I have been fortunate, during this COVID-19 lockdown, in that my pastor has continued to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass per our regular schedule. Ten people have been allowed in the church. The rest of us who attend sit in our cars and watch the Mass on our cell phones. The pastor or the deacon brings Holy Communion outside the front doors, and we queue up — socially distancing ourselves, of course — to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Confessions have likewise been available to us outside the church building, with plenty of space between the priest’s and penitent’s chairs.
I realize that most Catholics are not as fortunate as we are in our parish. They hunger for the Eucharist that they cannot receive. Some are begging for distribution of Holy Communion in any way possible. What if the communicants always receive in the hand? What if the priest would wear gloves? What if the priest would sanitize his hands between each family of communicants? What if he would approach each car and distribute through the window? Likewise, bishops are limiting Holy Communion to only the host and only in the hand. Some bishops — e.g., in Germany — have thought of even worse ideas. As the saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures!”
Desperate times can also lead to foolish precedent.
The most imperative thing at this trying time is for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered — even if the priest is the only one present. “The sacrifice of the Mass appeases the justice of God for our sins” (1). Many proofs are evident in the Old and New Testaments that God uses earthly disasters to punish man for sin. We need the One Sacrifice that will appease God to be offered on our behalf. With that said, is it beneficial that a congregation be present? Beneficial for them, yes. Is it beneficial for the faithful to receive Holy Communion? Of course! However, it is not necessary for a valid Mass.
There have been many times when I have not been able to commune with the congregation.
I have celiac disease, an auto-immune disease that causes my body to attack my small intestine whenever I eat food containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. The hosts for Communion must be made of wheat. Therein lies the problem. However, low-gluten hosts are available; they are valid matter for Holy Communion and low enough in gluten that they should not cause any medical difficulties for celiacs. Still, some parishes do not provide low-gluten hosts. When I would visit my mother’s parish, I would take my own unconsecrated host in a pyx, and the priest would consecrate it during the Mass. When I would visit my brother’s parish, I would commune from the celiac’s chalice. At many parishes, I have had to make a spiritual Communion. Is this my preference? Of course not. If I am not in a state of mortal sin, I want and need the sustenance that only the Blessed Sacrament can provide.
I once asked a priest, “Do I lack faith? If I truly believed that host is Jesus Christ, I should be able to commune with the regular host, and it would not affect my physical health.” He gently reprimanded me: “That would be tempting God.” As Jesus rebuked Satan, “it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matt. 4:7; cf. Deut. 6:16) The priest’s instruction gave me peace of mind. The accidents of wheat (thus, gluten) do not disappear when the host is consecrated and becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
In fact, every drop from every chalice and every particle of every consecrated host is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. And Jesus, in His humility, allows us to do with Him as we will. That is a staggering thought. God does not pick Himself up from the floor if He is dropped. God does not jump from a faithless communicant’s hands if He is carried off. It is our duty and privilege to protect Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
As I have often explained to my sons who serve at the altar, Holy Communion is not a “right,” but a privilege — and serving is as well. When they are holding the patens, they must remain focused on the Sacred Hosts, that not a particle fall to the floor. At our diocesan Eucharistic Conference last September, at each distribution station stood a priest with the Blessed Sacrament, a deacon with a paten, and a Knight of Columbus holding an umbrella over the priest (even though we were inside a building). But, more importantly, if only symbolic, was the sword at the knight’s side. Would that Jesus had a guard next to Him at every church at every Mass!
As Edward Pentin reported in the National Catholic Register (“Cardinal Sarah: Many Pandemic Communion Proposals are ‘Madness,’” 5/5/20), the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship has decried the proposed and actual irreverence during distribution of Holy Communion. In Germany, apparently, one can get Jesus to go! The Blessed Sacrament is packaged in plastic bags for the faithful to take. “God deserves respect; you can’t put him in a bag. I don’t know who thought of this absurdity,” stated Cardinal Sarah.
In the diocese of Lubbock, Texas, the bishop wrote a directive on 22 April for his diocese. The parishes are to conduct drive-in Masses at which ministers of Holy Communion will wear surgical masks and gloves. Then they are to go to each car, inquire how many hosts are needed, and place them in a paper cup to pass through the window! The paper cups are to be gathered and burned. However, if one needs to take Holy Communion to someone not in attendance, just take the host in the cup and return the cup next week. Seriously? Could we make it any easier for people who want to steal a host and desecrate it? And what of the gloves after use? What if crumbs are thrown away with the gloves?
Less shocking but still concerning are many stories I could tell. Once, I had to follow a woman down the church aisle because she was walking away, host in hand, talking to a friend. I whispered, “You have to consume that!” She replied, “Oh! I forgot I had it,” and popped the host into her mouth as if it were popcorn.
One deacon, in an overabundance of caution for my health, wiped his fingers on his dalmatic after giving a regular host to a communicant before giving the low-gluten host to me. I spoke with him after Mass and thanked him for his concern but asked that he not wipe his fingers unless he was holding a purificator. I assured him that as long as I do my part in controlling my disease, I count on Jesus to worry about the details.
May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. I would like people to be aware of the special challenges we celiacs face. More importantly, I would like people to be aware of their duty and privilege to protect the Blessed Sacrament always.
(1) Burke, Rev. Herbert. Scriptural Catechism: Expanded Edition. Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing, 2006, p. 36.
Valerie Giggie, an alumna of Belmont Abbey College, is the Seven Sisters coordinator for the Diocese of Charlotte. She and her husband Michael, married for 27 years, have nine children, seven of whom live at home with them on the Double G Ranch — a work in progress! — in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. She is the proprietrix of GGveils on Etsy.com, making and selling chapel veils for women to wear during Mass and at prayer.