ASK FATHER: Change the shape of Hosts to make them easier to administer in COVID-19 time

From a reader…


Would changing the shape of a host be allowed in order to decrease the chance of the priest touching a communicant’s tongue? Would an oval shaped host, for example, make it easier for the priest when distributing the Eucharist to a communicant who isn’t very good at receiving on the tongue? I think receiving on the tongue will be limited if not banned once Mass is public again and just thinking if the host has to be round and if a different shape could be helpful. Sorry if this is a dumb question.

I don’t think that is a dumb question at all.

Actually, that’s a pretty good question.

This deserves some discussion.

Perhaps a host that is elliptical, almond shaped like the mandorla of the beautiful reliefs?

For example, on the facade of the Cathedral of Chartres.

Christ in a mandorla, surrounded by the 4 symbols of the evangelists (winged man, eagle, lion and bull)on the tympanum of the central bay of the Royal Portal, 1142-50, Western facade, Chartres cathedral, Eure-et-Loir, France. The central bay represents the End of Time as described by the Book of Revelations. Chartres cathedral was built 1194-1250 and is a fine example of Gothic architecture. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Picture by Manuel Cohen



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  1. Hidden One says:

    I don’t know what symbolic implications there might be to oval-shaped hosts, but from a purely practical perspective, as one who receives on tongue and has both distributed on the tongue and wielded the server’s paten while priests did so in both EF and OF, I think they would be a good idea. They might throw off host count estimations in ciboria a little, but that’s OK. They would probably also reduce the risk of contagion for distribution in the hand in those unfortunate places where that lamentable practice exists by ignominious indult.

    Whichever the shape(s) of the hosts to be distributed to communicants, the forthcoming return to actually distributing hosts to communicants would be a wonderful time for a refresher catechesis from parish priests on how to actually receive on the tongue. It is amazing to me how many dedicated, long-time ‘traditionalist’ Catholics do not know how to do it. (It is also genuinely surprising to me that some traditionally-inclined priests don’t know how to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue properly, either.) Perhaps the more-evident-than-before public health implications of ignorance in these matters might prompt this basic catechesis on a large scale.

  2. fr.ignatius says:

    Great point. Worth considering, nuns would have to get some new pressing equipment I guess. I’d like to see some of them try it out, oval rather than triangle mind you, I have dealt with triangle hosts before and these are fraught with problems.

  3. idelsan says:

    For a long time I have been using hosts that are bigger (do not remember now the diameter). I works fine.

  4. Matthew says:

    Upon occasion the hosts will run short in a small weekday mass and Father will break his large host or a large host and give us some piece of that. I can’t fathom shape would be a concern.

  5. fr.ignatius says:

    i’m not that keen on the larger diameter circular altar breads, as for children they are harder to actually fit in their mouth….

    overall the best solution is everyone kneeling down, opening the mouth sufficiently, and raising the tongue without poking it out too much.

  6. This does merit discussion, because I had the thought that one reason (a small reason, perhaps, but something I am sure crossed the minds of bishops) for the complete closure of innumerable churches is that they didn’t want to have to argue with people about how to receive communion, regardless of whether their leanings were toward hand or tongue. If we could mitigate the risks of receiving on the tongue, we might get our churches back sooner.

    As for the actual question at hand, maybe we could even create hosts in the shape of a cross. That, of course, has obvious symbolic value, and could alleviate the risks.

  7. Chrisgp09 says:

    Actually, at the beginning of the pandemic here in the United States, I went to a Sunday Divine Liturgy in a Byzantine Catholic parish in Long Island. At the point the Bishop had given guidlines in how to receive holy communion for the diocese. The guidline was to copy the Melkite Tradition of receiving Holy Communion which the priest prepares before mass. When he prepared the hosts he cut them into small rectangular pieces, and during communion he dipped the consecrated host into the precious blood (intinction), and kind of gently dropped it into the communicants mouth completely avoiding any touching of tongue with the priests’ hand.

  8. Fr. Kelly says:

    As for me, I recognize that the shape of the host is not what matters, but …

    Like G. K. Chesterton, I don’t think it is a good idea to advocate change without first understanding why they are round in the first place.
    Here are a few reasons for the round host that I came up with off the top of my head.
    1 This is nearly universally the way they are made, and have been made for some long time. This, in itself, is a reason to keep them this shape, since the Church generally does things for good reasons, even when the reasons are forgotten. It is not a good idea to assume that there is no reason for such a universal custom. This is small “t” tradition.
    2 (a practical corollary of #1) all the presses that are commonly used to make hosts are set for round hosts, and it might be a needless expense and effort for a doubtful benefit.
    3 a round host has the smallest circumference for its area, and it is at the edges that crumbs occur. This is especially so for the uncrimped edges that certain host bakers produce. Of all the alternate shapes that might be proposed, elliptical or oval would seem to be the least problematic. The crumb problem would likely be especially true of other proposed shapes like triangles or crosses (Lots of bits to break off)
    4 #3 also has an effect on how long hosts will stay fresh both before and after consecration. less surface area means longer time before going stale.
    5 in the distribution of Communion, with a round host, the priest does not have to take his attention away from more important matters to notice which edge he takes to pick up the host and so there is much less touching of the other hosts when he goes to take a host to distribute it.
    6 and this gets to the main point. I can’t see how even an elliptical or oval shape will actually be of any help in not touching the communicant’s tongue. If a priest is so careless as to touch the communicant’s tongue with a round host, he will do so also with an elliptical one.

  9. Fr Matthew-Anthony OP says:

    It’s not an odd suggestion at all.

    Traditionally, the Melkites do not serve Holy Communion with a spoon (as the Slavic churches do); rather, the portions of the “Lamb” (as the Byzantines call the “Host”) are rectangular and, instead of mixing it with the Precious Blood, the priest intincts it in the chalice and, with his fingers, places Him in the communicant’s mouth. The rectangular shape is long enough so as to minimise contact between the priests’ fingers and the communicant’s mouth.

    So your idea of mandorla-shaped Hosts would have some precedent; furthermore, the mandorla-shape would also have a great catechetical value, having attached to it an iconographical symbol of Christ’s glory.

    It would also make the custom of intinction (lawfully done) easier and more sanitary.

    Perhaps a traditional community might have a marketing edge producing this kind of altar bread to support themselves?

  10. Elizabeth D says:

    The Cistercian nuns should get on it fast, in fact patent the idea, and charge lots of money for them and get their monastery built.

  11. APX says:

    Or we could get liturgical tongs and have another server following the priest around with a cup of Everclear to sanitize the tongs.

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  13. khouri says:

    Really? I think most folks have forgotten how hosts are made. You might want to contact the nuns who make hosts. The costs to change the presses that now cut the bread in round shapes would be astonomical. Not to mention presses have to be tooled for change in shape. Dream on.

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