Written by Kathy Thompson
Reactions to the coronavirus from within the Church have been swift and in some cases startling. Many responses are based on common sense and are no different from advice most Catholics would already follow: don’t attend Mass if you are displaying symptoms of illness. Other advice, such as to refrain from shaking hands during the Sign of Peace would be considered by many to be long overdue.
Still other advice is outside the realms of common sense, and indeed, outside of the authority of even a bishop. This advice refers to the distribution and reception of Holy Communion.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released their statement on March 4th, which recommended that Holy Communion only be received on the hand during Novus Ordo Masses. However, the bishops’ conference has no authority to issue such a declaration, since communion in the hand is not the norm in either the Novus Ordo or Traditional Latin rite.
The Vatican’s 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum stated that “the faithful always have the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue” (n.92) and that it was never licit to deny Holy Communion to anyone who has no impediment to receiving (n.91). This directive was reiterated in 2009, when the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued another clear statement on the reception of the Holy Eucharist.
Several bishops have expressed to FLI’s Executive Director, their concerns that the ACBC statement can be used to ban Communion on the tongue by those who are ideological opposed to it. Their concerns are echoed by Bishop Schneider who stated that some of those who ban communion on the tongue seem to have “a kind of cynical joy to spread more and more the process of trivialization and de-sacralization of the Most Holy and Divine Body of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament, exposing the Body of the Lord himself to the real dangers of irreverence (loss of fragments) and sacrileges (theft of consecrated hosts).”
Some dioceses and archdioceses, such as Parramatta, Adelaide and Port Pirie and Cairns have enacted the ACBC’s advice but have taken it a step further and mandated communion in the hand. In Canberra Archdiocese, not even parishioners at the Traditional Latin Mass are able to receive on the tongue and they have had to suspend the distribution of Holyt Communion altogether. The Archdiocese of Perth hasn’t forbidden communion on the tongue outright but strongly recommends communion in the hand.
Thankfully, in the Diocese of Broken Bay and Wilcannia-Forbes and the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Hobart among others, there has been no prohibition on the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. Despite this, at least one parish in Melbourne has mandated communion in the hand.
Apart from the fact that no bishop has the authority to ban Holy Communion on the tongue, there is no evidence that reception in the hand is any less likely to transmit a virus. The most common form of transmission is by hand to face – humans touch their faces frequently and any mucous membrane such as eyes or mouth can allow the coronavirus to enter the body. Priests who are experienced in distributing Holy Communion on the tongue can attest that they rarely touch the tongue of communicants in any case.
Latin mass parishes are being inundated with calls from concerned parishioners who are unsure about their rights in this matter. One traditional priest, Fr Terence Mary Naughtin, made a statement via social media, sharing the 2009 Instruction from the Vatican:
“No Bishop can forbid Communion on the tongue as it is and remains the NORMATIVE mode of distribution in the Roman (Latin) Rite. Communion in the hand was given to this country (Australia), on the 28th September 1976, by way of an Indult. This too is still current!
Regards the Extraordinary Form of the Church: no Bishop or Priest can take matters into his own hands on this issue. Communion on the tongue is the only legitimate manner of receiving and distribution. For this to change, a Bishop would need apply to the Holy See for a rescript.
Any Bishop trying to do this would be abusing his authority and would be abusing the Rite and the sentiments of the souls who worship in the traditional liturgical usage. In short it would be a flagrant act of Clericalism.
A Bishop for a serious reason, may suspend the distribution of the Sacrament as it should be remembered that Holy Communion is a privilege and not an ABSOLUTE right!”
This would be a great teaching moment for all. To remind us that the Mass is primarily an act of Sacrifice and atonement to the Almighty and not a Communion Service. Spiritual Communions are a great source of grace and this message needs now to be rediscovered in our time.
Another priest of the Parramatta Diocese, we have heard through a reliable source, publicly stated that he will not comply with his bishop’s directive since it is an illicit demand. He told his congregation “if you want to receive Holy Communion on the tongue just come and see me.” Similarly, other priests have reported to FLI that they will continue to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue to those who desire that method.
It is important to make clear that these acts of ‘disobedience’ are in fact obedience to the law of the Church. St Paul was quite adamant that anyone who ‘preached another gospel’ was to be not only ignored, but anathematised! (Gal 1:6)
It is also to be noted, as stated by Fr Terence above, that although individual bishops act outside their authority by banning communion on the tongue, they do have the authority to ban reception of Holy Communion by the faithful altogether. In these days when the Eucharist is widely seen as a reward for attending Mass, Catholics should be made aware that there is no compulsion to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of spiritual communion, Deacon Nick Donnelly has written a helpful article on the topic. He also covers making a perfect act of contrition for those who are unable to access the sacrament of confession. It is to be hoped that Catholics in Australia aren’t faced with this dreadful situation, but for our brothers and sisters in Italy it is a reality.
This confusion about reception of communion during a pandemic is causing distress to Australia’s most devout and faithful Catholics. One may ask why bishops who say nothing about the numerous sacrilegious communions being made around the country on a regular basis, are so quick to outlaw Communion on the tongue due to a virus. This could lead Catholics to ask whether they are themselves afraid of suffering or whether they are more concerned about the bodies of their flocks than the souls.
For those faithful who are being deprived of Holy Communion, due to their disdain for reception in the hand, there are several courses of action. Fr Terence suggests contacting your Diocesan office, multiple times if necessary and stating your objections. Writing to the Apostolic Nuncio is another option. A third option that is always guaranteed to attract attention is withholding contributions to the collection plate: make sure your priest knows exactly why you have chosen to do this.
At this time when the relics of the “little flower” Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and her now Canonised parents, Louis and Zelie Martin are touring parishes in Australia, for this to happen is somewhat ironic. That family full of canonised Saints had great devotion to the Holy Mass and Holy Communion. Maybe some of those abusing their authority and imposing this dubious practice on the faithful should spend some time before the relics of these holy saints.
FLI joins thousands of others around the world who are praying for the victims of the coronavirus, praying for medical staff and leaders who have important decisions to make, and asking Our Lord for a swift end to this crisis.