ASK FATHER: Hand sanitizer and particles of the Host

I’ve seen various guidelines from dioceses and from a USCCB committee which – properly – uphold distribution of Communion on the tongue during these COVID-1984 phases.  They say with variations that the minister can or must use hand sanitizer between communicants.    They say that only for Communion on the tongue, by the way.

That brings up an interesting problem: particles of Host that might then be caught up in or imbued with hand sanitizer.

What to do as a priest distributing Communion?  Wash my hands after repeatedly using sanitizer and then consume the liquid?

We must not knowingly put particles down the sacrarium, because that could be improper treatment of the Blessed Sacrament and perhaps an occasion to incur a serious censure.

What to do?

Here’s an idea.

I’ll appoint a Special Minister of Sanitizer to follow at my left along at the rail.

He will hold a silver tray with well-chilled martini, very dry, and with a lemon twist.

I like the Sipsmith’s Navy Strength Gin, which is 57.7%.  Lemon is, after all, traditionally used to purify the fingers after distribution of palms or ashes or anointing.

After distributing Communion to each communicant, I would then dip my digits in the martini.

Afterwards, I would probably have to consume the martini.  To avoid, you know, sacrilege.

Otherwise, perhaps a small bowl of 90% Everclear which could after Mass be set ablaze?  Probably not to consume while on fire.

I’m open to other suggestions. 

I can hear it already: “Hey, Father!  I have another suggestion!  How about Bombay Sapphire?”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I heard the notion of using hand sanitizer between communicants. Perhaps those suggesting that solution are innumerate? Let’s consider a small parish:
    250 parishioners
    30 seconds for effective use of hand sanitizer
    therefore: 250 x 30 / 60 = 125 minutes of sanitizing, in addition to the minutes required for the actual distribution.
    So practical!

  2. I suggest a finger bath in Stroh 80 and drinking the bath rum after each communicant. The deacon and subdeacon can haul you in a sedia gestatoria back to the altar from the communion rails after spending the Holy Communion.

  3. mthel says:

    Oh, tisk tisk, Father. Haven’t you heard about the newest church minister? The EMHS (Extraordinary Minister of Hand Sanitizer)? I’ve heard Church Lady Karen has already volunteered for that position for every Sunday Mass from now until her untimely death from over exposure to Purell fumes.

  4. TonyO says:

    Heh, great ideas!

    Unfortunately, after dipping fingers in the martini (or should it then be referred to as “Martini”), it will no longer be well chilled. [This is a good point. Perhaps the glass should rest on some ice?] I am afraid you would have to suffer for the sake of the liturgy! [I’m willing to do so.]

    I also wonder what would result if you used a really high-alcohol-content liquor, like 151 Rum or similar vodka? Actually, that raises a question: what happens to the Host in that environment. In the stomach it ceases to be under the visible species of bread within 5 to 10 minutes (I have heard various estimates), but in a goblet of alcohol, would it cease to be bread even faster? That raises a different question, would such practice imply “destroying the host” not-by-eating-it (i.e. even before you can manage to drink the beverage)? And would that be sacrilegious? Maybe you have to bless the martini first. :-)

  5. Nathanael says:

    Marcus, the Stroh is a nice suggestion, but one I’d alter slightly: My go-to float for rum old fashioned cocktails is generally the Stroh 160, which I use for similar purposes, viz. preventing my beverage from incurring any sort of bacterial or viral contamination before I’m able to finish it. It has the added benefit of being both delicious and aromatic, which go far to reduce the, ah… serious drawback of its higher alcohol content.
    The higher proof makes for a better sanitization, and would help reduce the problem noted by wmeyer.

  6. fr.ignatius says:

    You stand stationary, next to you have a elevated table,

    upon the table is the ciborium which you place and open.

    next to the ciborium is already placed a push down hand santizer with a large push down area that can be pushed with a palm very easily, next to it you have a purificator.

    With your right hand you pick up a sacred host, you feed the communicant,
    then you place the joined thumb and forefinger of the right hand under the push down sanitizer,
    with your left hand you push the sanitizer so foam falls upon the joined thumb and forefinger,

    then you seperate the thumb and forefinger and dry them into the purificator.

    I am doing this all the time at the hospital at the bedsides, just with a pyx rather than a ciborium there.

  7. @Nathanael:
    Well, I am from Europe, the state north of Austria, where the rum is from. We measure in %vol, i.e. how much ml pure alcohol are in 100ml of the liquid. In european notation there is no higher Stroh rum alcohol.

