ASK FATHER: Must I go to a Novus Ordo Mass and receive on the hand to fulfill my “Easter Duty”?

From a reader…


Our churches in the Diocese of ___  have been allowed to have public Masses offered with 15% capacity of the fire code regulations, but with very strict restrictions from the bishop (more strict than the government’s restrictions).

This Sunday marks the one year anniversary of public Masses being suppressed, and thus the one year mark of our Latin Mass Community being able to receive communion. While we can attend Mass now (except we can’t have a Triduum with the current restrictions since we need altar servers ), we still can’t receive communion because the bishop has banned communion on the tongue…. Even the government has now given directives on how to safely distribute communion on the tongue, but it’s still banned and our priest’s attempts to contact the bishop about this go unresponded to.

With Easter just around the corner, thus the requirement to receive communion once during the Easter season, since it’s possible to receive communion by going to one of the OF Masses and receiving in the hand, does this mean that Catholics who normally attend Mass in the EF are canonically bound to receive communion in the hand at a Mass in the OF to fulfill the precept and stay out of mortal sin?

Two canons in the 1983 Code of Canon Law deal with the obligation to make a good confession and to receive Communion.

can. 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year.
§2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year.

can. 989 After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.

Catholics are obliged to receive Communion at least once a year.  They are not obliged by law to receive more often.    It is NOT obligatory to receive Communion at all Masses.  It is obligatory to do so once a year.  That will usually require making a good sacramental confession beforehand (can. 989 – “once a year”).  One would not want to receive Communion in the state of mortal sin, so the annual Communion will normally be preceded by annual confession.

It is in general NOT GOOD for people to go to confession only once a year.  As a matter of fact, it is in general stupid not go to confession more often.  A daily examination of conscience is the key to discerning how often one should go.

Can. 920 says that this annual Communion is to be received during the “Easter season”.   Easter Season lasts from Easter until Pentecost.

Moreover, take note of that “for a just cause at another time during the year”.

Easter Season is fitting and customary and mentioned in the canon.  However, you can fulfill your obligation at another time of the year for a “just cause”.

It may be that your local bishop has issued addition local legislation about this.

You have a just cause right now.  The lockdown orders during time of pandemic have made it virtually impossible for people to attend Mass at all, much less receive Eucharistic Communion, or receive in a way that is important to them.

There are a couple of principles in law which help us understand our obligations.

First,  ultra posse nemo obligatur… no one is obliged to act beyond his powers.  Put another way, nemo ad impossibilia tenetur… no one is held to the impossible.

If there is no Mass to attend, or if there is no way to make a confession or to receive Eucharistic Communion, then there is not obligation.   You can’t go to Masses that are not available.  You can’t receive Communion when it is not being distributed.   No one is obliged to the impossible.

It seems to me that it is between you and your confessor to determine whether you should or must go to a Novus Ordo Mass and receive in on the hand.  The law permits you to receive in the hand, even though it is a wretched practice that should be phased out.  You are free to attend Novus Ordo Masses and receive Communion or not.   You are obliged to receive Communion once a year, and that can be done, for a just cause, at another time of the year.  We have to interpret the law as favorably for you as we can when it comes to that “just cause” issue.   If you honestly conclude that attending a Novus Ordo Mass and the prospect of reception in the hand, even seeing reception in the hand, is perhaps morally impossible or strongly sub-optimal, or an occasion for irreverent distraction or sin for you (or someone with you), then you probably have a just cause.

Remember what you recite in your Act of Faith: “I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”

We can’t fool God.

Work this out with the advice of your confessor, the text of the canons, self-knowledge and the application of good common sense.

Let’s pray that all of this upheaval passes while we are in the Easter season.

I invite everyone reading this to pray my prayer asking God for a miracle: the total, sudden, and lasting elimination of the Coronavirus.




A correspondent noted to me that the canon does not say anything about the obligation to receive annual or “Easter Duty” Communion during Mass.  It would be possible to fulfill the obligation by reception of Communion outside of Mass.  That, perhaps, can be arranged with a helpful priest: confession and Communion.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Canon Law, GO TO CONFESSION, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Ellen_N. says:

    Could I make my Easter duty by inviting my EF priest to bring me communion at home? He could sanitize his hand before and after. Or do I have to receive this at a Mass?

    [Right! And I added a note about this in the post. You don’t have to receive during a Mass.]

