June 26, 2020, LifeSiteNews:
Twenty-one Austrian doctors have authored a letter appealing their country’s Bishops’ Conference to lift the de facto ban on receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, which has been enforced since Communion in the hand was announced to be the only permitted form of distribution for the consecrated Host.
As COVID-19 lockdown measures are being progressively lifted in Europe and Masses are being cautiously reopened to the public, a number of bishops’ conferences in countries such as Italy and Austria have decided to oblige priests to distribute Holy Communion only in the hand, although Communion kneeling and on the tongue is the traditional practice of the Catholic Church.
For traditionally-minded Catholics, this obligation is the equivalent of a full ban on receiving communion. The lack of respect and risk of profanation of particles from the consecrated Host involved in communion in the hand is unacceptable to them.
The 21 Catholic doctors of Austria who signed the letter (read full letter below) quoted the professional opinion of Professor Filippo Maria Boscia, the president of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Italy who stated in May that “Communion on the tongue is safer than hand Communion.”
They went on to show in substance that in the traditional Catholic liturgy – that is, the Tridentine Rite of the Mass – barrier measures to prevent spreading the coronavirus are even more widely present than in the Novus Ordo, as when the priest is required to hold thumb and forefinger joined together from the moment he has consecrated the bread, only using them to touch the Host from then on until the moment when he once again purifies his hands.
The doctors commented that “the priests who celebrate in the traditional rite are experienced in administering oral communion and practically never have contact with the mouth of the communicant. Should this happen, however, a priest can be credited with such a sense of responsibility that, taking into account the present situation, he will interrupt the giving of communion and clean his hands.”
They also noted that when the faithful kneel to receive Communion, contamination by droplets is less likely because the priest’s face is not at the same level as that of the communicant.
“From the point of view of hygiene, it is absolutely incomprehensible to us why oral communion has been banned in Austria. We also consider this form of distribution safer than hand communion,” the doctors wrote. They also underscored that most contaminations are the result of sullied hands, quoting Dr. Boscia, who wrote in May: “What is certain is that the hands are the parts of the body that are most exposed to pathogens.”
The Catholic Doctors of Austria concluded their letter by recalling that the Congregation for Divine Worship proclaimed the faithful’s “right” to receive Communion on the tongue, with no exceptions.
Here below is LifeSite’s full translation of the Austrian doctors’ letter.
Comments from Catholic doctors in Austria
In the General Regulations of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference for the resumption of the celebration of public services from 15 May 2020, it was stipulated that the distribution of Communion during Holy Mass is now only permitted in the form of Communion in the hand. This regulation was confirmed in the amended version of 27 May 2020.
We, Catholic doctors in Austria, would like to state the following:
1. In May of this year, the President of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Italy – a country that was hit much harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than Austria – Prof. Filippo Maria Boscia made a clear statement on this subject: “As a doctor, I am convinced that Communion in the hand is less hygienic and therefore less safe than Communion in the mouth” and he continued: “What is certain is that the hands are the parts of the body that are most exposed to pathogens.”
2. We agree with this opinion. It is part of the traditional rite that the priest should wash his hands in the sacristy immediately before the beginning of Holy Mass. Only he touches the chalice and ciborium. After the consecration, he keeps his thumb and index finger – which he has ritually washed with water again just before – closed until after Communion, so he does not touch anything with them except the consecrated Host. The priests who celebrate in the traditional rite are experienced in administering communion on the tongue and practically never have contact with the mouth of the communicant. Should this happen, however, a priest can be credited with such a sense of responsibility that, taking into account the present situation, he will interrupt the giving of Communion and clean his hands. It should also be mentioned that it is almost impossible for droplet infection to occur, since the communicant is in a kneeling position, whereas the priest is in a standing position. In this strictly regulated procedure, there is far less risk of infection than when Communion is given in the hand. So from the point of view of hygiene, it is absolutely incomprehensible to us why oral communion has been banned in Austria. We also consider this form of distribution safer than hand communion.
