Vatican approves ban on Communion on the Tongue

On December 11, Catholic News Agency published a story on the Vatican upholding Bishop Richard F. Stika decision “to suspend reception of Holy Communion on the tongue at public Masses throughout the Diocese of Knoxville for the duration of the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

In a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche refused to overturn Bishop Stika. Archbishop Roche referred to Cardinal Sarah’s circular letter from August which states that “in times of difficulty (e.g., wars, pandemics), Bishops and Episcopal Conferences can give provisional norms which must be obeyed.” At that time most took that to be a recognition of the legitimacy of local bishops banning Communion on the tongue during the pandemic.  How Archbishop Roche has clarified that this is indeed a legitimate interpretation of the letter and that a bishop or bishops’ conference have the right “to suspend for whatever time might be required, reception of Holy Communion on the tongue at the public celebration of the Holy Mass. For your convenience, please find in attachment the full text of this letter.”

However, while I personally have a preference for Communion on the hand, I must point out that this latest letter should not be used as ammunition to ban Communion on the tongue once the pandemic is over.  There is a clear controversy and I believer that confusion over the matter is growing. The solution is to be found in respectful debate and listening to different viewpoints. Those who want to promote Communion on the hand must do so by rational argument and catechesis rather than by diktat.

35 comments

  1. I find this appalling. We should be allowed to worship our God on our knees and without having to touch Him with our hands out of reverance for our Lord.

    1. We are indeed allowed to worship our God on our knees – and sitting, and standing, and lying down. Receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is allowed in normal circumstances.
      But if I as a priest have at this time an infectious or contagious disease, out of reverence and love for my fellow disciples who are members of the Body of Christ, I would be sure to do what I can to protect them. In doing so, I show reverence for them and for the Lord. In circumstances where receiving the Eucharist on the tongue carries the danger of spreading infection, this would be a failure in love and reverence both for the Lord and for one another.
      This is particularly relevant in the case of Coronavirus, where a person may carry and spread the infection without showing any symptoms. We indeed want to share the Eucharist, and receiving in the hand is safer than on the tongue.
      I know from many years of experience that in distributing the Eucharist on the tongue, it can be difficult to avoid any contact with the tongue.
      We can, of course, do evil with our hands. We can equally, and perhaps more easily, do evil with our tongues. The tongue is not more sacred than the hand.
      At the Last Supper, those present did not receive what Jesus offered them on their tongues. Nor were they on their knees. Matthew 26:20 says that he was “reclining” with them, this being the customary way of sharing a meal at the time.

      1. Jesus’ protection of his people does not cancel the laws of science or how the virus can be transmitted by the “accidents” of bread and wine in the consecrated Eucharist. I believe in the Real Presence, not in magic.
        awr

      2. In response to Emmanuel’s question about trusting in divine protection: The devil offered Jesus a similar proposal. He invited Jesus to do something rash and potentially fatal, arguing that he would be safe because God would rescue him. (Luke 4:9) Jesus refused to test God. So should we.

      3. In case anyone might think Rita Ferrone’s response here is modern, it might well be remembered that the Catholic Church has for centuries considered the possibility of various types of contamination of Eucharistic elements and has not adopted a view that the consecration of said elements acts its nature to prevent such, and has stipulated many prudential measures when such contamination becomes evident or suspect. (For example, the treatment of poison in De Defectibus.)

  2. OK to touch him with our tongues but not our hands? Can we end this nonsense that truly pious Catholics are correct in refusing to receive Communion on the hand. They have a preference that they support by reading their favorite bishops and theologians. In normal circumstances Catholics may choose to receive Communion on the tongue. We are not living in normal circumstances.

  3. Seems like a compromise might help those with a sensitive heart… Kneel and receive in ur hand. You can be humble and healthy at the same time.
    I know I would feel safer knowing that everyone’s breath had not floated over my Father’s hands while going near Every Mouth in the Parish. But that’s just me.

  4. Scrupulosity during a pandemic is imprudent and unwise. Glad the CDF upheld a virtue and Divine Sophia. NO personal preference should hold sway over the reason and common sense of spread by touch.
    Catholics believe in faith AND reason. Time to use the latter.
    Also FWIW, St. Alphonsus Liguori developed the Spiritual Communion prayer, used daily in ICUs worldwide and for patients who are NPO (non per os, or unable to receive anything by mouth).
    Personal privilege and desire should not supercede medical protocol during a PANDEMIC. Do scrupulous Catholics not understend the definition or gravity of an uncontrolled pandemic? We healthcare workers are exhausted from such nonsensical selfishness.

