That famous line from “Dirty Dancing” came to mind when I saw these latest pictures.
First, the image above has been popping up around social media — a priest distributing Holy Communion recently in Italy, as churches began holding Mass once again.
And then this picture, also from Italy, has been getting wide circulation, as well: a priest putting a host in a plastic baggie.
Every winter, I encounter people who come up for communion wearing gloves, and I have to ask them, gently: “Take off your gloves, please.” The reason should be obvious: fragments of the Body of Christ can stick to them.
It’s the same principle when distributing the host — and deciding to slip it into a baggie ain’t cool, either.
So far, this seems to be an Italian phenomenon. But the effect is, in every sense, sterile; using a bag reduces the Eucharist to a commodity, like a toy in a Cracker Jack Box. It also raises the question, what do you do with the baggie when you’re done with it? Purify it, like a sacred vessel? Toss it out? Take it home? You know there may be fragments of the Body of Christ in there, right? (One reader suggested letting the communicant fill each bag with water and then drink it. I hadn’t thought of that.)
In the United States, the USCCB issued guidelines on this a few weeks back, adapted from the Thomistic Institute:
Turning to the issue of Communion, the guidelines suggest that the distribution of the Eucharist be moved to take place at the end of the Mass. They propose that a table be set up at each communion station with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Mass participants are then to come forward, removing their masks to receive Communion.
“Holy Communion may not be distributed with gloves, nor may it be received in the hand if a member of the faithful is wearing gloves,” say the guidelines (emphasis mine.)
“Hand hygiene is effective against the virus,” they state. “In these circumstances, gloves are not needed if the priest performs hand hygiene.”
Addressing the question of whether Communion should be taken in the hand or on the tongue, the guidelines state: “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.”
Bottom line: no gloves, no baggie.
Common sense should tell us: Jesus deserves better.
And Catholics should know better.
UPDATE: In the comments on Facebook, my friend Fr. Ted Brown added some wisdom and charity. He wrote:
In all of this, I’m trying to stand back. I’m taking people at their good faith. I see a church struggling with how to give the communion with out infecting communicant or priest. I don’t see people being irreverent but trying also to respect the image of God in the other person. This will take awhile to sort out. We need to struggle with this, and make suggestions to one another, respecting that each person is trying their best.
Amen. Thank you, Ted.