3. Apart from the religious aspect, the Church has certainly also been motivated by hygienic considerations to have practiced the form of Communion on the tongue for such a long period: at least 1,400 years (if not longer). It was well known that people transmit diseases, and since water and soap were not available to the same extent as is now the case, one can assume that people often came to church with unwashed hands. So with communion on the tongue one could effectively address this source of danger.
4. The Swiss Bishops’ Conference, in its rules on the resumption of public worship services on 26 May this year, did not comment on the form of giving communion and thus continues to allow communion on the tongue.
5. We would like to mention here that to our knowledge there has not been a single proven transmission of the Covid-19 virus through a smear infection.
6. In a communication of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church of April 3, 1985, we read: “The Apostolic See maintains the traditional method of administering Communion throughout the Church … ” The same Congregation affirmed in 2009 that the faithful always have the right to receive communion on the tongue and that it is not allowed to refuse it. No exception (such as a pandemic) is mentioned here.
The decree of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference brings many priests and faithful into a serious conflict of conscience. According to the valid norms of the Church, the giving of Communion in the hand is still based on an indult, while Communion on the tongue is still the regular form of receiving communion. The faithful, therefore, for whom it is a serious and important concern to receive Communion on the tongue, and who thereby are doing no more than following the Church’s norms in this regard, continue to be excluded from receiving Communion, which constitutes a serious prejudice to these faithful.
We, Catholic doctors in Austria, therefore ask the members of the Bishops’ Conference, on the basis of the arguments we have mentioned, to correct this regulation so that the giving of Communion is once again permitted, so that all Catholics may be given the opportunity to receive the Body of the Lord and thus partake of all the graces of Holy Mass. We do not consider it justified to exclude them for reasons of hygiene.
In the USA as a country, the number of COVID-19 cases is rapidly increasing, while the opposite is true in European countries that suffered the worst from the pandemic. USA residents are now banned from European travel. Since Austria is just opening Churches it would be wise to use Communion in the hand policy for a time until things return to normal, especially since a mutation of Covid-19 in Asia , which is more contagious than the strain we now have and seems to effect more young people may be on the horizon in Europe and the USA, colliding with the regular flue season in the Fall.
If the Covid-19 virus is spread in airborne form from the nose and mouth by the breath as was demonstrated by Church choirs then the safest way to receive Communion would be for priest and communicant to keep their masks on, sanitize their hand just before Communion, and have the priest gently drop the host into the Communicant’s hand, for him/her to then step to the side and lift
the mask with his non-dominate hand while placing the Host into his mouth with the dominant hand.
I want to say that your concern is understandable, and even admirable when it comes to precautions. However, the profanation of the Sacred Species in anyway whatsoever is an infinite offense before the throne of God. Communion on the hand is a most blatantly disrespectful gesture to the God Almighty. The risk of accidentally profaning the Sacrament is exponentially higher, especially if the priest were to drop it in the hand, as you suggest. What would we do, may I ask, were the communicant to drop Our Lord? The defilement of the Body and Blood if Christ is the most atrocious of evils, should we really be advocating for methods increasing its likelihood?
Dropping may not be the best word to describe gently letting go of the host close enough that it will come to rest in the slightly cupped hands of the recipient. The recipient receives the host with both hands cupped, the dominant hand beneath and the non-dominant hand above. The recipient then takes the host from hi cupped non-dominant hand, and lifts the mask with the non-dominant hand and places the host in his mouth with the dominant hand.
Communion in the hand has been approved by several popes now; It is not a a sin . It is wrong to invent sins and more wrong to tell people that something is a sin . As a child, I was taught that it was sinful to touch the Host, it was at the time because the Church prohibited Communion in the hand. For many years now, the Church has permitted Communion in the hand, so it is no longer sinful.
I grew up in a context of aggiornamento of the Church after Vatican Council II. So I don’t find it strange to take communion in hand. But in all sincerity, I prefer to take communion at the mouth.
If I am not mistaken, John Paul II’s Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum made Communion in the hand a lawful way to receive Communion. In this sense, I would like to quote paragraph 92 of the aforementioned instruction.
