Vatican confirms Knoxville bishop’s decision to suspend reception of Communion on tongue

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has supported Bishop Richard F. Stika’s decision earlier this year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, to suspend the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue at public Masses in the Diocese of Knoxville.

In a letter dated Nov. 13, the Vatican dicastery said it has “received and attentively studied” a petition making recourse against Bishop Stika’s decision to suspend Communion on the tongue. The letter states that the Vatican has acted “to confirm the decision of Bishop Stika and thereby rejects (the) petition seeking its modification.”

The letter notes that a letter issued in August 2020 and approved for publication by Pope Francis stated, “in times of difficulty (e.g., wars, pandemics), bishops and episcopal conferences can give provisional norms which must be obeyed.” That guideline, the dicastery added, applies “in this case, to suspend for whatever time might be required, reception of Holy communion on the tongue at the public celebration of the Holy Mass.”

A separate letter was sent to Bishop Stika informing him of the decision.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a forceful advocate for the defense of traditional Catholic teaching, is the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

“The decision to suspend the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue was difficult for me and I understand the concern some of our clergy and laity had regarding my actions,” Bishop Stika said. “However, we were in the early stages of this pandemic and dealing with much uncertainty. I felt I had the authority to make a conscientious decision for the safety of everyone – the laity and our clergy.”

“I am grateful to Cardinal Sarah and the Congregation for offering support and clarity of my actions,” Bishop Stika said.

The decision to suspend distribution on the tongue was part of a detailed plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when public Masses in the Diocese of Knoxville resumed on Pentecost Weekend, May 30-31.

In late November, the restriction of Holy Communion on the tongue was lifted as part of an updated decree on safety protocols for churches, schools, and offices in the Diocese of Knoxville.

In the Diocese of Nashville, there was no suspension of the reception of Communion on the tongue, however, pastors were urged to strongly encourage all parishioners, out of charity for their clergy and their neighbor during this time of ongoing risk of infection, to receive the Holy Eucharist in the hand. Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding urged this, but gently and with sensitivity, adding that no persons were to be denied Holy Communion because they are unwilling to honor this request, according to guidelines sent to the priests of the diocese last May when the public celebration of Masses resumed.