The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in an effort to help stop the spread of swine flu, is recommending that parishes stop offering laypeople consecrated wine at Communion and also discourage laypeople from hugging, shaking hands, or otherwise having physical contact during the "sign of peace" at Mass.
The steps, which are supposed to take effect Saturday, are among the broadest recommendations to date by a large Massachusetts institution to change public practices in an effort to stem swine flu, which is now spreading widely throughout New England and the nation. An estimated 294,000 people attend Catholic Mass in the Archdiocese of Boston each weekend.
In addition to recommending a suspension of Communion from the cup, and the change to the sign of peace, the archdiocese is also urging parishes to more regularly and carefully disinfect holy water fonts in churches. Communion from the cup is thought to pose a potential health risk because multiple worshipers drink from the same chalice; the exchange of peace can pose a risk as worshipers touch one another's hands, and the fonts are a concern because worshipers dip their hands in the water.
The disease, caused by the H1N1 virus, can be spread through hand-to-hand contact or contact with objects that have recently been exposed to the germ.
"Given the extraordinary precautions being taken across the nation to prevent the spread of the H1N1 influenza, the Archdiocese has instituted a series of steps to be followed for the time being during the celebration of the Mass," the Rev. Jonathan Gaspar, co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship and Spiritual Life, said in a statement. "We thank our priests, deacons, religious and parishioners for their understanding and support of these directives, which aim to protect the health of our people."
The archdiocese said it had made the decisions in consultation with public health officials, and said the recommendations would be lifted whenever the risk of flu infection subsides.
Here is the text of the archdiocesan recommendations, which were sent to parishes over the weekend:
- The Holy Water fonts are to be drained, cleaned with a disinfecting soap, and re-filled with holy water on a regular basis. Please note that old holy water should be disposed of in the sacrarium.
- The distribution of the Precious Blood for the faithful is suspended, with the exception of those who must receive from the cup due to medical reasons. The faith of the Church teaches that Christ, whole and entire, is received even under only one species.
- The exchange of the Sign of Peace is to be offered without any physical contact. If the priest celebrant chooses to extend the invitation for the sign of peace, the faithful, instead of a handshake, may bow to the persons nearby.
- While the faithful retain the option of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand, all ministers of Holy Communion are advised to distribute the consecrated hosts with care, being cautious not to touch the tongue or the hand of the communicant.
- Parishioners should be reminded that if they are ill or suspect they are ill with a contagious illness, they are not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation. They should remain at home and return to church when they are well.
(Photo at top, by John Tlumacki/Globe staff, shows Northeastern University student Rebecca Thibault dipping her fingers in holy water before the start of the midday Mass today at the St. Francis Chapel at the Prudential Center in Boston. The Rev. Craig MacMahon of the chapel staff said that the chapel will now change the holy water daily.)
Harvey Cox, the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard University, marks his retirement by asserting a little-used right of his professorship -- to graze a cow in Harvard Yard. Photo, by Barry Chin of the Globe staff, taken on Sept. 10, 2009 in Cambridge, Mass.
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