  2. clare joseph says:

    This person’s question is painful to hear about. It’s a reminder to me of how very blessed I am to be where I am right now, with two good churches very close to where I live. At both churches we have returned to the use of the communion rail, to the delight of all (that I know of). The Masses I attend are N.O., but nearly all of us are receiving Communion on the tongue, which, thank God, has not been forbidden here. We returned to public worship here last May (following government guidelines), in time for Ascension Day, so I have now received Communion on the tongue hundreds of times since that date, and only on one occasion did the priest accidentally touch my tongue, slightly. I have even heard at least one priest say that he believes receiving Communion on the tongue is more sanitary for the recipient than receiving in the hand.

  3. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    This is so sad to hear. I shall offer a Holy Rosary this evening for these poor people. Where are the good brave priests who are willing to risk censure and punishment to offer Holy Mass and give Holy Communion on the tongue in these people’s district? Some of us are blessed to have them – we know how blessed we are, and this rams it home.

    Come on Fathers! Be brave! if you are really traditional priests then learn from the Martyrs. Offer Holy Mass in the locked church leaving the sacristy door open. Let you pious faithful know. So what if the bishop hauls you up for doing what you were ordained to do? God will reward you. Saint Peter will welcome you with open arms. If your poor misguided bishop (weak and badgered by dozens of liberal lay busybodies) thinks he is following today’s Peter, remember the first Peter. It is his discernment and Christ’s judgment we must ultimately face.

  4. kat says:


    Has something changed in the New Code? I have been taught, and practiced, that “receiving Holy Communion during the Easter time” means in these United States “from the First Sunday of Lent through Trinity Sunday.”

    Thank you

  5. kat: The beginning of Lent begins the Season of Lent. The Season of Easter begins with…. Easter.

  6. APX says:

    I’m from the aforementioned diocese. Priests are not allowed to distribute communion on the tongue at all, even if it’s to just one person. And since our priests can be removed from the Diocese for no reason whatsoever, our priests are being very obedient and not taking liberties or liberal interpretations.

  7. truthfinder says:

    We have had a situation where the church with the largest EF Mass has been giving out Communion on the hand since the basically the start of the pandemic because the diocese has banned it (and a weird situation where half the congregation would receive in the hand and the other half would not receive at all – I’ll keep my peace about it). We’re just starting to have the Mass open up again since it was completely shut in November. For a few months, I was going to a different place where I could receive on the tongue about once a month. I haven’t received in the hand for almost twenty years, and it does strike me as one of those true issues of conscience. I have examined my conscience on this every couple weeks, and I just cannot bring myself to do it. Particularly distressing at the EF where it feels like one’s not being able to receive on the tongue is looked down on because you just need to get over yourself and receive on the hand like all the others who are. I believe our bishop had suspended the Easter duty last year, but it would be truly distressing if he didn’t again this year and would be in the same place as your OP.

  8. Rob83 says:

    If the priest is willing, make an appointment for confession after which communion is received outside the Mass. Father might also be encouraged to offer a private Mass where some of the faithful coincidentally happen to be present and may feel less nervous about crossing the Bishop if neither his Excellency’s eyes nor his spies are watching.

    If SSPX is nearby, they may be an option as they are not likely to follow this kind of directive.

    Depending on where you are, an Easter vacation to another diocese where reception on the tongue is allowed may also be feasible.

  9. APX says:

    SSPX in the city have suspended all public Masses and private Masses are by invitation only. All the other Dioceses in the province have banned communion on the tongue in solidarity with each other.

  10. mo7 says:

    I wonder if a kind NO priest would,after explanation, give you holy communion afterwards, in private.

  11. Francisco12 says:

    My prayers for this person and those in the diocese. Another option might be receiving at an Eastern Catholic Church. Sadly, I understand many Chaldean (and perhaps Maronite) Catholics have discontinued the practice of intinction and are placing the Host in the hand.

    However, those Churches of the Byzantine Rite utilize leavened bread in the preparation of Holy Communion, so they are still utilizing a liturgical spoon in virtually all places. Some are using wooden spoons for each individual, and others (including a parish I frequent) are still using metal spoons for individuals that are carefully and properly purified after Divine Liturgy.

    I’m not sure where this person’s diocese is located, but if there is a Ukrainian, Byzantine, Melkite, or Romanian Catholic parish in the area, even if in the next diocese over, this could be a viable option and worth the trip to receive our Lord reverently.

  12. TonyO says:

    I have even heard at least one priest say that he believes receiving Communion on the tongue is more sanitary for the recipient than receiving in the hand.

