of Communion in the hand would be a serious liturgical abuse, precisely because it deals with the Eucharistic species.

If you are concerned about contagion, in a TLM, then don’t go to Communion.    You are not obliged to receive.  You can make a spiritual Communion.

That said, I would bend the rubrics so far as to have the priest rapidly purify his fingers again immediately before distribution of Communion using something like hand sanitizer or wipes of some sort.

That second purification is certainly extra-rubrical, but it is before handling the Eucharist, not a violation while handling the Eucharist.

Moreover, if a priest has to cough or sneeze during Mass, his momentary halt to handle a handkerchief is not described by the rubrics and is not treated in De defectibus.   If a guy has to stop for a moment so that he can clear himself up, then he’s got to stop for a moment.  Therefore, if Father, immediately before – and after for his own sake – distribution, uses a sanitizer, I say tolleratur.   He doesn’t have to be burned and his ashes put down the sacrarium.

As far as the Novus Ordo is concerned, this is less of an issue.

In most places, sad to say, there is juridical permission (I don’t think it’s moral) to receive directly in the hand.  I am not sure how that reduces the risk of contagion.  Maybe it does.  Certain suspending distribution of the Precious Blood would reduce the risk.   Given the options, a person has to decide what to do.  If the local bishop has said don’t receive on the tongue (contrary to your right) and the priest takes a hard position and refuses to distribute on the tongue (contrary to your right), then you have to decide what to do.

If you are dead set against receiving on the hand, period, then don’t even go forward.  Don’t make a scene at the Communion rail.  Make a spiritual Communion.

And, people, if you know that you are sick and probably shedding virus left and right, stay home.   Stay home.  If you are ill or infectious or contagious then you don’t have an obligation to go to Sunday Mass.  While it might be laudable from your perspective to offer up the discomfort and make the effort, it might be a violation of both prudence and charity.

Lastly, while I fully endorse the praiseworthy desire to receive the Eucharist in Communion, and I wholeheartedly embrace the spiritual benefits of frequent reception, something has to be done about that near mania about Communion.

First, there is the promotion of Communion at every Mass such that people think they haven’t been to Mass unless they have received.  NO.  There is the psychological pressure to go, especially promoted by row by row Communion.  It winds up that people go forward when they know they should not.  Sacrilege results.  There is the problem of people not having a clue about what the Eucharist is: “That’s the white thing we get before we sing the song.  It means that people like me.” Sacrilege results.   But there is an overwhelming notion that if you, in the state of grace, go to Mass then you must receive.  NO.  If you wish to, you can.  You are not obliged.

I say, get rid of row by row Communion.  Will it be a little messier?  Sure.  Who cares?

I say, bring back the longer Eucharistic fast.  That will provide also – in addition to spiritual benefits – an apparent reason for why you choose not to go forward: maybe you ate something within the period.

Two things that could help.

Also, we need catechesis, catechesis and also catechesis about the Eucharist and about Holy Communion.


Just to be clear…

The image, larger… with additions.

A – The head is not tilted back and the tongue is not out.
B – The hands are in the way.
C – The head is back, but the tongue is not out.
D – The tongue is out, but the head is angled downward.

Other observations.

  • In some cultures, people take the Host with their teeth.  I don’t think that’s a good idea, but it is done.
  • Ladies, keep your hair and veil out of the way.
  • You don’t have to exaggerate when you stick your tongue out.
  • Parent with babes in arms.  Hold their arms or hands when you receive.
  • EVERYONE – KEEP STILL.  Don’t be a moving target

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Kathleen10 says:

    “He doesn’t have to be burned and his ashes put down the sacrarium.” Oh my gosh, too funny.

  2. monstrance says:

    A somewhat related question Fr Z –
    When kneeling at the Communion Rail, where is the proper location for folded hands – assuming there is no Houseling Cloth in use ?

    [At least low enough so that they are not in the way of the paten, which the server is to place below your chin, or the priest’s own hands as he places the Host on your tongue. This is shown in the graphic at the top. I’ll post it again.]

