ASK FATHER: Words of comfort for those whose bishop demand Communion only on the hand?

From a priest…


I am a parish priest in a Midwestern diocese. Our bishop is allowing us to celebrate the Mass publicly again soon. One of the stipulations is that communion can only be given in the hand. Do you have any words of comfort or wisdom for members of my congregation who only receive on the tongue?

Since I have not seen the wording, the text, of what the bishop sent out, I can’t say much.  Past experience suggests that these documents really express the preference of the bishop (or rather the one who wrote it for the bishop) but expressed in such a highfalutin way that people who read it thing that it is a legitimate law, even when it contradicts the Church’s universal laws.

On that last point, the 2004 document Redemptionis Sacramentum from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments still has force today for the whole Latin Church.  Bishops cannot override it.   They – or rather their ghost writers – can try to get people to think they can, but they can’t.

Redemptionis Sacramentum …

[91.] In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”.[Code of Canon Law, can. 843 § 1; cf. can. 915.] Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.

[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, [Cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio Generalis, n. 161.] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful. [Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Dubium: Notitiae 35 (1999) pp. 160-161.]

91 says that, seeking to receive Communion via reception on the tongue is “a reasonable manner”, even in this time.

92 says, “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice”.   Those are words of comfort.

Then, 92 warns about the risk of profanation via Communion on the hand.  It says nothing of risk of profanation via Communion on the tongue.  Why?  Because Communion on the tongue is really the normative way to receive.  This is why permissions were give to depart from the norm.

Bishops cannot override this.

When the coronavirus thing was revving up, the Archdiocese of Portland quite properly cited Redemptionis Sacramentum in this matter.  Archbp. Sample is a superb canonist and has a strong liturgical sense.   I can’t think of a more reliable and knowledgeable bishop on liturgical law in these USA.

Not rarely, decrees that emanate from chanceries about traditional liturgical practices sound rather official, but a careful reading will often reveal that they convey preferences.

Finally, I’ll repeat what I have written before.  There is far greater risk of hand to hand contact when Communion is distributed on the hand than there is risk of hand to tongue contact when the communicant receives properly.  Think about what hands have been touching before Communion.

His dictis, obedience to the universal law in the face of the local bishop’s contrary preferences can earn the priest a really hard path.  It is unfair for a bishop to put a priest in a hard spot: obey the Church’s legitimate law or knuckle under to the bishop’s personal preferences.

If the bishop is a bully, he can harass a priest in a thousand ways.   If a priest gives in, do not blame or pick on him.  And if people, because of an unjust imposition, are denied their right in this regard, then offer it up – an act of persecution – in reparation for offenses against the Eucharistic Lord via Communion in the hand and receptions in the state of mortal sin.

Also, there are times when the bishop is with his powers to issue decrees about his preferences and he issues a document that actually cites law accurately.  In that case, priests don’t have much of a choice but to tug the forelock and obey, no matter how odious.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. visigrad22 says:

    In the very sad situation where the priest will not allow communion on the tongue it was suggested by a priest that the communicant use his/her tongue to receive the host from his/her hand and lick any remaining particles from their hand while standing in from of the priest. One can hope this will have a positive effect on the priest.

  2. Fr PJM says:

    This might be a good moment be a good moment to remark that receiving Communion in the hand, with proper dispositions of the soul, and taking very great care of the Fragments, is not a sacrilege, and, if again, very great and efficacious care is taken about the Fragments, and the pertinent indult is in place, it is not a profanation.
    Here is sacrilege according to the vocabulary and teaching of the Church: receiving Holy Communion in unrepented mortal sin, reproducing the kiss of Judas, as the Curé of Ars remarked.
    This plea for the good terminology done, I state that I want to see an end to Communion in the Hand as soon as possible, and an end to the widespread profanation of the Fragments that it occasions, and also –yes– the sacrilege: easier stealing of the Host for Satanic purposes.

  3. Hidden One says:

    To me it seems that a bishop declaring the reception of the Communion on the tongue to be forbidden, which has no juridical effect whatsoever, is one of the worst kinds of bad ecclesiastical laws.

    If a bishop commands a priest (or deacon or EMHC) not to do something that it is that person’s right by universal law to do, the person can (usually) licitly choose to obey. For example, a parish priest commanded not to celebrate his day-off OF Mass ad orientem at the freestanding altar in his parish church can always offer his Mass versus populum.

    But when a priest (or deacon or EMHC) is commanded to give Communion but not to give Communion on the tongue, that person is being commanded to deny someone else’s right. So the one receiving the command is bound–under obedience to the Church, no less–not to follow the command. Following it would be disobedience to Pope Francis, whose authority as Vicar of Christ, Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, (etc.,) upholds Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued ultimately under authority granted by one of his predecessors and maintained to this day.

    It’s a terrible position for the recipient of the invalid command to be in.

  4. APX says:

    The real problem occurs for those who attend Mass in the EF where communion in the hand isn’t even an option. When this started, our bishop said that communion in the hand and communion on the tongue didn’t create more of a risk, but now we have the health ministers saying that the Coronavirus is spread by people breathing and the aerosols caused by breathing. Our bishops just announced that they were working with our health officials to come up with guidelines for when we can resume having Masses. As it is, our chief medical officer doesn’t want anyone handling the same objects or anything that would cause bodily fluid transfers. I’m not feeling hopeful that COTT will be permitted. The real interest will be whether or not singing will be allowed.

  5. APX says:

    I strongly discourage licking fragments from one’s hands. Your hands are dirty and so is everything you touch. Keep a small bottle of holy water on your person and use it to purify your hands afterwards when you return to your pew. Wipe your hands dry with a tissue and burn it when you can and dispose of the ashes appropriately. Don’t lick your hands. The last thing we need is a flare up of this virus to occur at Mass. Then it will be a long time before we have Mass again.

  6. Matt R says:

    From the guidelines from the diocese of Jefferson City (I won’t post the link because that seems to require moderation of the comments). “5. All concelebrating priests and deacons are to receive Holy Communion by intinction utilizing a separate chalice from the main celebrant and with the last clergy communicant consuming all that remains in the Chalice.”

    There’s no problem for concelebrants, but the deacons have to receive on the tongue, or else they self-communicate, which is illicit, and I would argue in an irreformable manner. This said, many Continental bishops (not only them, but especially) seem to think that self-communication is the way forward.

    However, this poses a problem, as the bishop goes on to prohibit communion on the tongue, which is the height of clericalism if the bishop’s going to allow communion on the tongue for deacons and then cause problems for other faithful who will not and cannot receive on the tongue, between the pangs of conscience and the law in force for the TLM, as well as the right to receive on the tongue enshrined by the CDW as Fr Z has quoted above.

    I would also suggest that priests who support their faithful in receiving on the tongue are in a bind, because many of them do not like communion in the hand and at the very least would not wish to deny the reception of communion for this reason.

    Either public worship is safe again, or it’s not, and I think that the American bishops risk creating more long-term problems within the church in the United States; people were already upset, and I think somewhat less legitimately, over cancelling Masses, but “communion for some” is certainly not a good look as we go back to celebrating the liturgy publicly. I’m all in favor of not receiving as frequently. However, it’s wrong that it’s coming by the default of what appears to be an unjust law and in some cases imposes the bishop’s ideological preference via an appeal to the common good and the safety of the flock. It should be up to the faithful and their confessors.

  7. APX says:

    seem to think that self-communication is the way forward.

    That’s theologically unsound. Jesus gives himself to us to receive, which is more perfectly relized when receiving from the priest, acting in persona Christi. We don’t take Jesus for ourselves. There was an exception made in the early Church for consecrated virgins following their consecration to be given eight consecrated hosts for the eight days following, but that was an exception made for those whom the Church set as the Spouses of Christ and as such, were given special privileges and treated with great honour.

  8. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    This is a great opportunity for the laity to respond, by refraining from communion at Mass..

    Imagine if the entire congregation at a TLM chose not to receive communion, rather than stick out one’s filthy hands? It would certainly be something the bishop would hear about the next day. (They did what? ALL of them?…)

    Even better would be for the priest to, after Mass, lead the congregation in reciting a spiritual communion prayer, such as Saint Alphonsus Ligouri’s:

  9. elijah408 says:

    I would like to see scientifically how receiving on the hand is the more “sanitary” option. If that’s the case then why are stores out of hand sanitizer and not mouthwash?

  10. SundaySilence says:

    Kenneth, thank you, thank you, thank you! The second spiritual communion prayer you have shown us is exactly what I need! The first one listed was becoming a stumbling block for me as it includes the phrase “I love Thee above all things…”. Those 6 words I was unable to pray, and caused tears, once it hit home how untrue they were and Who I was saying them to. During this extended retreat into the Covid Desert, I have become woefully aware of how many non-essential thoughts and (in)actions I have allowed to take precedence over my love for Jesus.
    Yes, my heart is contrite and my heart truly is a poor dwelling for the King of Kings. My desire is to receive the Holy Eucharist. My greatest desire is to receive Him as worthily into my heart as possible, until such time as I am able to worthily receive Him during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  11. Josephus Corvus says:

    If one is looking for an example of the phrasing that is used, take a look at this:

    LOTS of ridiculous directives and guidelines there. Now if one really wanted to get legalistic, one could point out that the definition being used contains a big loophole. DIRECTIVES are items that should be followed… “Should” does not mean “must”. However, I highly doubt that any priest going to challenge that one. This diocese like bowing before Caesar. I’ve been wondering what the Extraordinary Ordinary would have done?

