Bp. Folda of @fargodiocese opines about people who desire Communion on the tongue during Coronavirus

The Diocese of Fargo is one of the US dioceses which has improperly banned Communion on the tongue, in the context of the Wuhan Corona Lockdown Virus.  This ultra vires policy flies in the face of Redemptionis Sacramentum 92.

Fargo also violated Summorum Pontificum in applying this unfortunate ban to the Traditional Latin Mass, wherein it is not permitted to distribute Communion in the hand.

Responding to challenges to this power play, Bp.  John Thomas Folda, responded that:

Some have said that in conscience they cannot receive Communion in the hand, and so will not receive the Eucharist at all if they cannot receive it on the tongue. This seems to elevate a personal preference or stance to a higher level than the value of Holy Communion itself. There is nothing inherently irreverent in receiving Communion in the hand; the highest authority of the Church allows it. If one’s conscience places a higher value on a physical posture or manner of receiving than on the Sacrament itself, then I would conclude that the conscience is erroneous and has been improperly formed. It would make no sense to deprive oneself of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, merely because Communion cannot be received on the tongue.

At first glance, this dismissive attitude about the sensibilities of the faithful about their reverence for the Eucharist is a bit alarming.

However, there is a lot more that is troubling in this argument.

Let’s first review a few things.

The Holy See has permitted that people may alternatively receive Communion on the hand.  Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is the rule, and reception on the hand is an exception to the rule.  Communion on the hand is allowed by an indult.  The norm for the Latin Church is Communion on the tongue.

The indult for Communion on the hand was granted because of widespread violation of the law.

The excuse for the violation of the law about proper distribution was founded on an erroneous archaeologism.   Claims have been made for years that the original way that Communion was received was directly in the hand.   However, it cannot be established that this was a universal practice in the Early Church.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) is often quoted as writing: “placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King … receive the body of Christ.”  However, this seems not to be an authentic text of Cyril.  Also, reading on, the text describes dipping one’s fingers in the Precious Blood to touch one’s eyes, etc., and, as it were, consecrate the senses.  A good idea?

St. Basil of Caesarea (+379) wrote about taking the Eucharist with the hand to others in time of persecution.   We are today in the still relatively calm West in a time of persecution, but not like the persecutions of yore.  And do you think they received the Host in their hands or in a container or cloth?

Various ancient Councils and synods strictly inveighed against Communion on the hand, threatening excommunication.  Why?  Because our understanding of what the Eucharist is matured over time.  With that greater understanding came greater discipline.  Later writers were able to put into words that greater understanding, also with rigorous tools of reason.

St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) argues in his Summa Theologiae (III, q. 82, a. 3) against lay people touching the Eucharist with their hands, saying that:

On the contrary, It is written (De Consecr., dist. 12): “It has come to our knowledge that some priests deliver the Lord’s body to a layman or to a woman to carry it to the sick: The synod therefore forbids such presumption to continue; and let the priest himself communicate the sick.”

I answer that, […] Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency.

“Out of reverence towards the sacrament….”Bp. Folda wrote: “There is nothing inherently irreverent in receiving Communion in the hand; the highest authority of the Church allows it.”

Is Folda’s argument good?  Popes, the highest authority, allow this, therefore it must be okay? The highest authority of the Church, Pope Paul IV, created the Roman ghetto for Jews.  Pope Stephen had his predecessor Formosus exhumed, tried, hacked up and thrown in the Tiber.   One could multiply instances of really bad decisions which were allowed, and even done, by Popes.   That argument is not very convincing.

Instead, I  think I will go with both Aquinas and the perennial liturgical practice of the Church which has since time immemorial consecrated the hands of priests with chrism precisely because they were to be, thereby, “proportioned” to handle the most sacred things, sacred vessels and the Eucharist.  The hands of lay people are not consecrated with chrism.

Moreover, if one were to respond that, today, lay people can handle sacred vessels and distribute the Eucharist, one could respond that over the last few decades we haven’t seen reverence for the Eucharist increase or even hold steady.  One factor of many, for sure, but certainly a factor.  Anything that so obviously diminishes a sense of the sacred cannot be good for our Catholic identity.