    [Once, many many years ago, I was in Austria. I blew a couple of days budget on a ticket to The Marriage of Figaro in Salzburg. Hence, I had to spend a night in my car. With various things to nibble and a small bottle of Stroh, I parked on a small road on the side of a mountain over a magnificent lake, and listened to the broadcast of the opera I had attended over the radio… as the sun went down. I’ll never forget Stroh.]

  8. Longinus says:

    I think we should keep this in the Church family. Yes, we have an app for that, known to knock the devil out of anything:
    Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse, 142 proof , 71% alcohol.

    [Okay. I’ve actually tried that! But in the quantity I would need for my finger tips? Whew.]

  9. Imrahil says:

    I think if sanitizing before every Communion is wanted, the following procedure seems rather legitimate.

    1. Bring a large bowl (e. g., salad bowl), lots of water, the sanitizer, and two towels. (Not Two Towers, as in the Lord of the Rings, but two towels.)

    2. Before every Communicant, wash the hands with water. (Also before the first of them; because the hands may still contain the particles of the elevation, which is why the fingers are kept close together in the Old Rite.) Do so by holding the hands over the bowl and pour water over them.

    Note it needn’t be much water; only as much water as to sensibly wash away any particles, without, however, scrupulosity.

    3. Dry the hands briefly with towel A, sanitize them, and after a brief time for the sanitation to have effect, dry them with towel B. Towel B is only touched at its upper two corners by the altar-boy who reaches it to the priest.

    (Note that the sanitizing itself may be very brief. One of its objectives is to appease those responsible for health issues and make clear that we are actually not laughing at their efforts. The other objective is to actually combat Covid-19; but the actual experts say that while hand hygiene is a big issue here, specifically using clinical sanitizers is not; water and soap would likewise do alost all of the trick. From which, I tend to assume that water without the soap would do the larger part of it.)

    3. Communion.

    4. After all Communions, drink the water in the salad bowl (which does not contain any hand sanitizer). In Mass, I guess this might be done either immediately, or the bowl just brought to the credence and drunk-out afterwards. I don’t think it’s altogether wrong if an altar boy or sacristan drinks the water if this altar boy or sacristan has Communicated during the Mass and not eaten in the meantime. However, care is to be taken that the water does not drop to the floor but will be caught.

    5. Afterwards, wash the bowl with pure water and put this water down the Sacrarium. Note that the water originally used to wash the hands is not put down the Sacrarium.

    6. Of course, if one actually sees a particle, greater care must be taken.

    But yes, having an actually drinkable hand sanitizer does have its charm – and would per se be quite reverent, in the current circumstances. I personally wouldn’t be sure, though, whether it’s still reverent to add lemon juice, tonic water and the like afterwards to make the taste better.

  10. Imrahil says:

    Note: “towel A”, the hand which drys the hands after contact with the Blessed Sacraments but not after contact with the hand sanitizer, would conceivably be the liturgical towel used even in normal circumstances for drying the hands after Holy Communion.

    [You are soooo German.  o{];¬)  ]

  11. Nathanael says:

    Marcus, even better; we’re talking about the same stuff then! It’s quite a tasty rum, and over here I’ve seen 40% and 80% versions – 80 and 160 proof respectively, which threw me off.
    I’ll raise a glass to you and your neighbors this evening.

  12. anj says:

    A dry Martini? You need to broaden your horizons with some good Vermouth. I recommend Dolan.

    [Yes. Dry. Like my humor. And the vermouth is Dolin. You have excellent taste in blogs but in martinis… well….]

  13. Fr. Reader says:

    Do we really believe in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
    Often I want to ask certain people this question, but might be too rude.

  14. abwojcik says:

    @Fr. Reader- Great question

    Here is an idea:
    Soak purificators is bleach solution (1/3 cup bleach per 1 gal water)
    Place moist purificator over non-dominant arm holding the ciborium.
    Disinfect finger tips between recipient. (No need to disinfect hand when only finger tips are exposed)
    Properly clean purificators as protocol dictates.

    Also, if one does not have the virus they will not have it in their saliva. However, if one does not have the virus they may still be carrying the virus on the hands. Which is riskier?

  15. APX says:

    Soak purificators is bleach solution (1/3 cup bleach per 1 gal water)

    Purificators are made out of linen, which is expensive. Bleach will weaken the fibres in the cloth and cause it to fall apart and tear pre-maturely.

