DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A respected U.S. bishop is throwing his miter into the debate among prelates sparring in the midst of the pandemic over how to receive Holy Communion.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas is reaffirming the right of the faithful to receive Communion on the tongue, telling Church Militant, "Communion on the hand or on the tongue are options for the faithful that cannot be restricted."
Many bishops all over the country, however, have been releasing statements forbidding Holy Communion on the tongue — ostensibly with the Wuhan virus in mind.
But "Reverence is the best way to ensure virus spread is curtailed," according to the bishop, addressing health risks while upholding Church teaching in one swoop.
"Frankly as a priest who has given Communion for 35 years, if you aren't reverent and careful, either method for receiving Communion can transmit a virus transmitted by person to person contact," he added.
Bishop Strickland's position echoes that of Abp. Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon who issued a statement in March confirming that Catholics always retain the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.
The Oregon archbishop reasoned that Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand poses equal health risks, buttressing his position by consultations with physicians, one of whom is a specialist in immunology for the State of Oregon.
Guinean cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, lent his orthodox take on the matter in a recent interview stating simply: "There is already a rule in the Church and this must be respected: the faithful are free to receive Communion in the mouth or hand."
Faithful Catholics have been confused, however, by prelates who have spoken in favor of restricting reception of the Eucharist to "hands only."
For example, Fort Worth's Bp. Michael Olson mandated on April 29 that his priests would now only place the Blessed Sacrament into the hands of laity.
"I am asking that the venerable custom of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue not be done during this period of pandemic," Olson stipulated.
And Chicago cardinal Blase Cupich declared his preference for a hands-only policy saying to his priests: "Every consideration should be given by each individual to receive Holy Communion reverently in open hands for the time being."
But Church teaching is unambiguous on the matter, with Bp. Strickland attesting to such when he says: "Forbidding communion on the tongue is a nonstarter canonically."
The official go-to instruction manual on celebrating Mass, Redemptionis Sacramentum, puts forth that "each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice" (para 92).
The manual was published by the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW) in 2004 and follows Pope St. John Paul II's 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which called for instruction on the liturgical norms.
In addition, just days ago on April 28, the U.S. bishops' conference (USCCB) issued guidelines informing American prelates that it's safe to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue, asserting the practice poses no "unreasonable risk."
Spiritual pre-conditions for receiving Holy Communion are not included in the USCCB report. For example, only practicing Catholics in the state of grace may receive Holy Communion. Those who are not in the state of grace must first be reconciled to God and the Church by means of the sacrament of reconciliation before presenting themselves for Holy Communion.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is not a symbol, but the real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, requiring that He be received with the utmost reverence, a point underscored by Bp. Strickland when he says: "Reverence is the key, and I think that is most important at this point in our fractured Church."