By Mary DeTurris Poust
Most parishes have already issued guidelines to help parishioners navigate the liturgy when they are coughing and sneezing. Refraining from the Sign of Peace is one suggestion, as is opting not to receive from the cup. In my family we abide by those rules. Sometimes we receive suspicious stares when we do not extend a hand at peace, but I try in hurried and hushed tones to let people know that we're not unfriendly, we're just unhealthy. A couple of years ago I started squirting hand sanitizer on the kids' hands before Communion just to be sure that we hadn't picked up any viruses from overly zealous hand-shakers, but that deteriorated into a situation where the Lamb of God was punctuated not with "have mercy on us," but "have you got any Purell in your purse?"
This week, in his regular column, "Put Out Into the Deep," in The Tablet, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn elaborated on possible health precautions that should be observed during this especially tense flu season. In "Healthy Distribution of Communion" in the Oct. 17 issue, the bishop suggests that parishes refrain from offering Communion under both species during flu season and also recommends that parishioners receive properly in the hand and not on the tongue, which he says "presents hygienic problems."
Bishop DiMarzio writes:
"There are other recommendations made for those who administer Holy Communion in that they should be advised to disinfect their hands immediately after the conclusion of the Mass with the use of hand sanitizing materials. Pastors have been asked to remind their parishioners that the sign of peace should not be exchanged by anyone who is suffering from cold symptoms or is experiencing any symptoms related to the flu. Again, it would make good sense that if one is not feeling well to stay at home and not come to Mass given the considerations for others during this flu season.
"Any change regarding a liturgical practice, especially the Eucharist, is bound to cause disruption and misunderstanding. For the sake of the common good of the Church, however, we must make these temporary regulations.
"Every time something new occurs; new regulations, new forms, we put out into the deep and recognize that there will be those who misunderstand and misinterpret these regulations. Hopefully, prayerfully we will come to understand our theology of the Eucharist and the practices that surround it, which are wholesome and healthful." (Full column HERE.)
So what do you think about mixing health precautions and Eucharistic celebrations? Do we need to change our ways until flu season is over or proceed with liturgy as usual? Tell us in the comment section.