  5. I am absolutely thankful that this decision was upheld. My family has watched in horror as members of the faithful kneel down with a tongue extended–in a time of a global pandemic. Of course, reception on the tongue is a valuable spiritual and devotional expression in normal times of life. But in this moment–the health of the whole body of Christ and love for our neighbor is far more powerful than one’s personal feelings.

    1. I was taught in parochial school by nuns to never touch the Host. It was considered a sin , and never no matter the circumstances touch the Host. Once on an Easter Sunday the Eucharistic Minister dropped the Host to the floor while giving me communion, I picked it up quickly and put it in my mouth.

  6. Communion in the hand has now been lawful for over 50 years. When has the Church ever taught that the hand is a less honourable part of the body than the tongue, or standing a less ‘reverent’ posture than kneeling?

    1. People who argue for reception on the tongue on these bases are wrong. Outside of pandemic times, I prefer to receive on the tongue while standing, for example.

      My understanding is that reception on the tongue has to do with scrupulosity regarding particles of the blessed sacrament – to ensure all are eaten and none are unaccounted for

  7. Thank goodness for this! Communion ministers don’t want to get sick from coming into contact with another’s saliva, and don’t want to make anyone else sick, either, by spreading the virus to the next person in the communion line.

    The giving of communion during the pandemic has not been without its challenges. Even apart from not being able to reach those who are isolated in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons and other locked-down facilities.

    In our parish (and, I think, across our diocese), the one receiving communion is supposed to sanitize her/his hands before stepping forward to receive. The dispensers we have in the aisles for this purpose dispense big glops of it onto the person’s palm. Then s/he rubs hands frantically together in a futile attempt to get it rubbed in before /she is standing before the minister. Consequently, we see a parade of wet hands. In addition, not a few people curl their hands around the host as it is being given. Frequently this causes the receiver’s thumb or pinky finger to brush the minister’s fingers while the latter is attempting to put the host in the receiver’s hand. I get touched five or six times every mass. So far it seems harmless, but it is a cause of stress.

  8. This is a highly misleading post.

    The constitution “Pastor Bonus” states that the Prefect of a Congregation speaks in the person of the Congregation. Moreover, Abp Roche is not even the Prefect of the CDW, so neither the pope nor the CDW as such has said anything “coram Ecclesia.” As a letter sent from the offices of CDW, Secretary Roche’s letter has zero force of law. I double-checked my understanding with a canon lawyer at a nearby seminary, who agreed.

  9. We’d better make sure this directive lines up with canon law. Do you suppose CL says anything about exercising extraordinary measures during a global pandemic? How about “all law is for the good of souls”? Surely it is best for souls that their bodies be safe from a potentially life threatening illness that can easily be spread to others.

  10. Archbishop Roche’s letter declines to issue a ruling on the matter in question.

    Instead, it states that a ruling has already been effected by Cardinal Sarah’s circular letter of August 15, 2020.

    In other words, it is to Sarah’s declaration ‘coram ecclesia’ that this particular point of law owes its authority.

  11. As far as legality is concerned, the relevant paragraph of Cdl Sarah’s letter is
    “A sure principle in order not to err is obedience. Obedience to the norms of the Church, obedience to the Bishops. In times of difficulty (e.g. wars, pandemics), Bishops and Episcopal Conferences can give provisional norms which must be obeyed. Obedience safeguards the treasure entrusted to the Church. The measures given by the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences expire when the situation returns to normal.”
    The third sentence is equally as important as the last. Both the power to govern AND the limits to that power.

  12. Receiving Eucharist in the hand or tongue is a minor issue. What is important is FAITH and dependence on the Lord. During this epidemic situation communion on the tongue is ltesting the Lord, after all that He has informed us via medical expertise. Taking coominion in the hand is an act of Love to our brothers and the sisters in the Lord for their safety. Communion in the mouth could be infantile. If Jesus were physically living with us we would be invited to dine at table with Him. This is what he did in Palestine. Now it is the time not to harden our heart but to listen to God’s Spirit and discern his will without being adamant with our human traditions.

  13. Very interesting to read all these logically sound views. What is common is it seems like one has a right to the body and blood of Christ. Deep within, if one believes in the true presence and a particular way to respect it, then perhaps one should wait till the time is right. God knows and sees everything. May the Lord teach us true love and mercy for one another especially His so called shepherds on earth.

  14. Extremely misleading headline. The Vatican approved no such ban.
    Also he article and several comments seem to assume that receiving on the tongue is more likely to transmit infections than receiving in the hand. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to suggest this. If anything the opposite is true.

  15. If we want true reverence it these unprecedented times, why can’t we receive the Eucharist on the hand, while kneeling .