  3. jaykay says:

    Monstrance: there isn’t a “proper” position, save that one’s hands shouldn’t impede either Priest or server. So we were taught back in the 60s, as small kids. Just at the edge of the rail in front of your chest works fine. It surely depends on the layout anyway, and your size e.g. a tall person probably could lay their folded hands on the top of the rail, a smaller person maybe not. But it all depends. I’ve never seen a houseling cloth in use. Back in the day our communion rail always had a cloth but it was laid on the rail and held down by highly polished brass fasteners. That disappeared sometime in the late 70s, although we still knelt up till the late 80s at least.

  4. After almost 17 years as a priest, distributing the Holy Eucharist in both forms, to people standing and kneeling, into palms and into open mouths, I am firmly convinced that the best way — viewed simply as a practical matter — is to people who are kneeling, and who receive on the tongue.

    If the communicant’s mouth is actually open, and his or her tongue is reasonably extended (no need for a Gene Simmons impersonation), and the person is reasonably motionless…then I will have no difficulty in placing the Sacred Host right on the aforementioned tongue, without my fingers getting entangled or…whatever. In short, my fingers will not touch that tongue.

    On the other hand, when I am distributing to people who are standing, and they are not necessarily standing still, then there can be problems. Some people decide to lean in just as I’m about to place the host on their tongue. Bad. Others have a “no cop, no stop” approach, and simply slow down as they make a 90-degree turn in front of the priest. Others are wobbling, which is not a criticism of them; just a complication. Still others open their mouths like a mail slot, and still others, I guess, are mortified to put out their tongue at a priest. Such circumstances can be messy.

    Then there is the hand — this is supposedly superior? I very frequently touch other people’s hands when I distribute Holy Communion, either because their hands (together) are much larger than their single tongue, and they usually cup their hands, and they are often in motion, so contact is all but guaranteed.


    In the tongue done the optimal way? Contact easy to avoid.
    In the hand optimally done? Contact very hard to avoid.
    Either done sub-optimally? Contact impossible to avoid.

    People may find the tongue a yucky thing to touch, but if you think about, do you really think the hand is less so? Think about it.

    [Fr. Martin, thanks. When people present themselves for Communion on the tongue, while kneeling, as depicted in the graphic I posted, it is easy to avoid any contact between the priest’s finger and the communicant’s tongue. In the hand? As memory serves (it has been a while, happily) it is almost unavoidable. It is far easier, however, to avoid contact with Communion on the tongue even when the posture is sub-optimal. You made good points.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. jaykay says:

    Yes, Father. I never remember any Priest’s fingers touching my tongue, however they did it. Properly trained, I assume. The paten could sometimes be shoved almost into your neck, however, by some of the younger servers but it was all so rapid it never mattered. I never saw a Host dropped, even on the paten.

  6. iPadre says:

    I agree 100% with Fr. Martin Fox. Also, Communion, kneeling and on the tongue, at the rail is much more efficient. Everyone in the church doesn’t feel forced to go up to receive. They can walk down and return by a side aisle without even receiving, and most people will not notice (if they are focusing on what they should focus on).

  7. ChrisP says:

    As mischievous prelates are wont to do, such as the very mischievous Cardinal Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, they will use events such as this to ride roughshod over all other bishops and ban communion on tongue. This happened in NZ during swine flu, despite deputations from competent folk who pointed out 1) hands carry bugs, which is why infectious guidelines recommend regular washing, ie.hands are just as transmitting as tongue 2) there are very, very, very, very few cases of human to human transmission of the flu from receiving Our Lord, which kills proportionately almost as many folk as this newer coronavirus, 3) sick folk are usually compos mentis and stay home, because they cant move – they’re sick! and finally 4) priests are trained to do this right as Frs. Fox and Z point out.

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  9. Matthew says:

    In my parish people come up with their arms crossed over their chest to be blessed by the extraordinary minister. Apparently everyone feels a need to go for a little walk at communion time. I guess it could be worse.

