Communion Crackdown

News: Commentary
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  March 6, 2020   

Coronavirus and the bishops

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Parishioners around the world are concerned their bishops will ban them from receiving Holy Communion on the tongue owing to the spread of coronavirus. But the Vatican has previously established that bishops cannot do this.

On Monday, the vicar general for Chicago, Cdl. Blase Cupich, told priests, "Every consideration should be given by each individual to receive Holy Communion reverently in open hands for the time being."

In Australia, the archdiocese of Perth said Wednesday, "Priests are to encourage communicants to receive the Sacred Host in the hand, not on the tongue."

These directives are carefully worded with the understanding that bishops cannot ban faithful Catholics from receiving the Eucharist on the tongue.


In 2009, a lay Catholic in Britain facing restriction on receiving Communion on the tongue owing to the swine flu scare, wrote to the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW) which responded:

This Dicastery observes that its Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (25 March 2004) clearly stipulates that "each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion of the tongue" (n. 92) nor is it licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ's faithful who are not impeded by law from receiving the Holy Eucharist.

In 2004, the CDW published a universally binding instruction on the liturgy titled, "Redemptionis Sacramentum," which regulates Mass rubrics. Paragraph 92 stipulates, "each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice."

During a 2009 interview, Cdl. Francis Arinze as prefect emeritus of the CDW was asked if laity can ever be ordered to receive the Blessed Sacrament in their hands.

"Some people, they insist you must receive on the hand. No priest has the right to demand that, and even no bishop has the right to demand you must receive on the hand," replied Arinze. "No, no — the faithful remain free to receive on the tongue."

A well-respected canonist in Rome confirmed to Church Militant that bishops fearing the spread of germs remain powerless to override universal liturgical law.

A diocesan bishop does not have the power alone to prohibit the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue, because reception on the tongue is the universal norm and reception in the hands is the only exception that a diocesan bishop can alone permit. Only the pope has the power to modify the universal norm.

The Vatican directs priests to avoid distributing Holy Communion in the hand if there is even the risk of profanation. In paragraph 92 of Redemptionis Sacramentum, the Vatican states, "If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful."

One of the bishops to ban reception of Holy Communion in the hand within his own diocese was the late Bp. Juan Rodolfo Laise of San Luis, Argentina. In his 1997 book Communion in the Hand: Documents and History, Bp. Laise wrote:

With Communion in the hand, a miracle would be required during each distribution of Communion to avoid some particles from falling to the ground or remaining in the hand of the faithful. ... Let us speak clearly: Whoever receives Communion in the mouth not only follows exactly the tradition handed down but also the wish expressed by the last popes and thus avoids placing himself in the occasion of committing a sin by negligently dropping a fragment of the Body of Christ.

Bishops around the world seem greatly concerned about the threat of bodily illness, but seem little concerned about protecting Christ's Sacred Body from potential sacrilege owing to the loss of particles of consecrated hosts.

Learn why laity can always receive the Eucharist on the tongue: Watch The Download—Communion Crackdown.

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