The novel coronavirus pandemic threw the whole world into upheaval when it emerged earlier this year. The Church was not immune from this change and both clergy and laity had to adapt.
Those adaptations included many changes in the sacraments. The distribution of the Eucharist, so central to the daily life of the Church, is especially complicated. It needs to be done in a way that satisifies the spiritual needs of the faithful but also maintains their safety and that of the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of holy Communion who distributes. One of the main questions has been whether it is safe to receive holy Communion on the tongue or whether it should only be distributed in the hand.
Back in the spring, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone sent out a letter to all priests in the diocese offering guidance on how the Eucharist should be handled. In it, he requested that each priest decide whether distributing on the tongue was appropriate for the congregation he served. Bishop Guglielmone exercised his authority on the matter and stated, “Our diocesan policy strongly recommends that Holy Communion be distributed in the hand only.”
He noted that while Church instruction states that the faithful always have the right to receive on the tongue, canon law also allows Church authority to restrict the manner of reception during a public health crisis.
Bishop Guglielmone, while recommending that reception be offered only in the hand, did not forbid reception on the tongue. If priests still choose to offer Communion on the tongue, he requested that they consider safety precautions including separate lines and asking those receiving on the tongue to wait until the end.
Because many people hold strong opinions about how Communion should be received, there has been some conflict and confusion over this instruction in the months since Bishop Guglielmone issued his letter. Two diocesan priests have written articles addressing the issue of Communion in the time of coronavirus.
Father David Nerbun, diocesan vicar for family life, recently wrote an article where he addressed some of the laity’s reactions and encouraged the faithful not to complain about being asked to receive Communion in the hand, to accept the guidance in the spirit of obedience and be grateful for the chance to receive the Eucharist.
Father Christopher Smith, pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, has also recently written about the issue. He stresses the fact that even with recommendations and restrictions in place, the faithful still have the right to receive on the tongue and are not committing a sin or being disobedient by requesting it.
The text of both priest’s columns on this issue can be found at themiscellany.org, under Commentary: Responses of the laity to reopening during COVID-19 and The reception of Communion amidst the pandemic