  16. Jeff says:

    In all seriousness, Everclear is a great option for sanitizing because it doesn’t leave anything behind such as perfumes, and there is no risk of anyone inadvertently consuming isopropanol. Everclear 151 is adequate to kill any bugs and won’t dry your hands as much as the stronger stuff. Perhaps an altar server could trail you with a small spray bottle, dispensing some onto your hands between communicants?

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  18. kat says:

    I don’t think it’s rude at all! And while, no, we don’t expect scientific miracles during Communion, I think TRUST is a big issue. The chances of contracting a virus during Communion are certainly possible. Yet can we not trust in Our Lord, Who longs to be united with us, in the same manner as the woman with the issue of blood: “If I touch only the hem of His garment, I shall be healed!” We are touching more than the hem!

    And IF God ALLOWS us to actually receive a germ and to actually get sick from it (whether at Communion or elsewhere in life), then He will bring a greater good from that evil, as He always does.

  19. kat says:

    Also, it doesn’t have to be between all communicants. A whole family can come up together and receive. Our priests are giving confession and communion to families by appointment. They take turns sitting in church for two hours while another hears confessions, then they switch. We go to the church and receive the Sacraments. Not once has the priest touched my tongue. After each group, he purifies his fingers and then washes with sanitizer. They are even more careful than usual, and usually don’t touch the tongue.

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    “I parked on a small road on the side of a mountain over a magnificent lake…”

    The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.

    “…and listened to the broadcast of the opera I had attended over the radio…”

    The Overture to Marriage of Figaro is sublime.

  21. Dan says:

    Fine points and fine dry Martini or Rum always does the trick! We should also remember the history of Gin Tonic, one of my personal favourites.

    More seriously, I have worked in elderly home and there proper hand hygiene is a deal breaker. In order to uphold distribution of Communion on the tongue, I recommend cautious procedures. Surely Our Lord takes good care of us. The Holy Eucharist as such does not take transmit the virus but our actions might. I have assisted many celebrations of mass in elderly homes. The priests always take good measures in their hand hygiene. I think it is one way to show charity to our neighbours, as Christ commanded us to do.

    Water and soap or 80% alcohol solution should disable the virus. Soap and alcohol are the active components in the deactivation of the virus. Hand sanitizer is effective hygienically when it has dried off. Perhaps the best option for the distribution would be if you 1) rinse the holy particles in water (bowl number one), then wash your hand(s) with soap (bowl number two) and dry them / use Hand sanitizer so that it dries off well 3) only then distribute for the next communicant. During the distribution one should be super careful not to touch communicant’s mouth. I suppose as the holy particles loose their “breadness” in the water (thus are not anymore Eucharistc bread ?), one might pour that water to the sacrarium? The soap water could be poured to the churchyard?

    NB. I am not a doctor. For adequate information on proper hand hygiene, please consult your own doctor. Use this information at your own responsibility.

    Hand sanitarise

  22. scholastica says:

    We go to an SSPX drive-in Mass. At communion, each family group comes to altar rail. After each car load, the priest purifies his fingers in the ablution cup , then cleans with soap and water or sanitizer before the next group approaches. I don’t know how they treat the ablution cup afterwards. Perhaps let the particles dissolve and then dispose in sacrarium. I don’t think they drink it. It’s quite a process, but admirable to see their devotion to giving the sacraments to the faithful.

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  24. khouri says:

    Seriously, among the Orthodox it is common when the Body and Blood of the Lord fall to the floor to pour Restina (or it’s equivalent) on the spot and set it afire. Any remaining particles of the Holy Gifts are then consumed.

    Given the fact that many Latin churches have carpet this is not practical.

    Adapting this practice during the current mess, at my parish we are using an old purifacator in a small bowl soaked in Restina, (but Everclear is good too). If the priest or deacons touch the lips, tongue or hand of the communicant they wipe their fingers on the soaked cloth.

    These purifactors are treated in the same way as those used to wipe and cleanse the chalice at Mass. The purifacator is left to soak for a period of time in clean water which is poured into the sacrarium (or on the ground where no one will walk…say against a wall with bushes in front). Then it along with all purificators are washed by hand, usually line dried and folded and pressed as usual. All the safeguards for reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament are kept.

    Some of us priests are required to use some method of sanitizing the fingers if we touch the hands or lips of a communicant. So this is what we are doing to comply with this “order” from the bishop.

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