Saturday, 28 November 2009

Communion on the Tongue and Swine Flu

Father Finegan has drawn attention to a letter from the Vatican which says that it is not lawful to refuse Holy Communion on the tongue. The context of this is the way an English diocese has responded to the Swine Flu. The Vatican replied to someone who wrote to ask if, in this case, Communion on the tongue could be refused. The answer is a clear "No".
When I saw that some bishops were arguing that Communion in the hand was safer, or that the tongue was less safe, I wondered where they had got their information. A few years ago I did a basic hygiene course, and it was clear from that, that the most dangerous part of the body - as regards passing on contamination (short of spitting at people or coughing in their face!) is the hand.
A week or so ago I was in Chicago and a friend there who has been doing some research on these things told me about a survey done in the United States regarding infection etc. He said the researchers had discovered that the most dangerous objects with regard to passing on infection are supermarket trolleys. He told me that in some supermarkets antiseptic wipes are provided. He agreed with me that it is the hand - above all - that is the danger. I couldn't help noticing that when I give Communion on the tongue I can do it, quite easily, without touching the mouth or the tongue of the communicant. On the other hand (no pun intended), when I give Communion in the hand it is almost impossible not to touch someone's hand now and then.
Swine Flu aside, this is an issue (Reception of Holy Communion) that will not go away. I found this article which discusses the question of Communion on the hand. I thought it interesting. It was written before the Swine Flu scare but gives some insight into how the change in the distribution of Holy Communion came about.


  1. Yet another good post Father.

    In our church first they withdrew the chalice of wine and the holy water by the door. Then they asked us not to give the sign of peace by shaking hands; we should smile or wave instead. Some people did that, others continued shaking hands. Then they brought back the chalice of wine; but did not bring back the holy water by the door.

    Confusion reigned supreme. Meanwhile the swine-flu virus looked in and went away to infect another more organised church.

    My concern about Communion in the hand is the risk that some people walk away from the church with the Host with them to be used in black masses.

    God bless you.

  2. I ave been getting a bit paranoid about supermarket trolleys lately, but then again I can get a bit paranoid generally. I get worse as I age. I don't really like the sign of peace anyway, I mean the hand shaking. I never know who's hand to shake first, the person to the left, or the right, in front or behind, and when to stop? After three shakes, four, what if someone feels left out? I think I better think it out again.

  3. I have a bad cold at the moment, so I won't be receiving Holy Communion today out of consideration for the priest, just in case. But I agree, it is surely easier to avoid touching the tongue than the hand - I always receive by mouth and the priest never touches my tongue!

  4. Shadowlands - if you stand with your eyes firmly closed at the sign of peace, only the most determined will disturb you!

  5. Thanks Elizabeth, I spent most of Mass yesterday worrying about the man behind me, who kept coughing and holding his right hand to his mouth. In the end, I felt sorry for him and did offer him the sign of peace. I washed my hands as soon as I got home. I didn't really concentrate on Mass very well though, God forgive me.