    1. It might be good to recall that the first ecumenical council – Nicea, in 325, *prohibited* kneeling on Sunday, the Lord’s day. It also prohibited kneeling any day during the 50 days of Easter season.

      We should start with the nature of the liturgy and the mysteries it celebrates, and think of reverence in terms of that, not in terms of veneration of the Host as the starting point. The liturgy is about dying and rising with Christ, becoming the Body of Christ, being transformed communally, being more aware of the other communicants because this enhances our sense of God’s presence. The liturgy provides for showing and adoring the Host and Chalice, but this is very modest, held in right proportion, and part of the larger whole. Reverent reception of Communion is deeply communal, and finds God in that communal dimension.

  16. The assertion that receiving Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling is more reverent than receiving it on the hand while standing is not to be found in either scripture or tradition. Is it possible to imagine that either in the Upper Room or at the house in Emmaus, the apostles and disciples knelt and received the Bread that was broken on their tongues? I would note as well that the common practice of giving communion on the tongue while kneeling was coterminous with that of practically no one receiving communion. I believe we should focus on the purposes of offering communion to the faithful which includes strengthening the bond of unity among the members of Christ’s body and consecrating the recipients so that we can become signs of Christ’s real presence in the world.

    1. If the Upper Room and Emmaus are to be the model for receiving Communion, then perhaps we should receive it laying on our side.

      1. Or without having any idea what Jesus was doing when he said “take and eat….take and drink…..do this in memory of me”?

      2. Friends who receive communion in the hand say their hand is often touched by the priest or lay minister. Unfortunately people’s hands are often far from clean, touching pews, door handles handling money, going to the toilet and omitting to wash their hands, coughing and sneezing into their hands. Hands are a very germ ridden part of the body. Therefore Communion should not be distributed at all in times of pandemic. A spiritual communion said in place of Holy Communion

  17. A quite intriguing story is been said about the irrelevance of certain practices in the church in reference to the Eucharist. The story goes on to say that there was once a Hindu priest who had a pet cat which at times became a nuisance during the prayer service. To avoid much commotion during every prayer service his first duty was to tie the cat. Years passed and finally the Hindu Swami died and his cat as well. After him the Swami’s son became the priest of that temple and he realized that the first duty he had to do at the beginning of the liturgy was to tie the cat. He thus went into the market and bought a cat for that purpose. With him tying the cat became an integral part of the liturgical service. This is what has happened to the Eucharist as well. Distortions according to my understanding were due to the fact that we Catholics have come to believe in a lot of things. One such thing is communion in the tongue which is unscriptural.

  18. As I usually go up to receive Communion with at least one baby in my arms, I have a purely practical preference for Communion on the tongue – when it is safe to do so, of course. I have never once had my tongue touched by a priest’s hand. Unfortunately, I have had it denied me on a number of occasions by priests who don’t like giving out on the tongue. I don’t mean to appear ‘super pious’, it’s just that I often don’t have a hand free…

    1. With only one baby in your arms, it is very easy to receive the host between the fingers of your free hand and then transfer it safely to your mouth. You may need to ask the priest or minister “Please place the host between my fingertips” if they appear hesitant to do this.

      I have seen mothers with a child in each arm attempt to receive on the tongue, only for one or both of the babies to wriggle violently (or even in one case rear up suddenly and bang the mother under the chin with its head) just at the point when the priest was trying to place the host in the mother’s mouth. Hosts falling to the ground in such circumstances are in fact quite common. Much safer to use the fingertips if you can. Or even wheel a buggy or stroller up in the Communion procession.

      Regarding your second point, priests are trained to “deliver” the host into people’s mouths with a technique rather like posting a letter in the slot of a mailbox, precisely so as to avoid contacting the communicant’s tongue. Nevertheless, many priests will testify that, despite this, their fingers are often touched by people’s tongues or lips as they distribute Communion. With an open mouth it can be quite difficult for some communicants to hold their tongue perfectly still. Others are anxious to close their mouths quickly to avoid accidents. The liturgist Clifford Howell once famously said “Some people try to lick your fingers. Others try to bite them off!”

      I can understand absolutely why some priests may be reluctant to distribute on the tongue, especially during a pandemic. When public worship resumed, the Bishops of England and Wales specified that communion was not to be administered on the tongue, but some individual priests and bishops chose to ignore that. The prohibition is still actually in force, but now more widely ignored.

      1. The CBCEW Step 4 guidance says “Communion is recommended to be distributed in the hand but those who wish to receive on the tongue may do so”. It is this wish that is routinely ignored.

      2. Richard,

        You are correct. I was thinking of the original June 2020 guidance which said very clearly “Communion must be given silently in the hand only, with the communicant standing, and avoiding any physical contact.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *