Wherein a Bishop bans Communion on the tongue until after Mass. A Response.

Posted on 8 May 2020 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Here is a dictate from the Bishop of Little Rock, Most Rev. Anthony B. Taylor, dated 7 May 2002 to his flock about reception of Communion on the tongue during this COVID-1984 time.

We’ve seen Bp. Taylor before, in 2016, when he wanted to impose only versus populum celebration of Mass on the diocese.  He appealed to the inexcusable mis-translation of GIRM 299, which had been patiently explained by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS).  HERE

The Arkansan ecclesial document I cite below, of 7 May, is longer and covers various liturgical aspects.  I’ve pulled this part out.

My emphases and comments.


Suspension of Communion on the tongue.

• While in ordinary circumstances people can demand [“demand” … Interesting word choice for people who prefer Communion on the tongue, isn’t it?  It suggests that the person who wrote this doesn’t like those people.] that we accommodate their preference to receive Communion on the tongue and [NB:] there are those who cite pontifical and CDWDS documents to assert that not even a bishop can prevent this[Okay, whoever you are who wrote this, you’ve now made this about (inter alios) me.] such provisions apply to normal times. It is my obligation as diocesan bishop to legislate in this matter for the duration of the pandemic due to legitimate public safety issues.
• Those who attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form continue to receive Communion on the tongue because in the traditional Latin Mass reception on the hand is not an option[He got it right!]
The traditional Latin Mass is offered in 5 places in our diocese and attending the Latin Mass is an option for anyone who desires to receive the Eucharist on the tongue. [NB:]Priests may not initiate additional Latin Masses outside of these 5 locations [Ummm… Summorum Pontificum…. But look at that again and think about it.] — we are stretched beyond the limit in our effort to provide Mass for our people in English and Spanish in the Ordinary Form, which always takes precedence over Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  [Ehem. LATIN takes always precedence over English and Spanish.  As one of my canonist friends responded to me about this dictate: “‘Precedence?’  WOW!  Again, one can only hope this is some clueless low level chancery functionary writing this.”  Extraordinary does NOT necessarily mean “rare”.  Extraordinary does NOT necessarily mean “the exception”.  Moreover, the parameters for the employment of ExtraordinaryMinisters of Communion are actually laid out.  They are usually violated, but they are in writing.  There is no such precision for the “Extraordinary Form”. Remember: there had to be a special indult – after years of blatant violation of law – to allow the belief-corroding and now divisive practice of Communion in the hand.   Yes, Communion in the hand is the divisive practice.  The “ordinary” way to receive is on the tongue and the “extraordinary” way is in the hand.  Doesn’t the “ordinary” way have “precedence”?]
• If someone insists [There’s that snarky tone again.] on receiving the Eucharist on the tongue outside the traditional Latin Mass, you should tell them politely that in the interest of public safety and out of consideration for those who will receive after them, they can wait until after Mass and you will give them Communion on the tongue then.  [After Mass.  It’s a traditional practice for, for example, choirs. No problem. But choirs sing during Communion time, often in lofts.  These people, on the other hand, aren’t busy and aren’t segregated in a loft.  Speaking of segregated, given the tone above (“demand… insist”) this after Mass dictate smacks of separate seating in a different waiting room.  A separate but not equal waiting room.  Not at the end of Communion time during Mass.  After Mass.]


I appreciate that the Bishop respected the integrity of Traditional Latin Mass rubrics, although he seems to fear an increase of numbers TLMs.

Catholics with traditional preferences are quite simply the most marginalized in the Church today.

Look.  I think the Bishop of Little Rock’s Dictate is overly restrictive in this issue of Communion on the tongue.  I’m not alone.  So does the head of the USCCB’s Committee on Liturgy together with the panel of experts who collaborated with him.

According to – of all outlets – the Fishwrap, on 28 April 2020 (hence, over a week before the Little Rock Dictate), the head of the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship of the USCCB, Archbp. Leonard Blair, sent an interminable memo (“Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care”) to all the US dioceses about opening up Masses.  The Guidelines were prepared by the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC and sent out by the USCCB committee to the bishops.  There are to be “phases”.

According to the USCCB Guidelines, during the first phrase, this USCCB memo says, Communion may be received on the tongue!

The PDF is HERE.  Emphases mine.

“We believe that, with the precautions listed here, it is possible to distribute on the tongue without unreasonable risk.”

“Opinions on this point are varied within the medical and scientific community: some believe Communion on the tongue involves an elevated and, in the light of all the circumstances, an unreasonable risk; others disagree,” they state. “If Communion on the tongue is provided, one could consider using hand sanitizer after each communicant who receives on the tongue.”

So, USCCB: take precautions, but go ahead and communicate people on the tongue.

Little Rock is being more severe than the Guidelines of the USCCB.  I encourage you to look at the list of experts included in the Guidelines.

Let me try to be fair.  Let’s imagine that Arkansan Catholics are in large numbers desirous of Communion on the tongue.  Let’s imagine that Arkansan priests are supposed (unnecessarily) to sanitize their hands between each and every Communion on the tongue.  Let’s imagine that repetitious sanitizing would so lengthen the time for Communion that even “Extraordinary” (there’s that word again) Ministers would be justified.  Since we shouldn’t have so many “Extraordinary” Ministers of Communion – *cough* – because “Ordinary” Ministers are to be given preference – displace those people demanding to be accommodated until after Mass.

Nope.  Not buying it.  If that were the reason – time – the Dictate would have said so.  After all, it justifies other things, such as trying to forbid more TLMs because of lack of priests.

All of that aside, there is a deeper reason why I chose to respond – from the other waiting room.  After all, they involved (inter alios) me.

What rankles about the Little Rock Dictate is the contempt shown for people who prefer the Church’s traditional and, in fact, preferred way to receive Communion.

More and more often in these COVID-1984 days, as certain civil and ecclesial absolutists issue their fiats, we see an unattractive reality manifest itself.  Apart from the desire to impose their will through ultra vires dictates, it is clear that some people in the big chairs don’t like the people who desire the things of which they disapprove.

It’s not just that the bosses don’t like the preferences, they don’t like the people who have them.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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