Meet the future: communion by machine

Worried about hepatitis from a communion wafer?  No problem!

From the Wall Street Journal:

At St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Clark, N.J., parishioners no longer handle the communion wafers that they once transferred from one bowl to another at the start of Mass.

Instead, parishioners use a very untraditional looking contraption known as a communion host dispenser. They pull a trigger and wafers are deposited into a bowl for consecration during the Mass.

“There was a big concern about germs on the hands getting on stuff so we use the dispenser instead,” said the Rev. Dennis Cohan of the system put in place a couple of years ago.

A Christmas hepatitis scare at a Long Island church has church officials across the region once again examining health and hygiene issues. Basics like using hand sanitizer and refraining from shaking your neighbors’ hand or sipping from the communion cup if you are sick are being reinforced.

The Nassau County Department of Health announced on Monday that an individual diagnosed with the hepatitis A virus was involved with distributing communion at two Christmas Day services at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park.

Want to see it in action?  Check out the video below, from a Lutheran service.

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  1. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    I hate this. I despise it. I won’t participate in this entirely medicinal expression of our sterility-obsessed society. We’ve managed to share communion for 2000 years, touching bread and each other, sharing the cup, without this. Can we say “utterly impersonal, and disconnected, belying the whole notion of community and communion…”

    Awful, awful, awful.

    I’ve gone back to receiving on the tongue. This makes me want to go back to kneeling as well.

    Color me repulsed.

  2. On the video they misspelled the word altar as “alter.” That causes me to mistrust the whole thing.

    I’m in agreement with Elizabeth, that this is repulsive. But receiving on the tongue isn’t cleaner or more pure, because, try as one may to avoid touching the communicants tongue, sometimes it just happens. So, the matter from one tongue can be transferred to another. Not a pleasant thought—but probably harmless.

    It seems to me people don’t understand that there are germs everywhere on every surface, both pathogenic and saprophytic. The normal body reacts to foreign invaders by creating antibodies. That should be enough protection without going to all this trouble.

    People need to lighten up and get some common sense.

  3. Seriously? I am disgusted. We believe that the bread and wine are transformed but we worry about a germ? I am not saying we are to be cavalier about sanitary matters, but this is ridiculous.

    For God’s sake, what is more risky than being Christian? People died for it and still do and we are worried about this? God help us all.

  4. This machine is placed in the back of the church so you put an unconsecrated host in before mass starts. I’ve seen tongs used and this method of counting the hosts is often used in chapels that do not have a tabernacle in which to reserve consecrated hosts. I think it’s a good idea if I am right about its use.

  5. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Fran, I so agree with you! My husband makes this argument all the time: it’s the flesh and blood of Christ, and we are community. Next we’ll all get into wetsuits before we take the baths at Lourdes, because there might be a germ in the water!

    There is a huge difference between being careful and being stupid. This is STUPID. My husband found an unconsumed Host in a pew a few weeks ago, on the filthy floor. He kissed it and consumed it.

    He’s been fine.

    I got sick a few weeks later…I think because I shook the hand of some one the “sign of peace” which I am convinced will someday pass a new plague into our midst! :-)

  6. I’m not as repulsed because the hosts are not consecrated at the time they go in the bowl, until they are consecrated they are just bread.

    Now if you were using it after consecration then I’d be with you.

    BTW I think receiving on the tongue is the way to go. By not handling the host you are showing reverence to Christ actually present in the sacrament and of course as you are already noting the more reverence you give the Eucharist the more reverent you become.

  7. A communion machine does come off to me as a bit strange and extreme, too. There are protocols that health professionals follow, which might be a good idea in the distribution of the Eucharist.

    But going back to communion on the tongue is not for me. “Make your mouth into a landing pad, not a quarter slot.” No way!

    I prefer: “….make a throne of your hands in which to receive the King.”

    When I receive the host in my hands, I feel so much more responsible for (and to some extent protective of) the Body of Christ, both literally and figuratively (Church as Body of Christ).

    I have always found inspiration from these words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body but yours, No hands … on earth but yours… .”

  8. +JM


    Please don’t let my parish see this– they might try to implement it!

  9. @Elizabeth – God bless your husband!

    I actually differ from you in that I prefer communion in the hand. The quote that HMS offers in the comment above was on my mind earlier as I read this. We can see this through different eyes however, I think our hearts are in similar places.

