To Receive or not to Receive: Eucharist in the Pandemic

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The opinions expressed by the below two authors do not necessarily represent those of the Clarifying Catholicism writing staff. We encourage healthy discourse in the comments below!

Whenever a major and divisive crisis pops up, we at Clarifying Catholicism enjoy encouraging our writers to engage in point-counterpoint discussions of them. Our last article was on the controversial Black Lives Matter organization. Today’s topic concerns whether or not Catholics should receive the Eucharist during the pandemic. Our authors today are Patrick Murray (University of Alabama) and Phillip Hadden (Holy Apostles College). We hope you enjoy their commentaries. Please feel free to vote in the survey below on the following question: Should Catholics receive the Eucharist during the Pandemic?

Don’t Receive the Eucharist!… Yet!

By Patrick Murray, University of Alabama

The Hard Truth

On May 22, Donald Trump declared that all “Houses of Worship” should be considered as essential elements of human life and be allowed to reopen. And what a victory that was! Catholics will be overjoyed to return to the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Earthly lives.

However, this message also bears a note of caution. After all, only a day before the President’s declaration, the Center for Disease Control released updated guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, encouraging us to continue to maintain strict social distance from one another and prevent the virus’s unique capability of spreading through person-to-person contact, even something as small as a touch of the hands. It is no wonder that the virus has taken over one hundred thousand American lives, and its spread has remained at a rate of about twenty thousand new cases per day throughout the so-called “quarantine” of April and May.

These truths should concern all of us Catholics, especially as we realize the implications of social distancing on our most precious and holy celebration of the Eucharist. Questions may arise in our minds such as these: “If I wash my hands before Mass, will I be safe?” “Should I just receive on the tongue instead?” “If so, then what if I accidentally lick Father’s finger?! Surely that would be even worse!”

This article will review the facts of the situation and attempt to answer all your questions about this critical matter. Then, it will recommend the most prudent option by balancing the good of our bodies with that of our souls. The conclusion of this article is sure to be controversial and difficult to bear, but I ask you to read on nonetheless! I hope to show that the virtues of Prudence and Hope demand only one proper response to this situation.

Reviewing Our Options

This article was originally intended to determine which is the safer option: reception of the Body of Christ on the hand, or on the tongue. However, the research I conducted in writing this article led me to the surprising, yet undeniable conclusion that both methods pose a great risk to our bodies, which are cherished temples of the Holy Spirit that anticipate their physical resurrection to eternal life.

The fact is that coronavirus spreads very easily whenever two people enter six-foot proximity with one another, even if they wear a mask. The CDC notes that this transmission occurs through water droplets, the primary vector for coronavirus, which travel not only through our breathing but also through our hands and onto the surfaces we touch. Communion on the hands is even closer contact; transubstantiated or not, the accidents of the Eucharist are a vector like any other, and its transmission from hand to hand clearly violates our universal guidance for social distancing.

Communion on the tongue has been suggested by some as an unexpectedly safer alternative to communion on the hand, as it appears to avoid any bodily contact when the priest skips the hand, transferring the precious Body of Christ directly into the communicant’s mouth. However, there are at least two major issues with this practice. First, the communicant will still come into contact with something the priest has touched, making the situation no different from his point of view. Second, the priest is at a marginal risk of touching the person’s tongue, which is clearly far worse than touching his hand. (Note: The best way to avoid this is to keep your tongue still and behind the teeth.) Whatever may be said about proper technique, even one instance of accidental tongue touches out of a thousand will not be forgiven by the virus that it is sure to spread.

Finally, it may be noted that even entering the line to receive communion puts a person at significant risk if distances of six feet or more are not maintained throughout that line. (Incidentally, I have also noticed that people at my parish tend to take their masks off just before reaching the front of the line, which is obviously problematic as well. However, I cannot be sure that Catholics are so careless elsewhere.) COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly!

Wannabe Martyrs

One may be tempted to think it is all right, or even noble, to risk our health in order to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. After all, as Saint John Paul the Second writes, “the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” Countless Catholics in the past have risked their lives for this union, saying Mass upon the tombs of their martyred comrades and constructing priest-holes for protection against Elizabethan authorities. Shouldn’t we follow their example and accept the risk of contracting a deadly virus that was described above?

The current situation is very different from that of these noble fathers. While their actions were an act of protest against oppression; ours reject government guidelines that are meant to protect us. Some oppressed Christians were indefinitely deprived of the Eucharist, not knowing if they could ever receive it again; we are just waiting for the pandemic to reside, or for a vaccine to come, in the next few months. Let us avoid such prideful comparisons!


While Christ cares for our souls, providing us with Himself as our spiritual food and drink, he also wishes for our bodily health. A healthy body will give us more time on Earth to sanctify ourselves, to combat injustice, and to spread the Good News to those around us. Overall, it is something worth careful protection! Until the reception of communion holds no risk of contracting a deadly disease, this author recommends abstaining from it and making frequent acts of spiritual communion.

Counterpoint! The Essential Bread of Life feeds the Domestic Church

How to Receive Christ With Love in the Eucharist

by Phillip Hadden, Holy Apostles College

Bishop Robert Barron explains on his Word on Fire Institute class on John Henry Newman that the modern university treats theology as a hobby, and in much of the same manner society treats religion also as a hobby. Religion is nothing more than something that someone chooses to do in their spare time. The treatment stems from modernity’s acceptance of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the Romantic Age (throw Schleiermacher in there too) that the material object of religion (theology) is the subjective human need and the way we are informed is through human means and experience. However, the study of God is an objective science; it is ordered, it begins with a cause, it has propositions, it deals with certainty, it is argumentative, and it has proofs. Faith begins with the movement of the will after the intellect accepts propositions. The will is then moved to faith to things not evident by the trust of the revealer of revelation. The movement of faith is twofold as it compels a movement of an act of charity as persons order their will to the will of God–who is love. God calls us to goodness to the end of perfection–to live a life of holiness.

Sadly, the capitulation of Christian leaders to secular authorities during the pandemic has lowered religion in the state of society as less than a hobby. As any one of us need sustenance for our bodies to will ourselves to go to work and can go to the grocery store; our souls need the sustenance provided in the Blessed Sacrament in order to move our will to God’s will through grace to do His work. In fact, recently, a video has been making its rounds on twitter of a church having service in a Walmart due to their church being ordered to be closed down due to the pandemic. Christians should be cautious how we navigate this time. Sure, we should consider the common good, but we must discern what this means actually. By the grace of God, when the pandemic subsides, the faithful should not be surprised, if they find the pews less filled. Christianity continues to be relegated to nothing more than a hobby by secular governments and by the culture at large. The secular governments show time and time again, the first action is to interrupt the action of religion, although those same governments still allow many to sacrifice to the idols of their hobbies because hobbies have been deemed essential—not religion and especially not Christianity.  

If society considers the common good as merely what affects the material, we can throw out a lot of other aspects of society just as Newman points toward the Idea of the University when other subjects of study are thrown out when we start to argue against the objectiveness of theology. To bring this more in focus because Fr. Thomas Joseph White wrote a very good article in First Things about the Church’s care for the common good. Epidemic Danger and Catholic Sacraments. As the Science of God properly orders all other sciences, the life of the Church properly orders the life of the community (society). So, when the Church is deemed non-essential in society, much like theology in a university, something else will replace it. Please do not misconstrue what I am saying, the common good and the dignity of the body should be a focus of consideration, but if we look at humanity within the concept of Aristotle’s four causes, that consideration cannot supplant the formal cause–the soul. It cannot supplant the final cause or the end of human existence which is the adoration of God. If we treat only the considerations of the material cause then we lose the entire basis of the Catholic definition of human dignity. 

The one aspect of focus how the life of the Church plays a role in the life of the community is the liturgy. I’d ask the faithful to consider the role of prayer in our lives and how it sets a foundation for the rest of our lives. It starts with repentance. Let us reflect on the what is taught in the gospel of Luke. In Luke’s gospel, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector is found:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 18:9-14 RSV

Now, after we humble ourselves before the Lord, how to do we continue to live a life of repentance? How do we answer the call to live of life of holiness that we’re called to live? Let the faithful review what is written in the Catholic Catechism on the matter:

2013 “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”66

In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.67

2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments – “the holy mysteries” – and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.

Therefore, we must be receptive and responsive to the gratuity of God’s grace through the supernatural of the liturgy (prayer), sacraments, and devotions like Eucharistic adoration. . It is through the ordinary means of grace given to us by Jesus Christ through His Church that the Body of Christ can move the intellect from assenting to the articles of faith to the act of faith perfected in love as St. Paul informs us in the Letter to the Galatians. The intellect is moved by ordering our will with God’s will by acts of charity. As St. James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead.” 

How is does this work in the community and society at large? In the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, but subsidiarity exists in the smallest of forms in the domestic church—the family. The Liturgy and the Sacraments spiritually feeds each member of the family. The Catechism teaches the faithful:

1656 In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica.168 It is in the bosom of the family that parents are “by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.”169

So, how can the most basic form of subsidiarity—the family—hope to shape the greater community without the sustenance of the sacraments in which we can come into mystical union within the body of Christ with its head Jesus? All things all possible with God, but it would seem that the Church should not hinder the normal means to participate in the divine life. It is through the participation in the life of the Church where the heads of the family gain spiritual strength to teach their children the commandments of the Lord as they are the principal educators of the faith. It is through the repetition of the liturgy where the heads learn the ancient phrase: Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. 

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