    I have heard this too, but I cannot figure out how it could be remotely possible – for a conscientious and trained priest, at least: the mechanics just don’t seem like they would bear that out. I added that last qualifier because in my local parish, we have a deacon who seems to make an EXTREMELY CAREFUL point of making sure his third and fourth fingers touch every person’s hand as he puts the host in their hand, it’s almost as if he is trying to make sure he has hit the right location by touching their hand with his fingers. I have wondered whether he was trying to be ornery as a human reductio ad absurdum example, but I have since realized he isn’t quite sharp enough to do so. He clearly simply DOES NOT GET IT about touch conveying germs. I have tried not to be in his line.

    On the other side of the coin, I thought that the Vatican itself (or at least the USCCB) made it clear that bishops do not have the authority to tell priests and parishioners they cannot receive on the tongue. If I have that correctly, then any priest worth his salt should be willing to deliver Communion on the tongue if asked carefully – though maybe outside of mass in a private setting will be better for all concerned, if the bishop is being difficult. Also at my parish, an older semi-retired priest made rather a point of continuing to give Communion on the tongue to those who requested it, and when tattle-talers complained about it, the priest doubled down and basically said something like he would give Communion to those who asked, and he wasn’t going to refuse to give Communion because someone held out their tongue instead of their hand. Basically, he is well past retirement age, and helps out as a kindness and service to the pastor, so he can retire any time he pleases and the bishop forcing him to quite would just make life all that much harder for the diocesan priest(s) around us.

  13. Alice says:

    The Baltimore Catechism definition of the Easter season that I have my kids learn is as follows: “The Easter time is, in this country, the time between the first Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday.” Whether this is still correct is beyond my pay grade, but I think that at the time the Easter season for the purpose of the Easter duty started with Passion Sunday in more Catholic lands.

  14. FrJohnDowney says:

    Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ dies on the cross, an agonizing death and the night before He dies He institutes the Eucharist. Then he rises from the dead and with him many in Jerusalem. He ascends into Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles who then preach the Gospel and do what Jesus told them to do at the first Eucharist. They forgive sins, they do what was called “The breaking of the bread” they are inspired by the Holy Spirit and many of them are martyred for their faith. Christians are persecuted and are forced to have Eucharist in the Catacombs using tombs for their altars. Some are dressed in rags, the Episcopoi and Presbyteroi may or may not have vestments or what we would consider suitable chalices. They use unleavened bread and simple wine. The language may be Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek or Latin. There are none of the beautiful things that we have in many Churches now. It was probably a very dank and dark place with candles for natural light. But the supernatural light, of which we heard yesterday in the Gospel, was there. They shared the Grace of God with natural fear of the Romans, but with the supernatural Grace of God. Nobody refused Eucharist because the Bishop or Priest didn’t do things according to the way the people thought was best, but according to what was possible.

    When attending a banquet provided by God Himself don’t complain that the meal isn’t served the way you want it. Don’t refuse the Bread of Life simply because it’s not served to you according to what you think is proper. Jesus says “Take this all of you…” You can be lovingly obedient or you can say “Only if it’s done according to my expectations”. That’s up to you. Heaven might not be what you expect either. I hope you choose to enter anyway.

  15. mddelala says:

    Just a note: according to the Navarra Professors (check Spanish edition of the Canon Code), Easter Obligation can be fulfilled during lent (they give two arguments, main one is that Lent as a preparation for easter, could be considered as a part of what the code calls “Easter Time”. And second, that in any case, any law which imposes an obligation to the faithful must be interpreted in whichever sense benefits the faithful the most).

  16. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  17. favorabilia ampliantur… okay… I’ll buy that.

  18. Deb the Bee says:

    @FrJohnDowney Thank you for that perspective. It keeps the main thing (receiving the Eucharist) The Main Thing.

  19. Imrahil says:

    As to the side-discussion on the Easter season,

    the old Code (can. 859) had “Palm Sunday until Low Sunday both inclusive”, with the option of the local ordinary to extend that, but (I guess in normal circumstances) not beyond Laetare on the one and St. Trinity on the other edge.

    It’s rather improbable that the change to the somewhat unspecific “Easter season” meant that Holy Week was cut out of the time, especially given that it includes Maundy Thursday which if I’m rightly informed was the traditionally preferred way to fulfill the precept for those who could (back when all Holy Communions came with the midnight fast, but Mass was in mid-morning). It might even conceivably be argued that “Easter season” just interpretatively means what the old Code described more specifically (especially the wider of the two spectra, Laetare through St. Trinity).

Comments are closed.