Measures to combat the spread of the H1N1 (swine) flu virus have thrown into stark relief the practice of receiving communion on the tongue and of dipping the host into the wine.
The New Zealand Bishops have placed a ban on the offering of communion wine, whether directly from the chalice or through intinction which is practised in many Asian cultures but which is regarded as unhygienic and liturgically incorrect in this part of the world and is therefore discouraged generally.
Receiving communion on the tongue has also been severely discouraged for reasons graphically described by Peter Gaines, from New Plymouth who has been a minister of the Eucharist for 23 years. Peter writes of a time just before the bishops’ ban.
‘On the Sunday in question a small number of communicants approached me with mouths wide open and tongue halfway out (a disgusting sight at the best of times). Despite every respect to the Sacrament and every diligence I could muster, I endured repeatedly the revolting wet feel of warm saliva coming to rest on my thumb and forefinger. On such occasions I try to wipe off the invasion of my person on a hankerchief. As we have a large congregation there is no time to stop so on I go putting my damp finger into the communion bowl, seeking out a host for the next unfortunate communicant.
‘After Mass I take communion to a large retirement home. God alone knows how many persons I may have infected that day.
‘Again, particularly during winter when those who insist on receiving communion on the tongue cough and splutter their way up the communion queue until they get to me, it is not out of the ordinary for me to ‘cop’ full on in my face an obnoxious and highly unwelcome gobbit of warm air from their throats.’
Peter says his own health and that of the overwhelming number of communicants taking the host in the palm of their hand ‘stands for all time in front of a few zealots with an archaic mindset centred on an outdated, revolting and unhygienic, highly dangerous practice. I believe these misguided souls should start to get a grip on themselves, not be self-centred but think only of the common good.’
Peter calls on the bishops to issue a mandate ‘for all time’ for everyone to receive communion only in the hand.
‘Such a display of leadership will meet with universal approval. As far as I am concerned my care for parishioners is such that in future I will give the host only in the palm of the hand.’