QUAERITUR: H1N1 and suspension of “cup” and handshakes

From a reader with my emphases:

This notice just appeared in the weekly bulletin of St. Vincent Church of Akron, Ohio:
Due to the severity of the H1N1 Flu virus, it seems prudent to take whatever measures are necessary to protect ourselves and our children. For that reason, we will suspend the use of the Cup at Holy Communion, until the threat is over. You may also want to do what our children now do at Mass. Rather than shaking hands with our neighbor, we simply turn to them and offer a simple bow.

I was unable to locate any instruction from the Diocese of Cleveland to suspend use of the Cup.  Rather, the current diocesan memorandum restates the pronouncement of the USCCB that individuals who are ill should refrain from the Cup, and Eucharistic ministers should wash their hands before and after Communion.  This leads me to the question: since it is likely more of our churches will follow suit, is suspending the use of the Cup at Mass properly a pastoral decision, or one that is reserved to the Ordinary or USCCB?


I believe it is entirely proper for a pastor of a parish to decide not to have distribution of the Precious Blood, which is an option which can be chosen or suspended for pastoral reasons.   Also, the invitation to the congregation for a Sign of Peace is at the option of the celebrant.  It seems reasonable to me to suggest how to do it if they are going to do it at all.

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  1. Cavaliere says:

    We are going to finally stop holding hands during the Our Father as a result of this scare. Fr. X has been wanting to stop this for some time now and this gives perfect cover for him.

  2. Frank H says:

    This article appeared in Friday’s Wall Street Journal citing various churches, Catholic and others, making similar decisions.


    I mentioned to my pastor how I appreciated that our Diocese and Parish had not succumbed to the hysteria. He cautioned that things may get worse before they get better and to “stay tuned.” Sure enough, Sunday morning he told me that Bishops in Pennsylvania are imposing such restrictions. Fortunately, at least one Bishop there was quoted as saying “However, reception on the tongue may not be denied.”

  3. JohnMa says:


    I don’t understand what you are saying. We should be happy when this nonsense is eliminated, even if it is just because of the swine flu. Distributing the Blood of Christ causes so many problems, not the least of which is the exponential increase in the number of EMHCs. The sign of peace just distracts people from the sacrifice of the Mass and is never a good idea.

    As far as PA goes, we all know that with the resignation of Bp. Martino the Commonwealth doesn’t have much to hang its hat on as far as Bishops go.

  4. Jordanes says:

    Frank H said: Fortunately, at least one Bishop there was quoted as saying “However, reception on the tongue may not be denied.”

    I wish my bishop understood that . . .

  5. Sandy says:

    Exactly, JohnMa. It is a wonderful opportunity to eliminate two things that detract from reverence for many of us – the sign of peace and so many lay people tromping up to the altar at Communion. (The sign of peace is just the opposite for me. I have just entered into a deep union with Our Lord at the consecration, and then we stand for the Our Father, after which all the talking and waving breaks out.)

  6. Frank H says:

    I should have elaborated. My concern is that we might see communion in the hand invoked as the only option. Rest assured, I am no fan of the handshake of peace, nor the EMHCs, nor holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer, etc, and hope that, in places where these are restricted due to the flu, they are not subsequently restored after flu season.

  7. rwprof says:

    I was in Indiana over Dormition, so I found myself attending an Antiochian parish for the feast. When the deacon chanted, “Let us all love each other so that we may confess,” and the choir replied, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided,” people started coming at me with outstretched hands. I was a bit thrown. Never had I been in an Orthodox church where they did the hand shake thing.

  8. William A. Anderson says:

    My pastor in Los Angeles sent out a notice last month that “[u]ntil further notice, I have decided to implement health infection control measures, as follows: (1) suspending the distribution of the Precious Blood during our liturgy, (2) requesting that the distribution of the Body of Christ be received by hand, (3) the creation of certain guidelines for our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and Sacristans to follow”

    In at least one instance an EHMC denied communion to those seeking to receive on the tongue. Fortunately the pastor rectified the situation by offering Communion at the end of Mass to those who had been denied. But the “request” is still outstanding and certainly has a chilling effect.

