ACTION ITEM: A tip for receiving Communion on the tongue in time of COVID-1984: HOLD YOUR BREATH!

In this time of COVID-1984, where up is down and back is front and clocks are melting off the edges of tables, there are some in high places in the Church who are determined to ban Communion on the tongue.  Determined.  They come up with one thing after another.

I saw in one diocesan document the patent falsehood that Communion on the tongue results in frequent contact between fingers and the tongue.

I’ll admit that contact could happen if the priest doesn’t know what he’s doing and if the communicant doesn’t stay still.  Moving targets are harder to hit.  Holding the Host wrong makes it harder to place.

So, people, BE STILL.

So, Fathers, use your BRAIN.

I’ve also seen the excuse that people are breathing when they receive on the tongue.  Yes, indeed.  Breathing.

Apparently, breathing on the priest’s hand is lethal.  For the priest, maybe?  Hands don’t breathe back, so the next communicant isn’t in danger from that.  And priests can use hand sanitizer.

But let’s try to take that breathing point seriously for a moment.  We can eliminate this excuse in a simple way.

Hold your breath when you receive Communion on the tongue. 

Since churches are re-opening, let’s review a few tips for receiving Communion on the tongue.

Here’s a spiffy old drawing from a good, old fashioned catechism.  My notes in red.

A) Neither head back nor tongue out.
B) Hands in the way of the paten.
C) Head back.  Tongue not out.
D) Tongue out.  Good.  Head down.  Bad.

Allow me to add



If your pastoral overlords… er um… bishops and chancery types, are worried about you breathing on the priest’s hand, thus ushering in human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, then confound their expectations and, when receiving on the tongue…


Is this hard?

No, it is not.

And if you are from a culture where you are taught to take the Host with your teeth, okay… but a) do NOT bite the priest who may be surprised by what you are doing and b) think about not doing it that way.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    From my experience.
    1) They breath while they are opening the mouth, so I wait longer before putting the hand close.
    2) I say “Corpus Christi” earlier than usual, so they say “Amen” also earlier (Yes, no TLM), so, they do not say it while my hand is close.
    3) If someone just opens a bit his mouth but without pulling the tongue out, I tell him clearly to do it, so as to avoid touching the lips.

  2. Fr. Reader says:

    4) To avoid quarrels, to those who want to receive in the mouth, I suggest them to place themselves at the end of the queue, so those more sensitive do not feel annoyed.

  3. Jack in NH says:

    Always remember, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  4. Thomas S says:

    I would propose an addendum to rule E from experience:

    Close your eyes. Not seeing the priest’s action makes you less likely to try to subtly compensate with movements.

  5. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Father: the potential problem is not that the priest’s blessed hands “breathe back” on the next communicant. The problem is not the “air” of the breath at all but that tiny respiratory droplets containing viral particles may land on the finger tips of the priest who then may coat the next Host with the droplets and place the droplet-coated Host, thereby, in the next communicant’s mouth.

    I only receive on the tongue. As a physician I think it wise that the Communicant breathe gently while kneeling and waiting and then take a deep breath and hold it as the priest pulls their Host out and begins the prayer (at the TLM). That way they are only holding their breath for a few seconds at most and they are less likely to let out a big exhalation or move their mouth/lips at the worst possible moment. And holding your breath with your mouth open results in a glottic closure which should truly stop the passive flow of air from the lower respiratory tract or nasopharynx where viral particles are shed in the highest quantities.

    In any case, holding my breath like this is how I have received EVERY time since I started attending the TLM and receiving exclusively on the tongue a decade ago. I did this before COVID. But as a surgeon and former Microbiology lab worker I have a sense of how microbiological contamination works so its second nature.

    [On the other hand, this isn’t the Andromeda Strain. Nothing is ever going to be 100%. How on earth did we survive as a race and as a Church till now? (Communion less frequently was an option, back in the day.)]

  6. JustaSinner says:

    This crapdemic has me so amazed. Bishops, who aren’t even proficient in their world–Liturgy and Rituals of Christ’s Church—are miraculously virology experts rivaling those consulting governments!
    I know those consulting the government have agendas, so I guess same goes with Bishops.

  7. JustaSinner says:

    And finally, to ALL PRIESTS: Why the rush??? Mass is the most fantastic mystery any human can witness, participate or be a part of. Forty five minute Mass? What? Even an hour, what? Let’s all take our time and saviour the time with Christ like we would savor the last hour of our lives.
    So take some extra time and explain HOW TO RECEIVE COMMUNION—in the hand, in the mouth. Be precise, be firm and take your time. Explain this to everyone. So Mass is 85 minutes…any Karens’ that complain need to be patiently explained what for and why now. Remember, you are the Shepard, we are the flock. No Shepard is successful by not taking charge and control. But the best Shepards do this without yelling, abuse and tantrums. Emulate Jesus, the best Shepard Ever!!!
    My personal rant over…

  8. comedyeye says:

    The virus attacks the respiratory system.
    Viral particles ingested on food do not enter the respiratory system but the digestive system. An MD said it would be highly unlikely to contract Covid this way.

  9. APX says:

    We need to be careful about breathing (and speaking) moistly. Apparently now the moisture from our breath lingers in the air in tiny aerosols that contain the virus.

    We Canadians have a catchy PSA on the whole speaking moistly thing:

  10. Ariseyedead says:

    I held my breath when I clicked on this blog post, and then I exhaled with a big sigh of relief after I read it. ;-)

  11. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I’m an MD and I agree it is unlikely.

    But anatomically your argument doesn’t make sense.

    The virus ATTACKS the respiratory system but it INFECTS the upper aerodigestive system which means the mouth and the nose. Its called the aerodigestive system because these entry structures lead to both the lower respiratory system as well as the digestive system. And in truth, it also causes disease in the upper aerodigestive system. Loss of sense of smell is a very common symptom for COVID because it attacks the nose as well.

    Your argument is like saying HIV doesn’t infect the sexual organs because the virus attacks the white blood cells to cause disease. In fact HIV is in the semen and all body fluids but the disease it causes (AIDS) is an immunodeficiency due to deranged / infected white blood cells. The point of entry (sex) is logically distinct from the site of disease manifestation (immune system).

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    There is a scientific term for the idea that people are breathing when they receive on the tongue – it’s called, speculation.

    While the physics of receiving on the tongue is a fascinating and much more complicated process than one might think, given that the whole event lasts for approximately 1 second, nevertheless, the subject of breathing during the reception of Communion has, at least indirectly, been studied.

    Intra-oral compartment pressures: a biofunctional model and experimental measurements under different conditions of posture

    Wilfried Engelke, Klaus Jung, and Michael Knösel

    Clinical Oral Investigations, 2011, Apr.; 15(2): 165-176

    Their results:

    “Twenty subjects with normal occlusion were evaluated during the open-mouth condition (OC), gently closed lips (semi-open compartment condition, SC), with closed compartments after the generation of a negative pressure (CCN) and swallowing (SW). Pressure curve characteristics were compared between the different measurement phases (OC, SC, CCN, SW) as well as between the two compartments (IOS, SPS) using analysis of variance and Wilcoxon matched-pairs tests adopting a significance level of ??=?0.05. Both null hypotheses were rejected. Average pressures (IOS, SPS) in the experimental phases were 0.0, ?0.08 (OC); ?0.16, ?1.0 (SC); ?48.79, ?81.86 (CCN); and ?29.25, ?62.51 (SW)?mbar.”

    In other words, there is a zero or negative (inward) pressure during a stationary open mouth (0 or -.08 millibars, depending on where it is measured). Most people, on opening their mouth draw a small amount of air inward (negative pressure), then, on thrusting out the tongue, I suspect a glottal stop occurs, so breathing stops, unless they specifically will themselves to breath (as the article points out) or unless specific event-driven respiration is occurring, as in laughter. So, one has to actively breath with one’s mouth open. The default condition is no breathing, if I am interpreting this article, correctly.

    There is almost no danger of breathing while receiving on the tongue while the mouth is open and the tongue is out. The pressure is either zero or inward, especially once the tongue is thrust out.

    Aspiration can occur before and after the Communion event (barring the activation of the gag reflex while receiving, which is very rare), but we call that, regular breathing, and that occurs during reception either on the tongue or in the hand.

    A typical person waits for the priest for about 30 seconds to 1 minute before receiving on the tongue or hand, if they are kneeling, and about 10 seconds while standing near the priest (I am not counting the time waiting in line, only when they get close enough to the priest for breathing to become significant for him). These are periods of stagnant breathing, where a breath plume is formed around the person. According to one non-peer reviewed study on the Medrxiv server, Estimation of SARS-CoV-2 emissions from non-symptomatic cases,
    one stagnant breath event (without talking) releases .34 virions/cm^2, so in 30 seconds, that would be 10.02 virions, which is very likely well below the viral load necessary to infect someone, assuming that the air is stagnant and not being blown around (given that most churches are air-conditioned during the summer, however, even this is unlikely).

    There is a durational component for how long one has to be in contact with an infected person’s breath and usually talking (which generates about 2600 aerosol particles/ second, orders of magnitude more than while quietly breathing) before the aspirated viral load becomes large enough to be dangerous. Plus, the movement of the priest along the altar rail creates airflow that dispersed the air plume in the case of kneeling and the Communicants motion in line does the same while standing in line.

    In addition, the virus particles are attracted to water vapor by London forces and the smaller the size of the aerosol, the larger the attraction, so it is an open question if breathing, in itself, without talking (which generates more and larger particles), can transmit the SARS-COV2 virus, at all. The choir that got infected, probably, got infected through speaking/singing, not through breathing.

    All that being said, there is very little chance of anyone getting infected by breathing during actual Communion.

    Touching saliva or hand sweat during Communion is a different thing, but I am unaware of any empirical studies of viral transmission in these cases during Communion, although it something that is readily measured. Perhaps, the USCCB could invest a modest amount of money to get a virologist to actually do an experiment using nanoparticles instead of letting people speculate about this.

    The Chicken

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    Small mistake: that is .34 virus copies/ cm^3 per breath (a volume) and breathing rate is 12-20 per minute, so about 4.08 – 6.8 virus copies in a minute or 2.04 – 3.4 in 30 seconds.

    The Chicken

  14. JTH says:

    Back in March I didn’t buy into the hysteria. Still don’t. The numbers don’t support the reaction (overreaction).

    But even if the virus was a lot worse, why are we not willing to sacrifice for future generations? This overreaction and subsequent economic depression will affect generations way down the line, not to mention the attempted coup of our freedoms by the socialists.

    Time for us to harden up. We’re way to soft.

  15. Adelle Cecilia says:

    Every time I see that image of “some wrong ways,” I believe that “D” looks like the way that the shortened quote used for the in-hand=original argument attributed to St. Cyril.
    Cloth-covered hand, bending down to receive on the tongue, without touching the host with the actual hands…?

    Also, I guess I’ll take extra care to hold my breath, but I feel like that (holding one’s breath) is how people who ONLY receive on the tongue ALWAYS receive. Anything else brings to mind the image of a panting dog, which I have never felt while receiving.

  16. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I love that you take this stuff even more thoughtfully serious than I do, Chicken.

  17. veritas vincit says:

    In contemplating return to the Mass (NO) on Pentecost, I have devoted a great deal of thought as to how to receive on the tongue. In addition to holding my breath, I plan to make the required response (“Amen”) silently, simply moving my lips so the minster knows I have responded. In this way I hope to avoid breathing on the minister. (The TLM does have an advantage here, as no response is required from the communicant).

    The real question is will my parish allow me to receive on the tongue and how they react. If receiving on the hand is insisted on, I will submit in charity and obedience. But I’ll try to receive on the tongue.

  18. ChesterFrank says:

    “I’ve also seen the excuse that people are breathing when they receive on the tongue. Yes, indeed. Breathing.” When getting the COVID-19 test, where do they insert the Q-tip and why? Viruses have are small , it doesn’t take much of a breath for that viral particle to transfer from one’s spittle flecked and COVID-19 laced exhale to a priests hand.

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