Coronavirus, Communion in the Hand, and Calming Down

The last thing anyone would call me is a liturgical liberal. But I keep seeing, in the steadily increasing fear over coronavirus, bishops (including the Chaldean Patriarch) calling for preventative measures like the removal of holy water and Communion in the hand, and conversely people complaining about impiety in the bishops making those calls. Recently, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch wrote a pastoral message about this, claiming that those worried about contracting sickness while receiving Communion have a lack of faith. 

Since I’m not a medical professional, I’m not going to write about:

  • Whether coronavirus is a plague that will obliterate humanity or a hoax perpetrated by the Illuminati to keep us living in fear, or
  • Whether Communion in the hand or on the tongue is more sanitary in the first place (since saliva apparently has enzymes and everyone’s hands are apparently filthy). 

But assuming the possibilities that coronavirus is serious enough to address as a community, and that Communion in the hand might help in some way, I think it’s worth making a few basic points. 

  1. I have yet to see anyone actually cite a Church Council or Father or Authoritative Anything claiming that the Eucharist is incapable of transmitting disease. Nor can I find anything about it in the CCC or other such documents. On the contrary, Aquinas teaches that the Eucharistic species can generate worms if left to putrefy. If they can do that, and if the accidents of bread and wine remain, I don’t see how it’s not outright heresy to think that the accident of “being able to transmit disease” doesn’t also remain. Piety, in this case, needs to be tempered by theology lest it become superstition. That said, if anyone is aware of any kind of Church document saying otherwise, please let me know. 
  2. More directly to the point made by Patriarch Daniel, faith does not exclude prudence, and holy things aren’t magic. The sacraments are fundamentally about the forgiveness of sins and the sanctification of the soul, not a replacement for medicine or an excuse to put wisdom aside. The attitude of those forgetting this (with all due respect) is parallel to thinking that the angels will catch you if you throw yourself off a building, as long as that building is the temple. You shall not test the Lord your God. 
  3. Communion in the hand is not an aberration of Church practice, and Communion on the tongue is not The Tradition of the Church. I know this is a sensitive issue to some, but (1) the traditional practices of the Roman Rite are not normative for the entire Catholic Church, and (2) the Byzantine tradition does not represent all of Eastern Christianity. In the Chaldean tradition (for example), Communion in the hand is the most ancient and venerable practice, and is mentioned in Communion Hymns (“Strengthen, O Lord, the hands that extend and receive the Host that forgives sins…”) as well as in Patristic Literature (Narsai talks about how the hands are to be made into a cross or throne for Christ’s Body to be placed on; Cyril of Jerusalem does the same – both cited here). 
  4. This is indirectly related but (I think) still relevant: Communion in the hand can be a source of impiety or disrespect to the Body of Christ, if received in an unworthy or disrespectful manner (for example, if someone receives while in the state of mortal sin, or if a communicant grabs the Host and tosses it in his mouth while walking back to his seat). This impiety, I think, should be addressed along with any announcement about Communion in the hand. I like Narsai’s rubric: the right hand is placed crosswise upon the left, the Host is placed on the right hand, and the communicant raises it to his mouth while bowing his head to receive. 

5 thoughts on “Coronavirus, Communion in the Hand, and Calming Down

  1. The issue isn’t really does the communion transmit disease, but whether the mode of transmission of the host from ministers is more likely to involve physical contact between them and the communicants. There’s a lot of hand-to-hand touching in communion-in-the-hand. So which is more hygienic? Well, if I go to NO Mass, I get communion in the hand but if I go to the Extraordinary Form, I receive in what may be a more sanitary way, but THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF KIDS AT THAT MASS AND THEY ARE ALL VIRAL SINKS THAT SPEW BODILY FLUIDS BY THE GALLON.

    So, yeah, it’s a dilemma.

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