I have had a few questions and concerns brought to me about wearing masks at the church and especially in the Communion procession and receiving the Holy Sacrament. I think it is good to raise these questions, as this is new for all of us and we are still learning some best practices.
First, I would say that the bishop has asked all Catholics in the diocese to follow the Executive Order of our Governor and wear masks at the church and other public settings. In our ACC we are doing our best to follow this and other guidelines from the chancery that are meant to reduce risks to the people as much as possible. We also understand that there are reasons for exemptions for some individuals from wearing the masks and we want to do whatever we can to make our churches spaces which are welcoming and open. I know there are some more at risk individuals who have only started to come back to the Mass after they were sure most people at the Mass would be wearing masks – they feel that those risks have been reduced enough to come celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass in person. Wearing the mask can help that person avoid risk and worry and be able to take comfort in prayer.
While the bishop’s instructions acknowledge the impracticality of wearing a mask at Communion time, it does not specify when or how to remove the mask or receive the Body of Christ. We as priests have seen a number of different approaches as people try to figure this out for themselves, and I would like to offer my recommendations for what I have seen be practical and effective.
First, I advise you to wear your mask throughout the procession and not remove it or leave it in the pew. Continuing to wear the mask in the Communion line reduces the risk to the others in line with you and those still in the pews. Then, when you are near the front of the line and there is one person before you, remove the mask from your mouth by either pulling it down to your chin or unhooking the mask from one or both ears. When you receive the Body of Christ, consume it immediately (or take one step to the side and consume) before readjusting the mask and proceeding back to your seat.
This method prevents you from fumbling with the mask after you have occupied your hands by receiving the host (potentially increasing the risk of dropping the Blessed Sacrament). I also ask that people not bring the host back to their pew with them before unmasking and consuming it. Seeing that makes us as priests very uncomfortable and somewhat nervous. Part of our responsibility as Ministers of Holy Communion is to ensure that the sacrament is properly and reverently consumed – and your immediate consumption of the host helps us meet that responsibility as simply as possible.
Consuming the Body of Christ immediately also has theological significance. We receive at the front of the church on that boundary between the nave and the sanctuary – just as the Eucharist joins together in Christ the human and divine. The Eucharist is also meant as food for the journey – we come forward and are nourished to return to bring Christ to the world.
Again, there are likely other methods that might work better for you – I am not saying my suggestion is the only way to proceed. I am merely offering a simple solution for those who perhaps have been uncertain or struggling with the idea of making the mask work at Communion time. (Though I will reiterate my position on not bringing Holy Communion back to the pew with you unless you are using a pyx and bringing it to a homebound person in your family as an official Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion with the approval of your pastor.)
I am sure there are other minor issues out there that can be addressed. Please continue to ask questions and make your own observations known to your pastors, that we might learn to go forward in faith Together as One.
-- Fr. Timothy Gapinski