Saturday, May 02, 2009

Some parishes change Mass practices to prevent spread of swine flu

(ed. -the idea that any disease could be transmitted via the Precious and Holy Body & Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ troubles me....

i think the greatest precaution against the "swine flu" (h1n1 virus) would be a good confes
sion and worthy communion of the Sacred Gifts.

it seems to me that ANY altering of Communion practices might not endorse fears but create new ones and tempt some to question the REAL PRESENCE of Christ in the Eucharistic Mysteries.

By Jackie Taylor

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the number of swine influenza cases increases around the world, some U.S. bishops are suggesting ways that pastors can alter certain practices within the celebration of Mass in an effort to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The swine flu is transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes around others. It can also be spread when a person touches a surface contaminated with the virus and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

Parishes in the Diocese of Austin, Texas, are not to "offer the blood of Christ at Eucharist until more is known about the virus," according to a letter from Bishop Gregory M. Aymond.

"It seems that having the public drink from the chalice may be an unnecessary risk," Bishop Aymond said.

Bishop Aymond further instructed ministers of Communion to always have clean hands when handling and distributing the Eucharist.

In the Diocese of Dallas, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell also asked pastors to "consider suspending in your parish the reception of the holy Eucharist under both species." In the letter, Bishop Farrell reminded pastors and ministers of holy Communion to maintain proper hygiene when handling the Eucharist.

Father Michael Dugan, director of the Office of Liturgy for the Diocese of Dallas, reminded parishioners of their obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. If a parishioner is sick, however, Father
Dugan recommended that he or she stay home to avoid spreading the illness.

Father Dugan also said that "members of our congregations should not be offended at this time if someone chooses not to shake the other person's hand at the sign of peace."

"If you are ill, the appropriate response to someone extending a sign of peace might be to bow to them and say, 'Peace be with you,' to avoid bodily contact, or one might wave slightly at the other person," he added in the online statement.

Father Dugan also suggested that parishioners who feel sick should receive Communion in their hands and avoid drinking from the communal chalice.

Similar to measures suggested by other diocesan bishops, parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., reminded those who are sick that th
ey should refrain from shaking hands during the sign of peace and should not receive the blood of Christ from the cup.

In a letter to the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez stressed that while "this is a time for prudence and reasonable c
oncern, it is not a time for panic."

Archbishop Gomez recommended that parishes only offer the host at Communion. He also said parishioners should not hold hands or shake hands during the celebration of Mass.

The letter assured parishioners that "in a heal
th-threatening situation there is not an obligation to attend Mass."

While no cases of swine flu have been reported in Hawaii, the Diocese of Honolulu released a memo in response to the "heightened crisis" regarding swine flu. It discouraged any contact among parishioners during Mass, especially during the sign of peace and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

Parishes can still offer Communion under both species, but the memo encouraged those who feel ill not to drink from the cup.
( "the cup"...? ed. i'm not understanding this...)

The memo also stated, "Those in parish and diocesan ministries and those employed by parishes, schools and the diocese are discouraged from traveling to Mexico."

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., urged priests in his diocese to "pay careful attention as this situation develops," while also "avoiding any semblance of panic." He asked that "a nod of the head or a smile" temporarily replace the traditional "handshakes or embraces" at the sign of peace. He also said parishioners should not hold hands during the Lord's Prayer.

The letter ordered the distribution of the blood of Christ to be suspended throughout the diocese.

Pastors should ensure ministers of Communion "wash their hands before the Communion rite and all vessels should be properly sanitized after ritual purification," said Bishop Jenky.

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Burlington, Vt., encouraged similar measures in his state, which had not had any cases of swine flu as of April 30. He said Catholics "should be encouraged to thank G
od, by faithful attendance at holy Mass, that we have been spared thus far from this influenza and to pray for those afflicted by this illness and for all public health officials as they guide us in eradicating this threat."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship posted on its Web site a list of questions and answers associated with how the church should modify the celebration of the liturgy as a result of the outbreak of swine flu.

In previous times of influenza outbreak, bishops have altered liturgical practices such as the distribution of Communion and the exchange of the sign of peace to avoid the spread of contagion, the document noted.

To limit the spread of the swine flu virus, the Secretariat of Divine Worship advised priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Communion "to use an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing holy Communion."

Ministers and pastors should also ask parishioners not to receive from the cup if they feel ill, it said.

Individual bishops may decide whether they feel it is necessary to change such practices during the celebration of the liturgy within their diocese. However, the Secretariat of Divine Worship does not believe that widespread liturgical adaptations are necessary at this time to prevent the spread of the swine flu.

The Secretariat of Divine Worship has asked that diocesan offices provide any available information about local conditions regarding illness and the influenza outbreak.

Symptoms of the swine flu are similar to those of the common flu and include fever, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Continuously updated information about the swine influenza virus is available online from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at


Can a Communion chalice transmit swine flu?

By Daniel Burke

Religious groups across the country are urging houses of worship to take special precautions this weekend, including changing sacred practices, as the swine flu outbreak threatens to grow into a global pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 109 confirmed cases of the virus in 11 states on Thursday (April 30), and the World Health Organization raised its alert level on swine flu to Phase 5.

The highest alert level, Phase 6, indicates that a pandemic is in progress. Should the outbreak reach that stage, the WHO may discourage or even ban public gatherings such as religious services, according to published reports.

In Mexico, where the outbreak is believed to have begun, many Catholic churches have temporarily closed. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not encouraging similar steps for the 18,000 U.S. parishes. But it is stressing increased attention to hygiene and urging priests and others who distribute Communion to wash their hands with anti-bacterial solutions before Mass.

“(T)he need for the introduction of widespread liturgical adaptations for the prevention of the transmission of influenza in the dioceses of the (U.S.) is not evident at this time,” the bishops conference said. The conference issued similar guidelines after the bird flu outbreak in 2006 and SARS in 2003.

Even so, individual Catholic bishops in some hard-hit areas are taking additional precautions. Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, where 26 cases of swine flu infection have been confirmed, has asked priests not to offer Communion wine at Mass “until more is known about the virus.”

“It seems that having the public drink from the chalice is an unnecessary risk,” AymondAymond also said that holy water from church entrances should be disposed of and the containers washed and disinfected before being refilled. wrote in a public letter on Wednesday (April 29).

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, and Catholic officials in Chicago and Green Bay, Wis., have offered similar advice. Some Catholics are also asking parishioners not to shake hands during the passing of the peace.

A Dallas official said that “members of our congregations should not be offended at this time if someone chooses not to shake the other person’s hand at the sign of peace.” Health experts say that viruses are often spread through person-to-person contact.

Catholic officials also urge parishioners to stay home if they feel ill, despite the expectation that faithful Catholics should attend Mass every Sunday. “It is not sinful to miss Mass if you are sick,” Aymond wrote, “it is an act of charity.”

Meanwhile, University United Methodist Church in San Antonio has ordered special, individually wrapped Communion elements for this Sunday.

“This is, admittedly, a rarely used alternative,” said the church’s directing pastor, Charles Anderson, “but your comfort at Communion is totally worth it.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, meanwhile, is encouraging imams to stay current with news of the spread of swine flu in their areas, and to consider canceling gatherings at mosques—even otherwise obligatory Friday group prayers—to ward off potential infections. CAIR also says imams should “stress the possibility of temporarily avoiding Islamic cultural traditions such as handshakes or hugs of greeting during a local health crisis.”

“Imams, because of their access to those attending mosques every day, are well-placed to offer advice to community members based on input from public health authorities,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR’s executive director.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas postponed its Bible Drill finals, which had been planned for this weekend, until “we know our children can gather in a healthy environment,” said Dickie Dunn, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, dozens of Christian schools—including the nation’s largest Catholic high school, St. Francis Preparatory School in New York City—have been shuttered because of swine flu outbreaks, according to public reports.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, a state with 50 confirmed cases of the virus, said decisions on whether to change Mass practices depends “on good sense of the people and the judgment of the pastor.”

“We’re reminding pastors of the common-sense guidelines we ask them to follow during flu season,” said Zwilling.

Despite concerns over the Communion chalice used to distribute wine, one 2000 study by a Canadian cardiologist suggests it may not be as unsanitary as expected.

“For the average communicant it would seem that the risk of drinking from the common cup is probably less than the risk of air-borne infection in using a common building,” Dr. David Gould concluded.