Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More Swine Flu Silliness

So I went to noon Mass at a chapel near my work this afternoon and the priest announced that "by order of the Bishop" communion would only be offered in the palm, citing concerns about swine flu. You could hear the congregation sigh; it is a fairly devout chapel where most communions are on the tongue. The priest had a smirk on his face which looked somewhat amused but also forlorn, as if the absurdity of the whole situation would be comic if it weren't so serious a matter: communion in the palm or none at all. Some attendees were very troubled by this; I saw one woman who went up to communion nervously examining her palms at least twice after returning to her seat and then sticking them under her arms, the way we do when we are trying to hide our hands for some reason.

And why, you ask, was I watching other people and not praying after communion? Because I didn't receive. I made up my mind years ago that I was never going to receive on the hand again after I became convinced that it promoted irreverence, and upon being told that I had to receive on the hand I opted to not receive at all. Interestingly enough, I had a great tangible consolation after leaving Mass, the consolation of feeling that I'd done the right thing and been blessed for it. I was thankful that I was not in the position of the other woman, a worried look on her face anxiously examining her palms.

Maybe I'm an idiot, but to me reception in the hand is much more unsanitary than reception on the tongue. Is the idea that the priest's finger might touch your tongue and he might catch what you have? In the eight years I have been a practicing Catholic I can think of only one time out of the thousand of communions I have made that the priest's finger touched my tongue; oh wait, it was the finger of an EMHC, not a priest. Come to think of it, no priest has ever touched my tongue. I'm sure it happens, but I'm guessing very infrequently. Priests put communion in people's mouths for a living; they are competent enough to do it without getting slobber on their fingers. If anyone says the issue is about saliva, I think that is very disingenuous, especially when referring to the reception of the sacred host (versus from the chalice). There is virtually no saliva transmission via communion on the tongue.

Perhaps the idea is that the person, when opening their mouth to receive, will breathe on the priest and spread a virus that way. Okay, first off, let's agree that when we say "breathe on" we mean exhale, right? To breathe on something or someone is nothing other than to exhale. And when do we exhale? Does anybody exhale immediately after opening your mouth? Try opening your mouth right now as if you were receiving communion - don't you kind of instinctively inhale when opening your mouth? Now try to open your mouth an exhale simultaneously - you can do it, but doesn't it feel weird and unnatural? Who exhales the second they open their mouth?

"Yes, Boniface, but if you've had your mouth open for a time, then it is natural to exhale with your mouth open."

Point granted. But, who stands in line with their mouth open before they get up to receive? You'd look like an ass doing that and nobody does it in reality. Furthermore, you have to say "amen" when the priest says "Body of Christ," so even if you did have your mouth open, you'd have to close it momentarily to say "amen," so the mouth does not open really until the moment when the host is coming towards your it - at which point, as I explained above, it is very unnatural to exhale. It would necessitate you saying "Amen" and the immediately opening your mouth and exhaling just as someone is putting something into it. Try doing that now: say "amen," then immediately open your mouth and exhale. Who would receive like that?

And who exhales when something is being put into their mouth anyway? Do you exhale while eating putting a cracker into your mouth? What about while drinking something? I'm not being facetious with this emphasis on exhaling, because exhaling is what would spread a virus most likely, not a very unlikely contact with saliva.

One other thing: which is dirtier, the human hand or the human tongue? Isn't the single biggest factor in human hygienic improvement in the last century the fact that people learned to wash their hands? As one person said in my combox to another post (sarcastically), "Because you know, hands are clean and sanitary, because they don't touch thousands of nasty, public objects all day long. And tongues are dirty because they're not tucked away safely, and they aren't covered in enzymes that sanitize and destroy contaminants." If a priest did accidentally touch a tongue, it would be a lot less worse than accidentally touching a hand!

When giving communion, what is more probable, that a priest will accidentally touch a tongue or a hand?

What is more unsanitary, a tongue or a hand? The tongue is encased in sanitizing enzymes - but who usually washes their hands before Mass?

I think this directive (if it is a real directive since there is nothing on the diocesan wesbite about it) is not well thought out and very illogical. Besides, if someone in the congregation did have swine flu, don't you think even if everybody received on the hand and didn't shake at the passing of the peace that just the fact of being in a cramped room with hundreds of people would be dangerous enough? One of the symptoms of swine flu is excessive coughing. So, nevermind that the guy two pews behind you is coughing nonstop all Mass long - as long as we have communion in the hand everything is okay! Never waste a crisis.

Well, okay, whatever.


