Short Commentary: Can Communion Elements Transmit the Virus?

Here’s a sad report, and it’s one time I’m grateful for the concept of transubstantiation.

Tragically, some senior figures in the Orthodox Church in Serbia have died of the coronavirus, while some Orthodox leaders in Greece are claiming that Communion from a shared spoon “can’t transmit the disease as it is the body and blood of Christ.” (Note to the AP: this isn’t a doctrine, just a really bad judgment about science as well as theology.)

I wouldn’t claim that transubstantiation is the best or most exhaustive ‘explanation’ of the mystery of the Real Presence, even as I affirm everything that it wishes to affirm. But in this case the medieval, Thomistic term helps us see that the so-called “accidents” received in Holy Communion retain all the physical attributes of natural bread and wine – weight, color, consistency, taste, molecular make-up, calories, and so forth. That includes the potential of carrying the coronavirus.

To affirm this takes nothing away from  the faith that it is the Body and Blood of Christ that are received. The substance in tran-substan-tiation, according to Thomas, is truly the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood, but that substance cannot be seen with the eyes, nor moved by the hands of the priest (or communion minister), nor be understood as existing in a place.

The bread and wine are entirely Body and Blood of Christ; the Body and Blood of Christ can’t transmit the coronavirus; but the consecrated elements can transmit it. Got it, everyone? Of course you don’t – that’s why it’s a mystery.

The point is, all the rules of science apply, even for believers. Nothing mysterious about that.





  1. And the elements aren’t the only possible mode. The handling of vessels – particularly, passing the stem of a chalice back and forth (particularly with a firm finger grip, which many may tend to do to avoid other problems) – is another mode, just like door handles.

  2. Let’s see if I’m following closely enough. The sacristan disinfects his hands and then places communion breads (ours are in cellophane) in the vessel in which they will be consecrated. The deacon disinfects his hands prior to moving the vessels to their proper places on the altar. Then the priest disinfects his hands before placing the one bread and one cup on the corporal. With those same disinfected hands he holds the elements while praying what Jesus said at the last supper. So far, so good? My point is that only a scrupe would make the case to describe these actions as risky. of course there is the possibility that a priest with Covid could infect the consecrated hosts by breathing on them. Not.

    1. Let me clarify: I am particularly talking the handling of chalice by the PIPs. (Let me further clarify: I am not coming at this from a traditionalist perspective that the laity are unworthy to touch it. MY perspective comes from the years when people had to think of ways to reduce the risk of cross contamination for communities where there was a high prevalence of immune suppression – and not just because of HIV but also cancer treatments and other illnesses with a similar effect.)

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