[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, 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.
If Pope John Paul II were alive today, would he have added, ‘ If there is a pandemic virus spread mostly by pathogens entering and exiting people’s bodies by way of the mouth and nose, then Communion in the hand should be used for hygienic purposes’?
Good point, Maureen.
I would also like to know what John Paul II would say about communion in the face of this pandemic that we are facing.
I have the impression that he would not change anything he said in Redemptionis Sacramentum. In this sense, the bishops of today through the Episcopal Conferences are asking that Holy Communion be given only in hand. I think, for example, of Brazil and Portugal.
But what happens to the small particles of the Eucharist that stays on the communicants hand? What if it falls on to the floor, a gross disrespect to the Divine Majesty, and what if it was walked upon?
Irreverence is irreverence, and sin is sin. No matter who condones it. And that includes Rome. Something can’t be totally irreconcilable with Christ one day and perfectly fine the next. This Church is Christ’s, not the Pope’s. It is not within his right to shape the Bark of Peter to his progressive, flawed human vision. And I would like to say that no one here is inventing any sins. Communion on the tongue was pretty much the only approved method in the Western Church until very recently. The purpose is to strengthen the respect for the Holy Eucherist. Priests (in the old rite) have to go through years of seminary to touch the Sacred Species, and only then with two fingers on each hand! I think the modern Church has felt the repercussions of these terrible instructions already. The majority of Catholics no longer believe in the Eucharist. They no longer believe that Our Lord is present. We’ve stopped teaching reverence to the Blessed Sacrement, so the laity have stopped believing that it’s anything special.
I would be incredibly leery of anything the Popes have said in the past few decades. They all make mistakes. And keep in mind that unless His Holiness makes an ex cathedra statement, what he says is absolutely subject to error. This would include Redemptionis Sacramentum. Again, I understand the stakes here, but we need to keep in mind that the Eucharist is the most important thing in existence. Should we dare to risk His profanation in receiving Him on our totally unworthy hands, knowing full well the spiritual travesty that would occur were an accident to happen? Or should we perhaps pray an act of spiritual communion and longingly await the day where we can reverently receive Him? I think for any well catechized, good intentioned Catholic, there is no option, we cannot risk the profanation of Our Lord.
The devil is also at work sowing doubts in people´s minds and the sowing is in overdrive now with COVID seemingly an excuse to redefine what is appropriate in almost everything we do! Prudence is a virtue but also needs to be used with appropriate moderation and to be focussed on the right areas. Here I see prudence to not contaminate with COVID predominating any prudence to not lessen the graces that flow from the Holy Eucharist. We look at modern medicine as if doctors are miracle workers but we forget that no man can extend their life for one second if God does not permit it.
I used to receive Communion by hand, as an ignorant post-Vatican II Catholic who had never been taught better, but since reading about some private revelations (see here: https://www.tldm.org/news4/warningsfrombeyond.1of3.htm ) and going on to read many of the classic Catholic texts, I developed a much greater reverence for the Sacred Host. It is literally the Divine Presence here on earth and, fully believing in the Sacramental Presence, it would be extremely sad if I were to be obliged to receive the Sacred Host in the hand again. Just being able to receive Holy Communion one time in your life is an enormous privilege, it is the pinnacle of Christian life, but in the west it is too often looked up as part of a Sunday routine for “good” people. I purposely look out for churches that have kneelers as well because why would you not kneel before God and before such a great favour (why so few churches with kneelers?!).
Indirectly, receiving it in the hand is also a subtle way of dismissing the great value of the consecrated hands of the Priest, they are dragged down to the level of our hands if we believe that we do not do a disservice to the Host by touching it with our own hands.
So even though receiving Communion in the hand is officially permitted by the Church, it is a “modern” development and really must be scrutinized with holy prudence, since there have been many modern developments in the Church that are not only unjustifiable as necessary in today´s world only (there have been plagues and contagious diseases throughout history as well that were far worse than COVID) but are completely opposed to the glorious traditions of the Church.