In his  Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger writes about gesture and posture.     He underscores how important different gestures are, for they embody the “psychosomatic unity of man”.  When you try to disembody this or that liturgical gesture, “the act of worship evaporates”.   Our gestures and postures are not indifferent, neutral, interchangeable.

No.  It is not true that there is no difference between reception of Communion on the tongue and reception on the hand.  There is a world of difference. As I have been saying for a long time: We ARE our rites!

The same Pope Ratzinger distributed Communion on the tongue.

By the way, in Spirit of the Liturgy you must read carefully the section about kneeling, prostratio.  Ratzinger reminds us that the inability to kneel is characteristic of the diabolical and that the Devil was often depicted as having no knees.

Let’s say that you, having pondered the sacrilege of scattering of particles of Hosts and having considered that Councils banned Communion on the hand, Aquinas explained that only the priest should touch the Sacrament (and the deacon when asked by the bishop) and that Communion on the tongue remains the Church’s preferred way of reception, want to receive only on tongue.  Bp. Folda thinks that you have a poorly formed conscience.   And you, having a poorly formed conscience, can’t decide for yourself according to your conscience and common sense and the Church’s clearly written law.  He will decide for you, and everyone else, by banning the Church’s preferred method of distribution.

There is strong evidence that Holy Church has for well-over a thousand years considered Communion in the hand to be irreverent.

Given that fact it makes sense – pace Folda – that people might choose not receive Communion at all if the way it is distributed is (contra legem) only on the hand.

Finally, I would add as I did elsewhere, that sometimes it seems that bishops may have a dislike for practice X or Y, but they have stronger feelings about the people who desire those practices.

Respectfully submitted.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    And THIS is precisely why, as warned, Shepards have had their Flocks taken from them.

    For me it comes down to, either the sacrament IS the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ or it is not. If it is, then we have to ask would God allow a virus to transmit through his Holy Body except that it be his will? If it is not, then limit the distribution all you want, who cares, we had an article in our paper the other day about protestant ministers telling people to gather what they had around the house, taco shells, diet coke, and grape juice so they could participate in communion via the internet.

    The protestants put all of their emphasis on the communal act, not on the fact that it TRULY IS the Body and Blood of our Lord and should be preserved and reverenced at all costs.

    Priests and Bishops and all of us, need to recognize the negative effects of our actions.” If we say all come for holy communion” and sling wafers out of little toy guns, ( I am picturing the little disc guns we used to play with as kids, they are probably not considered safe anymore) we are then NOT telling people that it is our Lord they are receiving and it is merely a communal meal.

    I am really not sure if some of these Bishops don’t believe or if they are just well-intentioned and stupid. I sincerely pray it is the latter.

  2. This is not the first time I have heard the argument that if we would rather not receive at all than receive in the hand, that means we don’t fully appreciate or truly value the Sacrament. This is from the same people who accuse traditionalists of being judgmental.

  3. Unwilling says:

    “…we haven’t seen reverence for the Eucharist increase or even hold steady.” Not to mention “belief in”. Vae, vae!

  4. richdel says:

    One wonders whether Bp. Folda would appeal to the “highest authority in the Church” were a married person to inform him that they had discerned in their conscience that it were permissible for them to practice artificial contraception.

  5. Simon_GNR says:

    It’s clear to me that some bishops are using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to ban communion on the tongue, an ancient, venerable and still licit way to receive the consecrated host. Thank you Fr Z for challenging these erroneous bishops with carefully reasoned argument. Bishops should know that have not the authority to outlaw communion on the tongue in their dioceses and that in purporting to do so they are acting ultra vires. I hope they get a lot of “push back” from the lay faithful in their dioceses who just want the Church’s laws and traditions to be observed and complied with.

  6. iamlucky13 says:

    “At first glance, this dismissive attitude about the sensibilities of the faithful about their reverence for the Eucharist is a bit alarming.”

    This sums up my view of it: this isn’t about looking holier-than-thou, and it’s not about a concern that God will smite me like Uzzah.

    I am willing to receive in the hand specifically because I recognize that there is a lot of poor information out there that leads other people to be distressed if they see me receive on the tongue. Since I am attending the novus ordo, it is allowed.

    However, my sensibility says that the act of receiving Christ is like no other, and that an outward expression of recognition informs my interior sense of this. Mere intellectual acknowledgement of His presence does not impress this reality into my consciousness as effectively as combining that acknowledgement with ritual action. I’d say there is a deep parallel with human relationships, where again, our outward actions inform our sense of those relationships far more deeply than our thoughts and words do.

    Regardless of whether Communion in the hand was common in the early Church, it soon became recognized that there is compelling spiritual reason to make the way we receive Christ clearly distinct from the way we take ordinary food, and that became the long-standing ritual tradition. There is also the metaphorical sense of how we view our hands as worldly instruments, distinct from the hands of the priest, consecrated for spiritual work.

    I’m not inclined to argue that using our hands is inherently irreverent, but I would call it “habitually irreverent,” and the norms help resolve that irreverence.

    These and other factors form a strong sensibility regarding the appropriateness of receiving on the tongue.

    The legal discussions back this up, but the Archbishop is misunderstanding us if he thinks this is all merely legalism.

    Thank you for sharing a little about the writings of Pope Benedict. Those sound very relevant and remind me I have several of his books on my reading list that I need to prioritize.

    “I would conclude that the conscience is erroneous and has been improperly formed. It would make no sense to deprive oneself of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, merely because Communion cannot be received on the tongue.

    Perhaps, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. The situation has arisen due to improper formation about the medical risk and lack of willingness to consider options that do not contravene the norm of receiving on the tongue, and can even mitigate the distress of those with excessive concerns. For example, I don’t see any significant issue with requesting those who wish to receive on the tongue wait until those who wish to receive on the hand have received Communion.

  7. Maureen M says:

    A note from MaureenM’s husband:
    Sadly, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is being relegated to the sidelines while the hand-or-tongue furor rages on. The devil is dancing with glee over the division.

    Bishop Folda says “there is nothing inherently irreverent in receiving Communion in the hand.” True. But it is also true that there is nothing INHERENTLY REVERENT about it, either. Our awe, our reverence for Our Lord must be the driving force behind our receiving Him in Communion, no matter how we receive Him. I believe a codicil here is that there is nothing INHERENTLY reverent or irreverent about receiving Our Lord on the tongue, either. Awe and reverence. Reverence and awe.

    If the faithful are to receive Communion in the hand, there must be renewed instruction on how to do it properly. Instructions were given over 50 years ago, but since then I haven’t heard one instruction to remind people how to do so properly, with reverence. This is the Master and Lord of the universe we are privileged to receive. He deserves our total attention on how we receive Him.

    The following is not meant to be snarky, but I do wonder why some members of the hierarchy bend over backwards to “accompany” people in irregular marriages, cohabitation situations, and homosexual activities, and yet seem to discover a backbone for standing up against people who receive Communion on the tongue. Let’s pour our energy into evangelizing our brother and sister Catholics about the Real Presence and not make the method for receiving Holy Communion a battleground.

  8. B says:

    There has to be more to this story… Bishop Folda is a good man and was a priest in the diocese of Lincoln before being consecrated bishop in North Dakota. He was known to be very solid in his theology and he was made a monsignor under Bishop Bruskewitz’s time.

    [I fully BELIEVE he is a good man! Unlike those with twitter switch blades I don’t want to cut him up. I think he made a mistake in THIS matter. And, if you think that being made a Monsignor means you are special, think again. After all, I want to be one.   o{]:¬)   ]

  9. Hidden One says:

    It’s worth noting that “the highest authority in the church” does not allow local bishops to forbid receiving Communion on the tongue.

    If, as a matter of principle, we are not going to forbid what the Church allows, let us please be consistent in so doing.

  10. This entire conversation, and the fact that any bishop would even make an issue of it, centers around a premise that receiving Communion in the hand is safer, while Communion on the tongue is more dangerous. And yet, the only relevant science of which I am aware, was the discovery announced by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, that receiving on the tongue is no more dangerous than receiving in the hand.

    So, where is every other bishop getting the idea that the hand is safer than the tongue? Where is the science?

  11. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    “Charity – a concern for others – cannot be
    set aside in our desire to give due reverence to our Lord in the context of our public worship.”
    Isn’t Charity, firstly and foremostly, about love of God. In fact, is it not the most fundamental aspect of Who God is? It’s an absolute fail if we suggest that an unfounded fear for the another’s health trumps the supreme love we owe God.

    [This may need a little more thought.]

  12. Pingback: THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  13. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Francis accuses traditional people of having a pathological mental disorder as he verbalized about rigid young priests and their cassocks and Saturno hats and such. It’s no wonder this sort of uncharitable attitude toward Tradition exists in the Episcopacy as well…

  14. SemperServusDei says:

    The very reason that Communion on the tongue is more “dangerous” in times of plague is that most EMHCs and some priests do not know how to properly place the Host on the tongue. When the communicant is standing to receive (another part of the problem), the mouth is almost always too high to dispense the Host with the thumb facing up… the forefinger will invariably touch the tongue or the lip of the communicant. When I was an EMHC long ago, I quickly learned that the best way to avoid unwanted contact was to place the Host with my palm facing down, 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers closed, holding the Host with my thumb and index finger only, and gently but firmly placing it on the tongue. This is not rocket science! It’s much more important than that…

  15. gaudete says:

    If I understand the scientific discussion correctly, it’s not so much about the touching of the tongue (of an potentially infected communicant) – sure, everyone agrees that would make the Priest have to disinfect his hand before continuing.
    But the virus is reportedly in the breath, aerosol, of the potentially infected communicant!
    So just the regular breathing in vicinity of the Priest’s hand, especially when speaking (NO “Amen”!) would leave the Priest’s hand – and the next Host he touches – infectious. He would have to disinfect his hands after each and any placing of the Host on someone’s tongue, is my understanding, to not put in danger others.
    When placing on the outstretched hand, this breath-transmission might not be excluded, but it will certainly not be as certain as while placing the Host on the tongue.

    [NB: In the TLM, people do not say “Amen.” when receiving Communion. The priest says “Amen” at the end of the prayer he recites when distributing.]

  16. rbbadger says:

    It may be of interest to some to consider Bishop Folda’s background. He was a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln and rector of its college seminary. But he is not the only bishop who is considered to be from a more conservative background to try to ban communion on the tongue. I believe that the Archdiocese of Denver has as well.


  17. Remember that the canon lawyer who works for Bishop Folda’s diocese recently posted a video on YouTube defending the banning of Holy Communion on the tongue (and quoted St. Thomas Aquinas in this regard!). Father Z made many helpful observations about the matter then. Unfortunately, Bishop Folda seems to be placing too much trust in this canon lawyer’s argument.
    Here’s the YouTube video:

  18. RomualdMonk says:

    As one who lives in the Particular Church in question, I corresponded with the canonist in the video linked in the comment box in order to better obtain the mind of the Bishop. He replied that he was not consulted by Bishop Folda. I take him on his word.

  19. khouri says:

    Father, can you please supply documentation regarding regional Councils forbidding Communion in the hand? Archaeologism is a word that comes in handy when we Trads want to reprobate a practice. It is never used to refer to our desire to return to not so ancient practices we want to reinstate. Lace was once reprobated by the Church but now it is in vogue. In fact one would think lace was part of Tradition (yes, I mean capital “T”.) The quotes from St Cyril are only “spurious” among us Trads. My reading of St Cyril’s text only mentions “sanctifying” the eyes with the Body of the Lord, no dipping of fingers in the Precious Blood.
    Better to just argue that we think Communion in the hand is irreverent and we don’t like it instead of trying to find arguments that are not from history, but modern wishes and polemical desires.
    Communion on the tongue was not universal in the Church in her early history.
    So you really think, especially given St. Paul’s teachings on the Holy Eucharist that the early Christian’s understanding of the worship owed to the Sacrament was greater than ours today? Development of doctrine arguments really have to be well researched. Many times the Church “got it” long before a theologian “developed” said doctrines.
    To mention bad popes when you only reference those you approve of is not very consistent. The bad popes you mention were still free of doctrinal heresy.

    [I am confident that, thus directed, you can do you own homework.]

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