Health professionals have issued conflicting advice over whether it is safer to receive Communion on the hand amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
While a senior adviser to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales says that Communion on the tongue is more likely to transmit the virus, physicians consulted by the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon said that when “done properly” the chances of transmission on the tongue or on the hand are more or less equal.
On Friday, March 6, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, issued advice “strongly encourag[ing]” Catholics to receive Communion on the hand, adding that Communion on the tongue should be avoided due to the “presence of saliva on the tongue”.
The cardinal added that the advice issued by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which calls for Communion only in the hand in the case of the widespread outbreak, is taken from Professor Jim McManus, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health UK.
Professor McManus told the Catholic Herald that the chance of a flu-like virus such as coronavirus spreading through saliva is much greater than from touching the hand.
However, the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, last week said it had consulted two physicians, including a specialist in immunology, both of whom said Communion on the hand or the tongue poses a more or less equal risk.
“The risk of touching the tongue and passing the saliva on to others is obviously a danger however the chance of touching someone’s hand is equally probable and one’s hands have a greater exposure to germs,” the archdiocese said.
The Archdiocese added that no parish or minister of Holy Communion could deny Communion on the tongue.
According to the 2004 instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Redemptionis Sacramentum, “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.” The document also states that it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any Catholic who is not impeded by law from receiving it.
A 1985 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship to the US bishops also says: “The faithful are not to be obliged to adopt the practice of communion in the hand. Each one is free to communicate in one way or the other.”
Commentators, including Fr John Zuhlsdorf, have raised concerns that particles of the Host can break off in the hand, leading to unwitting desecration.
Last week, the Latin Mass Society published guidance reminding Catholics that, in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Communion may only be received on the tongue. If Communion on the tongue must be suspended, they added, the congregation should instead make a Spiritual Communion.