  10. Imrahil says:

    If you are concerned about contagion, in a TLM, then don’t go to Communion. You are not obliged to receive. You can make a spiritual Communion.

    But you can’t get a plenary indulgence on a spiritual Communion (if I’m rightly informed), nor more than one plenary indulgence on a spiritual-and-sacramental Communion.

    [In most cases of indulgences, reception of Holy Communion is required within a certain period after the prescribed work. However, a confessor can commute the work and most conditions of the conditions (except attachment to sin). And, NO, one reception of Communion suffices for multiple indulgences.]

  11. Ages says:

    Disease is not communicable through the healing body and blood of Christ. Gird your loins like a man and receive communion the proper way.

    [This is false information. Transubstantiation does not remove the accidents of the Eucharistic species and consecration does not render the former substances of bread and wine as impervious to foreign bodies.]

  12. Danteewoo says:

    Any excuse serves a tyrant…or an ideologue.

  13. mo7 says:

    I like very much the discussion about not going to communion. There is more than one reason not to go. Example: sometimes I’ve been distracted at Mass. Sometimes I just make myself wait.
    It seems to me that a good portion if people should not receive each week. It shows some discernment. Communion isnt like giveaway day at the ballpark.

  14. Ages says:

    Disease is not communicable through the healing body and blood of Christ. Gird your loins like a man and receive communion the proper way.

    No one is claiming that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus are communicating illness. You are making a straw man argument. Rather, what people are pointing out is that it is possible that, in conjunction with the accidental properties of the Eucharist (i.e., accidents of bread and wine), there may indeed be some germs transmitted — as well, of course, by the hands and tongues of those involved.

  15. veritas vincit says:

    “First, there is the promotion of Communion at every Mass such that people think they haven’t been to Mass unless they have received. NO. There is the psychological pressure to go, especially promoted by row by row Communion.”

    I’m not sure I buy that, at least not as the only factor in receiving unworthily. [Who said that it was the ONLY factor?] In every Sunday Mass (and many weekday Masses) I have ever attended, there are always some who remain in the pews.

    I suspect bad catechesis is at least as much to blame.

    Besides in any church with pews (virtually all of them) and without a communion rail (most of them, for better or worse), what is the alternative? An undignified scrum in front of the priest and servers, as everyone rushes up at once? I don’t see that as an improvement.

  16. JesusFreak84 says:

    When I attended a UGCC parish, I avoided receiving the Eucharist if I or any other parishioners were so much as sniffling. The “spoon,” (please forgive my forgetfulness with the proper term,) probably picks up at least some spit no matter how hard anyone tries… (I know I kept closing my mouth on it by accident until I actually did pick up a cold that way–fixed my wagon right up…after the cold healed…) However, weekly reception of the Eucharist isn’t as much of a “thing” in the East, with some parishioners going so far as to only receive for their Easter duty, so someone not receiving doesn’t carry the same, “Oh wow,” as in the west.

    I receive exclusively on the tongue, (and just walk away in the OF if a priest refuses to distribute Communion in that manner,) and 2 thoughts come to mind: 1) I’m 5’3″, so even standing most priests are reaching down to place Jesus in my mouth, but 2) My tongue is tiny enough that it’s still a challenge =-\ C is darned close to how I look with my tongue all the way out ^^;;; Thankfully, priests are usually understanding and try their best. However, it makes another argument for Father sanitizing his hands as soon as he can after communion… Especially when the virus that brought about this post has a symptom-free incubation period of up to 2 weeks…

  17. khouri says:

    I see both methods of distributing the Lord’s Body as problematic. Occasionally touching a tongue or occasionally touching a hand happens.
    As to the priests that withhold the Precious Blood for flu season (most times never to restore it), I believe this is simply an excuse to withhold the chalice and wrong. While I believe the Lord is fully present in both Species I also believe very deeply that Our Lord’s command, “Take this ALL of you and eat of it, for this is my body…” should be obeyed in most circumstances.
    While the prots who use the common cup do not receive the Lord there are no historical records of mass die offs from drinking wine at their Services