Anonymous said...

My diocese (Santa Rosa, CA) made this mandatory as well, and I am quite upset. Honestly I was not at all surpried; I think it has to be one of the mose liberal dioceses nationwide.

Baron Korf said...

They can't make it mandatory, at least not licitly. Fr Z addressed this earlier.

Redemptionis Sacramentum 92:

"Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, 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. However, 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."

Last I checked, Holy See > Local Ordinary.

Mr S said...

Priests put communion in people's mouths for a living; they are competent enough to do it without getting slobber on their fingers.

At those words the very next words that came to mind:

"Unless you eat.... you have no life in you..."I have never received in the hand, and I don't think I ever could unless it was to save a desecration of the Host. I feel your pain, B.

There have been times, however, when my "Amen" was rather slow, and the priest rather fast.... so I try to say the Amen before I get close enough to receive.

Another reason to do away with the unExtraordinary MHC's


rkl said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this one. I'm an adamant receiver on the tongue, but since I've been sick with some kind of cold virus, I've been receiving in the hand because I'd be horrified at the idea of my passing on whatever I have to the priests. You've brought up some excellent points and I will resume receiving on the tongue tomorrow.

God bless you & keep up the excellent commentaries!

Athanasius said...

I never said the Amen, at least not from the time that I learned Greek, because Amen in greek is in the subjunctive, so you are saying "may it be" to the announcement "Body of Christ". I don't think so. I'm not going in for that calvinism. The people who wrote that into the liturgy are idiots. It is better for you not to say it at all.

Secondly this communion in the hand stuff because of swine flu is nuts. Firstly because swine flue is a false epidemic, the media needed attention because they know more and more of us are turning them off. To illegally restrict communion over it was not a legitimate response to a non-epidemic, it was an excuse by liberals to do what they have wanted for years, ban reverence.

Ben Trovato said...

I never receive in the hand - and never will. Likewise, never from an extraordinary minister:priest or deacon only; under one kind only, too. And I always kneel to receive: we're talking about receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ here - and anything which might tend to obscure that reality is anathema to me...

Brendan said...

I went to that chapel today and nearly everyone received on the tongue, despite the sign posted on the door. The priest didn't seem to mind at all.

Boniface said...


Are you sure we are talking about the same chapel? I was there today as well, and the priest specifically told people to receive on the hand.

Anonymous said...

Domino's right? Almost everyone received on the tongue at 5. It's different priests at different times though, this one didn't make an announcement or anything. I'm sure they would have listened if he did.

Besmartnotcareless said...

I have been reading this and at first I thought this was just another one of those random disagreements - but reading through you have brought up some excellent points. However, the last line, i can not agree with and neither does basic concept of hygiene: "If a priest did accidentally touch a tongue, it would be a lot less worse than accidentally touching a hand!" It is a fact that a dog licks all sorts of stuff, objects, people and other dogs in a single day and a dog's mouth is cleaner than that of a human. If infected with the H1N1 virus - or any other similar infectious respiratory diseases, the contageous viruses are present in the saliva, mucus and phlegm - NOT ON THE HANDS.

It is vital that your readers understand this point and also that - in today's world racism, is a HUGE issue so people will do their uttmost not to offend any one - whether it be race, culture, religion etc. The advice put forward to recieve in the palm, is NOT an easy nor simple decision and it is certainly not one made without careful considerations.

That leads me to my final and crucial point, please follow the advice put forward by the priest, bishop, pope or the WHO simply because they make these decisions for a reason.

Boniface said...


Excellent observations, but two things:

First, while I agree with what you said about H1N1 in particular, it is true generally speaking that a priest is more likely to get/transmit an illness from hand to hand contact, as are most people.

Second, I'm not proposing we disobey on this matter - I'm just whining. But its a moot point because these restrictions have all been lifted in my Diocese.

Besmartnotcareless said...

hahaha , very well my friend, whinning is indeed a fun habit! Again you have put forward some very intelligent arguements and although i can not agree nor disagree with your first point (simply because i don't have enough knowledge on that matter to make a reasonable judgement) I do indeed agree with the second.

I was not assuming that you were advicing to disobey the matter, i just read some of the comments that seemed to be giving that sense of direction. And yes, the restrictions are being lifted in many places now because there isn't much point in trying to contain the virus, WHO has decided its first line of attack is now to heal the sick and prepare for more for the future.

Either way, it is indeed an ended arguement, and if the Lord's wish is to carry humanity through this path, then suppose there is a reason behind it all.