    That shall apply as well to the Sign of Peace. I think that there is cause for moving the timing of this part of the ritual but not the removal of it. That is another discussion for another day. Frankly I wish you and I both had more time, there is no one I would rather discuss these things with. One day!

  10. James Martin, SJ says:

    Too bad they didn’t have those at the Last Supper. Jesus wouldn’t have had to touch any of those smelly disciples.

  11. Why were they transferring the hosts from one bowl to another in the first place? They should be in a ciborium and brought to the altar to be consecrated.

  12. Stephen Taylor says:

    Why get bent out of shape about this. It will not last. Can’t you see there are more important things than getting rebellious about some silly thing like this? No wonder the Church is in such a mess.

  13. It looks like a cookie press!

  14. So this is what happened to all those ol’ salad shooters.

  15. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    I know that line has been attributed to Teresa of Avila, but I am not sure she actually said it. It’s a nice sentiment, though, and I have no issue at all with how people receive. My husband prefers to receive by hand. Over the years, I have decided that I wish to receive by mouth; it’s totally a personal choice each person makes. I do believe, however, that dispensing into hands does put the Holy Eucharist at risk for irreverence and even abuse. My husband is an EM and he has several times had to make a point of telling a communicant to consume the Host. He once had someone ask if he could have a “second” for his little girl because she’d “cry” if she could not “have a cookie.” He took his Host to the pew and broke it in half to share with her.

    Another time an acquaintance was receiving the cup from my husband and–perhaps because receiving from a friend felt to intimate to her–she decided to get playful and “pretend” that she was losing her grip on the chalice.

    These sorts of things are not enough for me to say “let’s go back,” but they surely do make me wish we were a church that was better-informed about what we are actually doing at mass.

    And yes, Fran, I agree that the sign of peace is at the wrong place in the mass. I also could rant a while about the absence of silence before mass; the chattering makes it nearly impossible to prayerfully prepare for mass, and gives the impression that people think they’re at the theater, waiting for the house lights to dim. Arghghg. My Inner Pirate comes out!

  16. pagansister says:

    Clever idea. I’m sure it isn’t for everyone, but if indeed there are some nasty winter illnesses going about, perhaps it could be done during the time the flu etc. is at it’s height. After all, does it really make a difference how the wafer is dispensed but that it is consumed with all the meaning that is placed on it?

  17. Tom O'Neill says:

    There was a after-Vatican II time when the Presentation of the Gifts was brought back when parishes (at least the ones I attended) were encouraged to have Mass attendees put their host in the container that was brought forward. When someone at one Parish thought this was ‘germy’ a simple solution presented itself, a little pair of tongs to pick up the host with, like the sugar cube tongs from old tea and coffee sets!

    No one thought that the tongs would then get ‘germy’!

  18. @pagansister

    With all due respect, I think it really does make a difference on *how* the Holy Eucharist is both given and received.

    As Catholics we are sacramental people. We believe that outward signs truly convey an inward grace. But this isn’t merely restricted to the seven sacraments– the same basic idea is present in all that we do. *How* we do something affects our inward disposition and the inward disposition of those around us.

    Before I became Catholic, I knew that Catholics believed the Host to really be the Body and Blood of Christ. Why? Because those I saw at Mass receiving Holy Communion did so very reverently (whether it was in the hand or on the tongue). Their actions revealed their belief in the Real Presence. That was a huge witness to me.

    Certainly the meaning might still be there (IS still there), but that doesn’t make irreverent actions right. Just as an evil act can be done with a good intention… it doesn’t make that action a good action.

  19. I like the Sign of Peace right where it is. Jesus told us, in Mark 5:24, that we should leave our gift in front of the altar and go make peace with our neighbor before presenting our gift at the altar. I think of that as I offer and receive peace before I receive communion.

  20. Thank you for the correction:

    I have always found inspiration from these words attributed to Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body but yours, No hands … on earth but yours… .”

  21. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to have the sacristan put the hosts in the ciboria prior to Mass? That’s how we do it in our parish; it works pretty well. She knows approximately how many usually come to each Mass. That dispenser thingy is just tacky.

  22. Ttarp:

    I think that Church is currently studying the idea of moving the exchange of peace to the moment before the Offertory…for precisely the reason you suggest:
    “… Mark 5:24… go make peace with our neighbor before presenting our gift at the altar”

    This way people will not be high-fiving each other before the consecrated Host.

    ..and I agree with most of you…the salad shooter is ridiculous!

