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Toward Post-COVID Normality

Date: April 3, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Question: For dioceses who have restricted the option of receiving Communion on the tongue at Mass since the start of COVID, is there anything in Church law or canon law that will ensure this restriction won’t be kept in place permanently? -- T.B., Courtenay, British Columbia

Answer: While there is no doubt of the legitimacy of the emergency measures due to COVID, such emergency measures are, by their very nature, temporary and transitory and do not abrogate universal law in any way. Once the situation which provoked the emergency measures ceases, the authority which introduced the emergency measures should formally withdraw or otherwise modify them.

Even if this is not formally done, the emergency rules can be presumed to have ceased if it is patently clear that the emergency has ceased; for example, if the competent civil authorities have declared an end to the state of emergency.

Universal Church law on this matter is found in several documents, the most important of these being the General Introduction to the Roman Missal:

“160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession. The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The faithful communicate either kneeling or standing, as determined by the Conference of Bishops. When they communicate standing, however, it is recommended that they make an appropriate sign of reverence, as determined in the same norms, before receiving the Sacrament.

“161. If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying: Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ). The communicant replies: Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed and if the communicant so chooses, in the hand. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes it entirely. If, however, Communion is given under both kinds, the rite prescribed in nos. 284-287 is followed.”

This norm is also mentioned in the instruction 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.”

Thus, it is clear that universal law foresees Communion on the tongue as the norm, and Communion in the hand is only a right where specifically permitted. This is the default law when a medical emergency ceases.

A recent example of such a change has come from the Italian bishops’ conference which on March 25, 2022, issued a series of orientations in line with the fact of the Italian government’s decision not to renew the state of emergency after March 31 and generally easing restrictions due to COVID.

The bishops’ conference, therefore, proposes a gradual return to normality while retaining some prudential measures.

Hence, face masks will still be required indoors until April 30. It is no longer necessary to respect the one-meter social distancing, although efforts should be made to avoid conglomerations while entering and exiting the church. For the moment, holy water fonts should remain empty; churches and sacristies should be well-ventilated and sanitized regularly; processions can be carried out once more with prudence; and the sign of peace should be given while avoiding physical contact.

With respect to the distribution of Communion, the document indicates, “Ministers of communion should continue to wear face masks, and sanitize their hands before distributing the Eucharist, preferably in the hand.”

This “preferably” would indicate that although it is recommended it is no longer obligatory.

This being a document of the bishops’ conference, they are orientations, and the local ordinary could give more precise orientations or norms based on local circumstances. However, it is clear that the document foresees a return to normality and frequently cites the universal norms as found in the missal as the point of reference for this return.

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