While some bishops claim to have a right to ban Communion on the tongue during the coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, pointed to a letter issued by the Vatican amid the 2009 swine flu pandemic which proves the opposite.
In 2009, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments responded to a lay Catholic’s questions about restrictions on receiving Holy Communion on the tongue due to the swine flu.
“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 on 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 (cf. n. 91),” the letter affirmed.
According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, which was published in 2004 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the reception of the Eucharist on the tongue, as it has been practiced for centuries, is essentially the default way for Catholics to receive Communion.
However, “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.”
The 2004 document also hinted at abuse that could take place when Communion is received in the hand. Thus, “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,” Redemptionis Sacramentum warned.
In 2009, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments “assured” the lay Catholic who asked about the reception of Communion during a pandemic “that the appropriate contacts will be made,” suggesting that the priests and bishops who banned Communion on the tongue were reprimanded.
Bishop Strickland, in his June 8 tweet, did not comment further on the letter. He only retweeted a picture of it and wrote, “This is important…”
In a follow-up, he said, “Sadly law ignored leads to chaos….we are seeing this on many levels of society…law when ignored becomes even more important…let us return first to God’s law and then seek to rebuild from there.”
For the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States.”
The same government agency is reporting under 2 million cases of coronavirus, but significantly more deaths – more than 110,000.
There is no indication that a fundamental right of the faithful, as it was forcefully stated by Redemptionis Sacramentum, would no longer be valid during a pandemic that is deadlier than previous pandemics.
Nevertheless, several bishops in the United States and across the world, for instance in Germany and Austria, ordered their priests not to distribute Holy Communion directly on the tongue.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Alabama, warned his priests that they are not allowed to celebrate public Masses if they want to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue.
“If any priest cannot follow archdiocesan regulations, it will be necessary for him to refrain from the celebration of public Masses,” Rodi wrote in a May 20 letter obtained by LifeSiteNews (see full letter HERE). “This matter is too serious for us to take any other approach than one of extreme caution for the safety of others.”
“Social distancing must be maintained during the Mass and the only way to maintain social distancing when distributing Communion is by the communicant receiving on the hand,” Rodi argued.
Following the publication of that article, a source in the Archdiocese of Mobile told LifeSiteNews that Communion on the tongue has resumed in at least some places there. The archdiocese does not appear to have made a formal announcement about it.
Similarly, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote in a May 8 tweet that the priests of his diocese “will not give Communion on the tongue as per my instruction.”
Additionally, Stika said that if anyone “makes a scene” asking to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, “they will be asked to leave and not permitted to return [until] this passes.”
The Thomistic Institute is part of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. The guidelines were prepared not only by theologians, but also by medical experts, including Timothy P. Flanigan of Brown University, and Aaron Kheriaty of the University of California, Irvine.
According to the Thomistic Institute, receiving Holy Communion directly on the tongue is possible “without unreasonable risk.”
“Opinions on this point are varied within the medical and scientific community: some believe Communion on the tongue involves an elevated and, in the light of all the circumstances, an unreasonable risk; others disagree,” the document pointed out. “If Communion on the tongue is provided, one could consider using hand sanitizer after each communicant who receives on the tongue.”