From the Pastor: Coronavirus and Holy Communion
Bishops and priests who have evidently never given out Holy Communion to people reverently kneeling at an altar rail and receiving on the tongue are working up a lather right now trying to convince people that receiving in such a way is a dangerous way of spreading the coronavirus. I get where many of them are coming from. The only experience priests of my generation and younger have with receiving Holy Communion is standing with hands outstretched and having someone place the Sacred Host in the palm of their hand. That is how they received when they made their First Holy Communion and they were forbidden to receive in the traditional manner. Altar rails were ripped out of their home parishes when they were very young or even before they were born. If they were ever in a church where an altar rail was still in place, it was only seen as a quaint relic of the old, unenlightened days of terrible fasts and penances and submission before God and His priests, and which will be torn down as soon as the last loudmouthed founding parish family member passes away. Until such time, it is only used as a place to set flowers and other such decorations, and never used as a communion rail. In the seminary, they were taught the half-truth that reception on the hand was an ancient and venerable practice that must be “restored,” so as priests teaching their parish children how to make their First Holy Communion, they never once mentioned the method that has been the Latin Rite norm for many centuries (unless to tell them that they could not receive that way), they never told the kids the scandalous reality of how reception in the hand came about in the USA, they just passed on what they were given, and never thought much about it. Their experience in actually distributing Holy Communion was, of course, that most people stuck out their hands for Communion and it works very well as a means of “distributing something” and keeping the line moving. Of course, they have to completely ignore or pooh pooh concerns about lack of reverence, or danger of someone walking off with the Host, or the “crumbs” which fall onto the floor to be trampled upon. Of the few people who approach them and insist on receiving on the tongue, the majority will remain standing, as there is no rail to assist in getting down and back up again, and no step upon which to kneel anyway. That, you might not realize, makes the person’s mouth a very difficult target to hit, as they are invariably moving, whether lunging forward or leaning back or swaying from side to side, and quite awkwardly high. This constant movement means that the priest’s fingers will often come in contact with the person’s lips, tongue, chin, or nose. Yes, really!
Anyway, with that as their experience (and I know because that was my experience in the past), I find it hard to fault the priests and bishops for thinking that they must stop people from receiving on the tongue for sanitary reasons. But just as we priests have to suspend our intellects when rationalizing the “crumbs” away, so they (I am happy to now exclude myself from this group) have to, instead of really thinking, never even consider how many times they touch the hands of those who receive in the palm, and how many germ covered surfaces those same hands have been exposed to and how they are now touching dozens if not hundreds of palms and passing from palm to palm, from Host to Host, all of those germs. Each person then takes the Host in their unwashed and (here’s the panic) potentially coronavirus bearing fingers and places it in his mouth, doing exactly what the bishops and priests are telling people that they will avoid if only they don’t take the Host on the tongue! If only they would come and experience distribution at an altar rail, they would see the reasons it became the norm! It actually encourages reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist, a major thing lacking in many parishes today to the point that 70% of active Catholics don’t believe that the Eucharist is really, truly, substantially Jesus. They would see that even when the person receiving is unfamiliar with the procedure and lunges, sways, bites, or licks, they can only move just so far and no more and, because they are low, the priest has more control over his aim, resulting in only a very, very rare contact with saliva. They would then start a new campaign for both physical and, more importantly, spiritual health, to re-install altar rails to be used for the proper, traditional, time-tested and proven means of distributing Holy Communion. Communion on the hand would soon be a distant and shameful memory.
With that being said, please note that there is no such thing as distributing Holy Communion in the hand at the TLM due to the mandate that we follow the 1962 liturgical laws and no priest or bishop may mandate differently, nor may the one receiving. You may stand to receive only in the case of physical inability to kneel. All others kneel and receive on the tongue, with hands down (the altar boy has to place the paten under your chin to catch and fallen particles), head tilted slightly back, mouth open, tongue slightly extended straight out (not like the Kiss rock band leaders) and without saying a single word, not even “amen.” This is both reverent and sanitary!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka