Rorate Caeli

Is communion on the tongue unsanitary?

As a follow-up to the article published in the Brisbane diocesan paper against the reception of Holy Communion by the faithful kneeling and on the tongue (Rorate Caeli, Feb 14, 2012, Australian Archdiocesan paper: Communion in the tongue is "unhygienic", disruptive and based on "over-emphasis on Christ's divinity"), the American District of the Society of Saint Pius X published the following informative article, which provides useful points for when this matter comes up in your discussions:

Communion on the tongue unsanitary?

Communion on the tongue is unsanitary. So authoritatively stated an article published in the Australian Catholic Leader by Elizabeth Harrington, the education official for the Liturgy Commission of the Brisbane archdiocese:

…It is awkward for ministers to give communion on the tongue to people who are standing, which is the recommended posture for communion in Australia, and it is unhygienic because it is difficult for ministers to avoid passing saliva on to other communicants.
This statement (often made by in-the-hand proponents) reveals an ignorance of the Roman Church’s traditional practice and the rubrics for the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue.

In the first place, the communicant is supposed to kneel; obviously exceptions are made for the handicapped, who usually wish they could kneel. Not only does this show the communicants’ humility in receiving their Divine Eucharistic Lord (i.e., God), but this submissive posture also enables giving the Host on the tongue more practically, safely and… hygienically in all three cases, much more so than Communion in the hand.

Another interesting aspect is that the traditional form of receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue demonstrates the Roman character of practicality that pervades its namesake liturgical rite, resulting in a reverent and dignified manner of receiving the Bread of Angels, yet easily and efficiently.

The traditional rubrics of the Rituale Romanum prescribe that the priest is to carefully pick up the Host by its edge between his right thumb and index finger; no other digits may be used to perform this action. As diligently taught in traditional First Communion classes, the communicant is to tilt his head back slightly, open his mouth and extend his tongue a little creating what is often called “the pillow of the tongue”. The priest then easily places the Host on this “pillow” without touching the communicant’s tongue, mouth, or even lips resulting in an absence of physical contact between the administrator and the communicant.

But with Communion in the hand, full hand-to-hand contact is made between the administrator (usually the ubiquitous Eucharistic Minister) and the communicants, who often have not washed (or sanitized) their hands prior to receiving. Hence with in-the-hand, there is a very real danger of spreading unwanted germs.

The fact is, before the progressivists’ clamor for Communion in the hand (something we might add episcopal conferences did without the Holy See’s approval), the issue of hygiene was never raised concerning the traditional manner of receiving Holy Communion and this during an era when the hygienic advocates were in full swing to make the world germ free.

The irony of this charge against Communion on the tongue is that those who promote in-the-hand for non-existent hygienic reasons simultaneously encourage the practice of “sharing the cup” (receiving the Precious Blood communally from a chalice) which the Roman Church ceased in ancient times precisely due to hygienic concerns (i.e., because of the backwash of saliva that inevitable occurs from a group of people drinking from the same vessel) which in turn could lead to disdain of this Sacred Mystery.

This topic in fact provides just one more example of how through Holy Mother Church’s traditional practices, she is solicitous for both our spiritual and natural welfare. On the supernatural side, she provides us with a reverential manner in which we poor and unworthy sinners (“Domine non sum dignus” citing the sentiments of the Centurion) may receive Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, yet in the natural sphere, in a way that does not jeopardize our bodily health.


  1. A beautiful picure - Grace's sublime natural beauty and the supernatural beauty of Communion in a nuptial Mass. Goes with Father's point perfectly!

  2. Confusius11:56 PM

    It seems so obvious that hand-Communion is the more unhygienic mode. The priest purifies his hands before Mass and his fingers again before the Canon of the Mass, and never makes physical contact with the communicant's mouth, lips or tongue. The communicant who receives in the palm of his hand is likely to carry all sorts of germs in his hands, from door handles, pews, hymn books etc., so it is very likely that he will be transferring bacteria into his mouth when the Host has been in his hand. Communion on the tongue is healthy spiritually and physically. Hand-Communion spreads germs and spiritual sickness.

  3. YoungCatholicSTL11:59 PM

    Two points are very well made:

    1. The irony of the shared cup is what gets me laughing everytime I have to hear about hygene.

    2. "the priest is to carefully pick up the Host by its edge between his right thumb and index finger" is mostly a lost art today outside of the traditional communities. Any priest (or even EM, for that matter) who has properly held the host has never once touched my tongue. The big problem is that one is incluned to hold the host differently for communion in the hand, and most ministers are too lazy, irreverent, erc to adjust for the tongue folk.

  4. If these people really believed in the Presence of our Lord in Holy communion, would they really think that Jesus would allow someone to get sick, or infected with anything bad?

  5. Well then, if I lived in that diocese, I guess I would not be making anything but spiritual communions for the rest of my life, because I won't receive any other way, ever, and would simply regard it as God's will. I received once in the hand a few years ago out of a misguided desire to be humbly submissive, and that was a huge mistake which I will never repeat.

  6. Father Ignotus1:41 PM

    Conscientious Catholic: the miracle with the Eucharist is transubstantiation, not excusing us from practical precautions to prevent spread of disease, etc. Of course, spreading saliva from mouth to mouth, or touching multiple hands in the process of distributing, or sharing the common cup, can result in the spread of illness. Michael Davies has a brilliant booklet on this (I think the principal topic was the question of communion under both species).

    Distributing communion on the tongue to a person who is kneeling is far easier than any other way. In the hands I am always worried about the particles (and no matter how many times I have preached on this -- the need to check one's hands after receiving -- I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone actually follow this instruction). On the tongue while people are standing is difficult, especially since some people stick their tongue out too far, don't tilt their head, are taller than the priest, etc. etc. etc. Lots of problems. Kneeling is better.

  7. xavier rynne12:39 AM

    An incredibly beautiful photograph. The soul of every saint probably resembles the physical beauty of someone like Grace.

  8. A striking photograph, perhaps a wedding. Pictures always better than words, aren’t they ?

    Like many, I have never received Holy Communion from the hands of an “EME”, honestly, I simply cannot imagine that I would ever be worthy to hold Our Blessed Lord in my own awful hands. As for others - their problem.

    Communion n the hand is intrinsically associated with the NOM of course.

  9. I am a priest 30 years And i have never touched anyone's mouth,lips,tongue etc. Distributing Holy Communion in all those years. But I can never
    r distribute Holy Communion in the hand without touching the persons hand or fingers. If the issue in the article is their pushing Communion in the hand then don't use hygiene as your argument, it dos'nt fly.


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