From a reader in Mexico City on the Swine Flu outbreak.
My emphases and comments.
As you are probably aware by now, there is a very serious influenza (also called swine flu) outbreak in Mexico City, since yesterday we are on alert.
Mexico City has closed all of its schools and universities until further notice because of the virus, and on Saturday, the country’s National Health Council said all soccer games would be played Saturday without public audiences. The government is asking everyone to avoid massive events or crowded places such as malls. All museums and auditoriums in the city and the neighbor state are being closed. For now things are under control apparently but we don´t know what is coming.
My question is. What are the best measures to take regarding Communion if things turn into an epidemic? Do you think at one point we should abstain completely from receiving Communion even if we go to mass. I hope this terrible situation doesn´t arrive. All throughout Mexico, thanks be to God, the common practice is Communion on the tongue, but what is the best thing to do during this alert and possible epidemic for the next days?
The Archdiocese has announced that masses will continue but Communion will be given on the hand, and the sign of peace will be omitted. They are asking people with flu like symptoms to abstain attending mass (sounds reasonable), stating that they will be fulfilling their Sunday obligation if the listen mass on the radio or watch it on television. [Hmmm… I wonder. I don’t think you fulfill the obligation by watching on TV. I think that if you are impeded from going to Mass for a serious reason – and this is a serious reason – then you don’t sin by not attending. It might not make too much difference, but there is a subtle difference if I understand correctly.]
Finally I thank all your attention to this question, asking you to remember Mexico at your altar. If possible ask your readers for prayers and let me know if you have a special prayer for pests and epidemics.
I think I can speak for most WDTPRS readers that they will stop what they are doing now and say a prayer for you all, asking the help of St. Michael the Archangel.
So there is good news and bad new.
The good news is that the Sign of Peace (which is optional anyway) isn’t to be given.
The bad news is that Communion in the hand is to be preferred during this out break.
Given the severity of the situation, I think it is not unreasonable to say that people should receive in the hand. That increases the risk of profanation of the Eucharist, especially if that is not the usual practice there. However, these are very special circumstances.
You ask about abstaining from Communion. I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. People are not obliged to receive Communion at every Mass. I think many have the impression that they are! Therefore they go when they should not. This could be a good option. It could be a good opportunity also for priests to preach about those situations when you should not go to Communion… leaving always the freedom to receive even during this epidemic (if that is what it is).
In thinking about the best way to approach the two goods, lowering the risk of spreading the disease and preserve the opportunity to receive Communion, one must consider both justice and charity. It isn’t fair to other people to increase the risk of spreading this disease which is killing people in Mexico. It isn’t in any way charitable to expose others to infection when there are easy ways to reduce the risk.
Also, in this time of flu, the great sacrament of Christ’s love will be a great consolation. A rather different spin on "Love in the time of cholera", I guess.
The bishops of Mexico I am sure have the very best intentions for their flocks. If they can cooperate in the public order to reduce the risk of disease, then by all means they should call for changes in practice. What was asked was not unreasonable.