  12. APX says:

    Josephus Corvus,

    Some of those make sense (ie: not having worship aids, hymnals, though I’ve never seen a Catholic open one up during Mass, etc, not having large choirs would make sense, but a small schola that could be distanced accordingly in a choir loft doesn’t seem like a huge issue, sanitizing pews and frequent contact points makes sense, as does frequent hand washing.). I really don’t understand the leaving money for three days before counting it, though. I handle cash everyday at work. I wear gloves and wash my hands very frequently. I don’t really understand the no communion on the tongue since eating directly out of unwashed hands is a greater risk. Are some sort of small tongs an option? (Ie: surgical forceps that can be quickly sanitized between communicant? Seems like the safest route). There does need to be some sort of organization of who attends which mass. I don’t like the idea of being assigned a time, which isn’t ideal anyways since the numbers will vary by households. I’m a household of one, whereas there are households of 12. Communion will take longer. Maybe this will get rid of that “everyone remain standing after receiving” rule that came out. This will also cut down on the use of EMHC. I think bishops need to work with priests offering Mass in the EF to work on things that are specific to the EF (ie: communion in the hand not being an option, use of the communion rail, granted it’s not specific to the EF). Bathrooms being cleaned between Masses will be difficult since that’s one of the first places people crowd into before and after Mass.

    The main thing I’ve noticed from working through this entire thing is that the more directives put in place, the less likely people are to follow them. I know everyone is all about “look out for one another” in all of this, but at the end of the day, look after yourself and take responsibility for your health. Wash your hands frequently, don’t: pick your nose, lick your fingers, stick your finger in your eyes, pick your teeth with your fingers, lick your hands, etc. Cough into your elbow, even if you’re wearing a mask, etc. if you’re going to wear gloves and masks, know how to use it safely and properly, etc.

  13. veritas vincit says:

    “I would like to see scientifically how receiving on the hand is the more “sanitary” option.”

    elijah408: I would love to see a scientific analysis either way. The perception among the public, clearly including priests and bishops, is that exposing your tongue is a bigger risk than receiving in the hand.

    My strong preference is to receive on the tongue. But my stronger preference is to receive, in any manner the Church permits.

    For anyone who would be allowed to receive on the hand but not on the tongue, whose conscience would understandably be offended, by all means assert your canonical rights to the bishop and if necessary to the Holy See, in the manner that Father Z has described, many times.

  14. comedyeye says:

    God killed a guy in 2 Kings because he touched the Ark to keep it from falling over during transport. So, no. HE doesn’t like that.

  15. Why can’t the priests give Communion on the tongue with tongs or tweezer-like instruments like in the Eastern Liturgy? If a communicate sticks their tongue out far enough and the tweezer/tong is long enough and grasped on the edge of the host, the tong would not touch the tongue. Just a thought.

  16. Josephus Corvus says:


    I would agree that a lot of this would have made sense IF it would have implemented in March rather than closing public celebration of the Mass altogether. Now, a lot of it is just ridiculous. The local Walmart allows up to 50% of the occupancy, but the church can only have 25%? And then following that up with limiting the number of Masses a priest can say. They should have temporarily removed the restriction on the number of Masses per priest. (Just as an example, my parish normally has one anticipation Mass and 3 Sunday Masses. The associate priest retired in December but was helping out on the weekends until the next formal round of assignments. I highly doubt that he will continue – which I agree with – since his retirement was medically related. Now what? FEWER Masses?). I also wonder about the assignments. Is that legal? Recommending that you go to a particular Mass, OK, but assigning sounds an awful like having a private Mass.

  17. enander24 says:

    Our local Diocesan priests admit that they often touch the mouth while distributing on the tongue. Consistently they offer Holy Communion with their index finger up instead of using their thumb up. Could Fr H or Grace force possibly do a short demonstration on how to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue without touching the person. Or is there a pic like you show above for priests?

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  19. JakeMC says:

    It is extremely difficult to avoid dropping Fragments when either receiving or distributing Communion in the hand, especially since most of these dropped Fragments are so small they cannot even be seen unless the floor/carpet is of a very dark color. Wouldn’t one possible solution be to have an altar boy hold a paten under the communicant’s hands to catch the Fragments, in the same manner the paten is held under the chin of a person receiving on the tongue?

  20. Uxixu says:

    Not saying it’s never happened, though I’ve served hundreds of Masses and never once seen it myself. I can count drops on a couple hands, which is what the paten and/ or houseling cloth is for. The ones I’ve heard are mostly diocesan priests and (Heaven forbid) Extraordinary Monsters who are unfamiliar with the technique of placement or how to hold the fingers.

    Some faithful don’t help by not tilting their head back or sticking out their tongue and should be helping facilitate easy reception without risk of dropping.

    Especially when observing new attendees to the TLM, always advise the priest giving the homily to make a brief mention of it, if possible.

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  23. khouri says:

    I have no problem distributing Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand.
    I would have a serious problem if someone received in the hand and then stood in front of me and kicked their hand. In fact, their passive aggressive act would leave me wondering if the person was properly disposed.
    The Bishops should not infantilize the laity by closing churches and depriving the faithful of the Holy Eucharist. It is the right of Catholics to ask for and receive the Sacrament. We do not need “big brother bishop” or “paternalistic daddy bishop” treating the faithful (and I mean those who are truly devout) like they are ignorant of their spiritual needs.
    If someone asks for Holy Communion, I know them and they are asking out of hunger for the Bread of Life I will give them the Holy Eucharist.
    In the same way if a person is going to show disrespect for both the Holy Gifts and the priest by demonstrating their displeasure at the method of receiving the Lord’s Body I would address this foolish behavior after Mass.

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