‘From the point of view of hygiene, it is absolutely incomprehensible to us why oral communion has been banned in Austria. We also consider this form of distribution safer than hand communion.’
Twenty-one Austrian doctors have authored a letter appealing their country’s Bishops’ Conference to lift the de facto ban on receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, which has been enforced since Communion in the hand was announced to be the only permitted form of distribution for the consecrated Host.
As COVID-19 lockdown measures are being progressively lifted in Europe and Masses are being cautiously reopened to the public, a number of bishops’ conferences in countries such as Italy and Austria have decided to oblige priests to distribute Holy Communion only in the hand, although Communion kneeling and on the tongue is the traditional practice of the Catholic Church.
For traditionally-minded Catholics, this obligation is the equivalent of a full ban on receiving communion. The lack of respect and risk of profanation of particles from the consecrated Host involved in communion in the hand is unacceptable to them.
The 21 Catholic doctors of Austria who signed the letter (read full letter below) quoted the professional opinion of Professor Filippo Maria Boscia, the president of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Italy who stated in May that “Communion on the tongue is safer than hand Communion.”
They went on to show in substance that in the traditional Catholic liturgy – that is, the Tridentine Rite of the Mass – barrier measures to prevent spreading the coronavirus are even more widely present than in the Novus Ordo, as when the priest is required to hold thumb and forefinger joined together from the moment he has consecrated the bread, only using them to touch the Host from then on until the moment when he once again purifies his hands.
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The doctors commented that “the priests who celebrate in the traditional rite are experienced in administering oral communion and practically never have contact with the mouth of the communicant. Should this happen, however, a priest can be credited with such a sense of responsibility that, taking into account the present situation, he will interrupt the giving of communion and clean his hands.”
They also noted that when the faithful kneel to receive Communion, contamination by droplets is less likely because the priest’s face is not at the same level as that of the communicant.
“From the point of view of hygiene, it is absolutely incomprehensible to us why oral communion has been banned in Austria. We also consider this form of distribution safer than hand communion,” the doctors wrote. They also underscored that most contaminations are the result of sullied hands, quoting Dr. Boscia, who wrote in May: “What is certain is that the hands are the parts of the body that are most exposed to pathogens.”
The Catholic Doctors of Austria concluded their letter by recalling that the Congregation for Divine Worship proclaimed the faithful’s “right” to receive Communion on the tongue, with no exceptions.
Here below is LifeSite’s full translation of the Austrian doctors’ letter.
Comments from Catholic doctors in Austria
In the General Regulations of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference for the resumption of the celebration of public services from 15 May 2020, it was stipulated that the distribution of Communion during Holy Mass is now only permitted in the form of Communion in the hand. This regulation was confirmed in the amended version of 27 May 2020.
We, Catholic doctors in Austria, would like to state the following:
1. In May of this year, the President of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Italy – a country that was hit much harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than Austria – Prof. Filippo Maria Boscia made a clear statement on this subject: “As a doctor, I am convinced that Communion in the hand is less hygienic and therefore less safe than Communion in the mouth” and he continued: “What is certain is that the hands are the parts of the body that are most exposed to pathogens.”
2. We agree with this opinion. It is part of the traditional rite that the priest should wash his hands in the sacristy immediately before the beginning of Holy Mass. Only he touches the chalice and ciborium. After the consecration, he keeps his thumb and index finger – which he has ritually washed with water again just before – closed until after Communion, so he does not touch anything with them except the consecrated Host. The priests who celebrate in the traditional rite are experienced in administering communion on the tongue and practically never have contact with the mouth of the communicant. Should this happen, however, a priest can be credited with such a sense of responsibility that, taking into account the present situation, he will interrupt the giving of Communion and clean his hands. It should also be mentioned that it is almost impossible for droplet infection to occur, since the communicant is in a kneeling position, whereas the priest is in a standing position. In this strictly regulated procedure, there is far less risk of infection than when Communion is given in the hand. So from the point of view of hygiene, it is absolutely incomprehensible to us why oral communion has been banned in Austria. We also consider this form of distribution safer than hand communion.
3. Apart from the religious aspect, the Church has certainly also been motivated by hygienic considerations to have practiced the form of Communion on the tongue for such a long period: at least 1,400 years (if not longer). It was well known that people transmit diseases, and since water and soap were not available to the same extent as is now the case, one can assume that people often came to church with unwashed hands. So with communion on the tongue one could effectively address this source of danger.
4. The Swiss Bishops’ Conference, in its rules on the resumption of public worship services on 26 May this year, did not comment on the form of giving communion and thus continues to allow communion on the tongue.
5. We would like to mention here that to our knowledge there has not been a single proven transmission of the Covid-19 virus through a smear infection.
6. In a communication of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church of April 3, 1985, we read: “The Apostolic See maintains the traditional method of administering Communion throughout the Church … ” The same Congregation affirmed in 2009 that the faithful always have the right to receive communion on the tongue and that it is not allowed to refuse it. No exception (such as a pandemic) is mentioned here.
The decree of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference brings many priests and faithful into a serious conflict of conscience. According to the valid norms of the Church, the giving of Communion in the hand is still based on an indult, while Communion on the tongue is still the regular form of receiving communion. The faithful, therefore, for whom it is a serious and important concern to receive Communion on the tongue, and who thereby are doing no more than following the Church’s norms in this regard, continue to be excluded from receiving Communion, which constitutes a serious prejudice to these faithful.
We, Catholic doctors in Austria, therefore ask the members of the Bishops’ Conference, on the basis of the arguments we have mentioned, to correct this regulation so that the giving of Communion is once again permitted, so that all Catholics may be given the opportunity to receive the Body of the Lord and thus partake of all the graces of Holy Mass. We do not consider it justified to exclude them for reasons of hygiene.