As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide, a bishop in Argentina has warned that he will impose canonical sanctions on priests who distribute Holy Communion on the tongue. This is after the release of a diocesan directive that permits the distribution of Communion only in the hand.
Bishop Eduardo Taussig announced in June 13 that the Eucharist in his diocese, the Diocese of San Rafael, was to be distributed only in the hand, until the pandemic is over. He also asked Catholics to avoid putting priests and ministers in a difficult position “by requesting communion on the tongue, either at Mass or outside of the celebration.” (Read: Catholic Church to Implement Contact Tracing in Parishes)
“I implore you not to put them in the very painful position of having to obey the Church and the current norms and not being able to give you Communion,” Bishop Taussig says. “This is what priests have to do right now and, as faithful ministers, they are willing to comply. And if someone is not disposed to receive Communion in the hand, know that you’re not obliged to do so and can make a spiritual communion.”
Despite the issuance of the decree, a number of priests in the diocese still continue to distribute the Eucharist on the tongue, and faculty members of a seminary in the diocese have been in conflict with Bishop Taussig regarding the matter. This led to the closure of the seminary at the end of the semester, by order of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.
The closure is due to “undisciplined reaction of a portion of the diocesan clergy” to the bishop’s decree, said Fr. Jose Antonio Alvarez, spokesman of the Diocese of San Rafael. The seminary has the largest enrolment in the country. (Read: Meet the Millennial Who Gave up Success to Become a Dominican Friar)
Sadly, following the closure, priests in the diocese still continued to distribute the Eucharist on the tongue. This prompted Bishop Taussig to issue a formal canonical warning that any priest who will disobey his directive would face canonical sanctions.
Did the priests in the Diocese of San Rafael have a good reason to oppose Bishop Taussig’s directives?
According to Timothy Olson of the Diocese of Fargo, a bishop’s authority to restrict the distribution of Holy Communion to the hand can only be done when it is a matter of necessity.
This means that in general, bishops such as Bishop Taussig lack the authority to restrict the reception to the hand—but this can be changed in such cases that “a human law that in most circumstances promotes the common good, can in an individual situation actually harm the common good,” Olson says. (Read: Here’s Why the Church Needs Young Volunteers, According to Bishop Pabillo)
However, Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor at the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, argued that the decision to administer communion should lie with Rome, and not with diocesan bishops.
“The liturgical discipline of the Church, because of its importance in relation to the nature of the sacraments and the deposit of faith, is generally reserved to the Apostolic See,” Fr. Bradley said.