  23. This strikes me as a sign of irrational fear rather than reasonable caution.

  24. Karen Bradley says:

    Did you notice the video was “from a Lutheran service”. That is why they used the little grape juice glasses instead of the cup. I thought the whole service looked a bit out of norm, but then I noticed the notation above the video box.

    I think it is just fine for Lutherans to do whatever they do, but as a Catholic, I am putting my trust in God as my protector from germs. He hasn’t failed me after all these years.

  25. Anchoress, not Teresa of Avila, but:

    a text of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) in which he counsels the faithful to “make a throne of your hands in which to receive the King [in Holy Communion].” This Father of the Church further counsels great care for any fragments which might remain in one’s hands, since just as one wouldn’t let gold dust fall to the ground so one should take even greater care when it is a question of the Body of the Lord.

  26. I ditto e scalia and Fran.

    While I think it’s unethical to receive from the cup when one is ill, I don’t lose an oz. of sleep rec’ing anytime, in any season (I just don’t take the cup when sick in consideration of others, nor do I think anyone should take the cup with a cold or flu, as it’s unecessary and not that smart).

    My feeling is very strong that I’m rec’ing the Body and Blood of Christ. If by doing so, I get a germ and even if that germ kills me, what a way to go!

  27. When it comes to the manner in which I receive Holy Communion or do any rubrics, I follow the old adage, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” So, at my own parish I receive Communion in the line/procession by bowing my head reverentially, responding “Amen,” and receiving in my hand. When I attend Mass at the Carmelite Nuns Monastery nearby, I kneel at the Communion railing, respond “Amen,” and receive on my tongue. In both places one has the option to receive either way, but I choose to do what the majority does. I consider that a way of being “detached” from my own preferences.

    A few years ago I was concerned with which method of receiving communion was the “holier” thing to do. I asked a wise religious Sister. Her response was indirect, yet interesting. Think about this: Do you sin more with your tongue or with your hands? In other words, which part of your own body in purer, and therefore a more suitable vessel for receiving Jesus, your tongue or your hands? In answer to that question I would say my hands are holier than my tongue—by far. But the Church says both ways are acceptable.

  28. Eka, makes sense. Thank you.

  29. worcester fragment says:

    What did Jesus do!

  30. How incredibly sad. I could never see this being the way to distribute Communion in Catholicism.

    As for those who advocate receiving on the tongue. I’ve been a priest for some 30 years now, I can assure people that receiving Communion on the tongue,while a legitmate option, is far from being sanitary. It is virtually impossible not to have some saliva on my fingers after 5 or 6 people. have received on the tongue.

    Regarding reverence, it is essential to be so when approaching and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ; whether a person receives on the tongue or in the hand is irrelevant so long as there is reverence.

  31. This so saddens me but we did it to ourselves last year when H1N1 led dioceses to instruct parishes to not distribute the precious blood. A dear friend who is also a doctor thought the entire idea was wrong citing “It is the Blood of Christ after all.” Some Catholics will see this and approach their pastor with a suggestion; I hope some of my parishioners don’t sees this.

  32. Tom Armbruster says:

    Some people need to take some vitamin C and relax.

  33. They are Lutherans?
    What else could you expect from the Reformation crowd?
    Liberal, modernists, Progressives Catholics will like this
    .Anything to destroy and weaken Tradition.

  34. Re: Tom Armbruster’s Post
    I certainly wish that you had not been so cavalier about this issue.

    It is important that sensible precautions be taken by those who distribute the Eucharistic species. (I believe in the Real Presence but the accidents are, in Scholastic terms, bread and wine!)

    In the community, there are people whose immune systems are compromised by chronic illnesses. As you are probably aware, there are antibiotic resistant germs. So we have to be vigilant.

    A personal anecdote:
    At Sunday Mass a few months ago, I noticed an elderly woman struggling to put on a white glove just before the Kiss of Peace. I was a bit bewildered. Then, she very graciously offered her gloved hand to all nearby. I may be wrong, but I just thought that she wanted to be a full participant in the Mass.

  35. pagansister says:

    TeresaB: I totally understand what you wrote and when I wrote that the method mentioned in the article wasn’t for everyone, I knew that many Catholics would not find that method acceptable.