    H1N1 is not the only pathogen which might possibly be transmitted through saliva, and perhaps it is not even the most dangerous. Like the 55 mph speed limit, this emergency “request” will be difficult to reverse if it ever takes widespread hold.

  9. emily13 says:

    Here is what Bishop Zubik had to say about it in last Thursday’s Pittsburgh Catholic:

  10. lucy says:

    Last year, our bishop decided to take away the cup for Communion, which was fine. But he allowed the sign of peace to continue even though many of us medical care workers sent letters stating the obvious detrimental facts of shaking hands even if you aren’t noticeably sick. He tried to take away Communion on the tongue but for our one traditional Mass, he succumbed and allowed it. Our FSSP priest who visits twice a month would not deny Communion on the tongue nor give in the hands. We’re hoping for reasonable dealings this winter.

  11. Greg Smisek says:

    lucy wrote: “Last year, our bishop … tried to take away Communion on the tongue…”

    Surely a bishop who is concerned about the possibility of contact between a minister’s fingers and the tongue of an infected communicant ought to exhort the ordinary and extraordinary ministers to slow down and exercise extra caution when carrying out their sacred charge, rather than depriving the faithful of the right to receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue. Perhaps a good reason to restrict the number of ministers to those most qualified….

    Such a bishop might also benefit from sound information on the spread of germs via hands.

  12. einkleinerknabe says:

    The bishop of a neighboring diocese forbids reception on the tongue, but permits handshakes at the sign of the peace and holding hands during the Our Father (those won’t be regulated until we reach Yellow Alert). That convinced me to resume attending mass in my home diocese (where the administrator has suspended the cup as well as handshakes/handholding) at a fairly orthodox parish. Interestingly, the parish in my neighborhood claims “neither health professionals nor church authority has seen a need to limit the use of the ritual sign of Peace at mass or offering the Blood of Christ.” I guess the pastor (guess his age!) doesn’t watch the local news or consider a diocesan administrator an authority.

  13. Will D. says:

    There was a note in the bulletin at my parish this weekend saying that they were no longer distributing the Precious Blood until the flu season wanes, and Father took extra care to discuss the Catechism and other documents that teach that either species by itself conveys all Eucharistic graces.
    During the first run-through with H1N1, Father reminded people that holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer was frowned upon, and that no one was obligated to shake or hold hands at the prayer or the sign of peace.

    As others have noted, from a purely practical standpoint, the reception of Communion was much, much faster this way, and there were three rather than seven EMHCs.

  14. jfk03 says:

    Eastern Catholics will continue to receive both species on a spoon from the priest. We will continue to exchange the kiss of peace in the orthodox fashion, by embracing and kissing each other on the cheek. Those who partake of the Holy Mysteries in a state of grace have no need to worry about illness, for they are received “for the healing of soul and body.”

    If people are really worried about contracting the swine flu, they should bring along an alcohol-based disinfectant and sanitize right after the handshake of peace.

  15. JARay says:

    A few years ago I stopped over in Singapore. I attended Holy Mass there each day in the Cathedral. At the sign of Peace everyone simply turned to the others and, with hands joined in the attitude of prayer, simply bowed towards them. I thought this a far simpler way than reaching out and shaking hands.

  16. 4mercy says:

    I was almost grateful for the “terrifying scourge” of the Swine flu because fear of it in our parishes did away with holding hands during the Our Father…then I discovered that our local parishes also no longer allow reception of Holy Communion on the tongue.

  17. Frank H says:

    4mercy: my fear precisely.

  18. isabella says:

    Do these clerics really believe the consecration they just performed was anything but an empty ritual? I would be willing to receive the Body of Christ on the tongue from the consecrated hands of a priest directly behind somebody with confirmed flu – or Ebola for that matter. Jesus is the great healer, remember?

    And on a more pragmatic note, your hands are filthier than your tongue. I have access to PubMed and would be happy to bore everybody to tears with references to peer reviewed medical journals to back this up.

  19. marinaio says:

    Our Parish, St. Mary’s, Littleton, CO., did all that a month ago and removed all Holy Water and added that communion would not be given on the tongue! Due to a disability that makes it unsafe to receive in the hand, I now have to ask that communion be brought to me at my pew. Not only do I resent that embarassment but I absolutely disagree with the very concept of communion in the hand.

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