  18. Imrahil says:

    Reverend Father,

    And, NO, one reception of Communion suffices for multiple indulgences

    thank you, it seems I had been misinformed. I was under the impression, and indeed read somewhere (yes, it doesn’t get more specific than that) that the “usual conditions” can be satisfied by one Confession for more than one plenary indulgence, but not for Communion (nor for the Our Father and Hail Mary in the Holy Father’s intentions), where it is “one each”. I also was thinking that this made sense because, while frequent Confession is good in all cases, there is a “too frequent” (take, say, “more often than weekly”) for most temperaments in most circumstances here; whereas the daily Mass and, for those not hindered by mortal sin or the accident of having eaten, also Communion at said daily Mass is not too frequent.

  19. KateD says:

    “Disease is not communicable through the healing body and blood of Christ. Gird your loins like a man and receive communion the proper way.

    [This is false information. Transubstantiation does not remove the accidents of the Eucharistic species and consecration does not render the former substances of bread and wine as impervious to foreign bodies.]”

    Fathers Z and Fox,
    Thank you for the clarification. I have believed what Ages expressed. I trust what you have written is true, but I don’t understand. If somewhere down the line it were possible to expand on the explanation, that would be helpful.

    Does that also mean that an enemy of the Church could slip into the host making factory and add a harmful substance, and that the substance would actually cause the intended effect?

    I have always been comforted by the thought that illness and harm could not be present in the Body and Blood of Christ.

  20. Ages says:

    The body and blood of Christ are incorruptible. There are many examples of priests who consumed the gifts even after being spit out by people having diseases such as rabies without any ill effects.

    Even the Eastern Rites that commune people with a spoon did so fearlessly during the height of epidemics, again, without ever transmitting any disease that I am aware of.

  21. Lurker 59 says:

    Before considering the Suspension of Communion on the tongue, logically one must first consider Suspension of Communion of the Blood of Christ by the laity, as a transfer of saliva as well as aerosol from breathing around and in the chalice, always occurs for each communicant.

    Contrary to @khouri above, the laity are under no obligation, duty, or spiritual benefit to additionally receive the consecrated wine. It must absolutely be remembered and insisted upon that reception of the consecrated Host is reception of the total Christ — body blood soul and divinity of our Living and Glorified Savior, not strictly the Body of Christ (notwithstanding that that is what the Minister of Holy Communion says prior to giving the Host (which indicates needed refinement of the verbiage used at this point in the Liturgy). The cited command to “take” belongs only to the clergy not the laity. The laity RECIEVE, they do not TAKE, and the command to “take” during the consecration is not at all directed at the laity/congregation (after all, the Mass is valid if there is no congregation, contrary to Protestant theologies that incorrectly see the command as belonging to the congregation and hence the Lord’s Supper is not legitimate if there is no congregation).

    Further, it is more proper to the Latin Rite for the congregation to receive only the consecrated Host, and, I personally would argue, that if there was to be reception of both Species by the congregation should be done in a unified manner through intinction, as there are significant sign elements that are lost when the Species are received separately by the congregation. That said, it is still more proper to the Latin Rite for the congregation to only receive the consecrated Host.


    I do want to underscore the problem of the psychological pressure to receive that Fr. Z was mentioning. At the time of Communion at the local NO parish, what is said is “As we come forward to express our oneness in the Lord, let us sing (insert some H&H ditty)” so that those who do not receive are left to feel all sorts of thing theologically and spiritually inaccurate about their place in the congregation and their relationship with our Lord. Thus, surely people are pressured to receive without discerning the Body and Blood of Christ, as St. Paul says.

  22. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I have a modest proposal for reducing the risk of contagion at NO Mass. Abolish celebration versus populum. This will reduce the risk to the priest of inhaling germs breathed out by the populus.

  23. KateD says:

    When we were parishioner at a Byzantine Catholic church, the spoon never touched the recipient’s mouth. It’s actually a pretty clean way of distributing the Eucharist. Even babies receive and there’s never a problem.

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