    Someone mentioned that the video was of a Lutheran communion, because of little cups of communion wine or grape juice—not sure which. The Methodist distribute the juice/wine the same way at communion. One has a choice of either the juice or the wine. The church I used to attend also broke a piece off a large loaf of fresh bread and gave it out. (no, not sliced white bread). Makes for a lovely communion. As most probably know the Methodists do not consider the bread/wine as the actual blood or body of Christ.

  36. If a priest knows what he is doing re: distributing communion there is no saliva involved(I know this sounds all wrong,but bear with me). Those who receive on the tongue know what I’m talking about. The old school-read: really, old school, not 1970′s old school, just know. Also, btw, I’m glad those women in the video were not Catholic, b/c I’m so tired(and I see it everyday at Mass), of women dressed in sweats handling the sacred vessels. I’m with Mother Angelica, if you are on the altar then vest up! Don’t look like we caught you on the way to the gym. I don’t mean be a priest or deacon but dress the part.

  37. Our diocese also suspended communion under the species of wine during the H1N1 hysteria. This was particularly crazy, in that wine has alcohol in it, and wine was invented by our ancestors as a water purification method. Before the last century or so, the only safe way to drink water was wine, beer, broth and tea — either alcohol or boiling was necessary to kill germs. Transmitting H1N1 — or a cold — via a form with the alcoholic content of wine, virtually impossible. Transmitting it by the communion minister touching the hand or tongue of an infected person and then the hands or tongue of everyone else down the line, easy.

  38. Sorry, cathyf, but you’re incorrect.

    The fact that the Precious Blood appears under the accident of wine in no way offers protection from passing germs. Alcoholic beverages can most certainly transmit germs from one person to another if both are drinking out of the same cup. The incidence is significantly reduced by the EMHC wiping the rim of the chalice after each communicant receives, though this doesn’t impact the possibility of germs being transmitted into the chalice via (excuse the expression) “backwash”. While the fermentation process will kill germs, the final alcoholic content of communion wine isn’t near enough to kill any and all viruses and bacteria that simply come into contact with it. This is why it’s irresponsible and uncharitable for people who know themselves to be ill to receive the Precious Blood, or to receive the Blessed Host on the tongue. I always receive on the tongue and from the chalice — unless I’m ill. Then, I receive the Blessed Host in my hands and pass by the chalice.

    That having been said, I think this contraption is ludicrous and represents overkill in the extreme. Again, caution not fear.

  39. Being a Baptist, I am used to drinking grape juice (I don’t know why our faith forbids wine when Jesus drank it) and we do not use a “host” as Catholics and Lutherans and I’m sure others do, but what strikes me is that since people are having a sip of wine after consuming the host the wine should kill any germs coming from a priest’s hands while dispensing it.

  40. Margaret Duffy says:

    Hilarious video! Why have none of the commenters noticed that the female “assistants” were touching the little wine glasses with their bare hands? Hardly the way to promote an antiseptic method of distributing Lutheran (or any other kind of communion service in a Protestant church). Obviously, this video was made by the manufacturers of the device, who didn’t care about the distribution of liquids.

    This is a one time, unfortunate event. Holy Communion has been distributed for almost 2,000 years without causing an epidemic, even during the Black Death. So, let’s keep things in perspective.

    Margaret Duffy

  41. Come on get real! There are risk in LIVING & we aren’t going to get rid of them . It’s part of life. So in Jesus’s time so now. Should one not get on a bus in winter because people are coughing in all over the place ?
    Do you want to believe or not?
    Char V

  42. Jeanette,

    The alcoholic content of commuion wine is not near enough to kill the germs that may be transmitted to the communicant via the host. As well, the way to kill germs (non-medicinally) is by a combination of friction, hot water and cleanser (ie: soap, alcohol). Of these, friction is the most important. That’s why wiping firmly the edge of the chalice after each communicant receives is effective in most circumstances. However, after the host is in one’s mouth, merely drinking communion wine behind it isn’t going to do anything to kill the germs. The second the host hits your tongue the germs that are on it (yes, the germs that ARE on it, not MAY be on it — the little buggers are everywhere!) are multiplying and traveling too fast for any alcohol to be effective. So, why don’t people get sick from receiving communion? They do! But rarely and, generally, not so sick that it requires medical attention. Why? Because we have a nifty, built in line of defense called our immune system.


    I agree that we need to keep things in perspective. Just to keep the record straight, though, the Black Death was bubonic plague, transmitted by fleas. Receiving Holy Communion by whatever means wouldn’t have contributed to that epidemic.

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