Diocesan H1N1 restrictions which make sense

I have already said pretty much everything I intend to say about H1N1/Swine Flu and restrictions issued by dioceses.

However, this note seems to me to be – so far – the best approach from a diocese I have yet seen.

At yesterday’s OF Mass, Father read a memo from Bishop [Kevin] Boland [of Savanna, GA], our Ordinary, relating to preventative measures to be adopted throughout the Diocese effective 9 November 2009, and until further notice. 

To safe guard against the spread of swine flu we will [a] no longer be including the Sign of Peace during Mass; [b] Parishioners should refrain from holding hands during the Our Father;  [c] Communion will not be distributed by the Chalice; and [d] Priests should take care when distributing Communion to avoid touching the tongue or the hands of the communicant, so we should be prepared for a more deliberate and slower distribution

When Father started to read the memo (sorry I have no copy to provide) [It really is best to send actual texts, folks.  Click HERE for the pdf from the D. of Savanna.] I was cringing because I could have seen this go another way, so was delighted when it came out the way it did.

My son (aged 16) stopped to greet Father on the way out of Mass and said to him; “I don’t particularly care if it’s the threat of Bubonic Plague that causes it; but anything that makes us more Orthodox is a good thing.” 

This does not attempt to restrict the right of people to receive Holy Communion on the tongue as guaranteed by Redemptionis Sacramentum.

Therefore, this set of guidelines, in my opinion, strikes the right balance between concern about contagion and both the rights of the faithful as well as risk of profanation of the Eucharist.


The norms from the pdf on the website of the D. of Savanna (my emphases and comments):

Diocese of Savannah
Office of the Bishop

Guidelines for Parishes to Help Alleviate the Spread of the H1N1 Virus

1. Remind the parishioners that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass does
not hold if they have the symptoms of the flu
. The more charitable thing to
do would be to stay at home.

2. Distribution of Communion from the cup would be discontinued. Only the
celebrant would receive from the chalice.

3. Request everyone to receive Communion in the hand. The priest and/or
minister should drop the host on the hand and avoid, if possible, touching
the hand.

4. Those who insist [I think a prejudice is revealed in this word.  Nevertheless, it is a request.  The diocese is not restricting rights, even though the language seems prejudicial.] on receiving on the tongue should be requested to go to
the end of the line. [Okay… but the let’s eliminate row by row Communion, too!] Communion on the tongue can be difficult for the
minister in attempting to avoid contact with saliva. [Only ht the communicant insists on doing something problematic, such as presenting a moving target.  Using slightly larger communion hosts can help also.]

5. The handshake of peace would be discontinued.  The best way to
implement this is not to offer “the sign of peace” which is an optional part
of the ritual.  [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

6. Priests, Deacons and Communion Ministers should wash their hands with
alcohol-based sanitizer both before and after the distribution of

Allegedly the H1N1 virus remains alive up to eight hours on surfaces. One
church implemented the practice of having the parishioners wipe down the
leaning edges of the pews as they left Mass in preparation for the next group of
parishioners. This is certainly an optional procedure.  [Good idea!]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Hit it on the nose, here, Pater. Great policy.

  2. PomeroyJohn says:

    And if you receive on the tongue, please go to the back of the bus line.

    “Those who insist on receiving on the tongue should be requested to go to
    the end of the line. Communion on the tongue can be difficult for the
    minister in attempting to avoid contact with saliva.” (emphasis added.)

    The announcement is here: http://www.diosav.org/news-2009-11-09 . that page has a link to a pdf with the letter and guidelines.

    John in Pomeroy on the Palouse

  3. irishgirl says:

    Now that’s the most sensible policy that I’ve seen!

  4. Dr. Peters: When I saw that you had stuck first in the combox, I felt a twitch of anxiety, wondering where I might have gone wrong in my assessment. It is a consolation that great minds still think alike!

  5. Templar says:

    It was I who sent this to Father Z, and as I wrote it is how it was read to us at Mass. It is interesting, and not too surprising to me, to note the difference between the generous way it was presented to us, and the more negative terms it was written in. Perhaps it is clear why I stated I cringed a little at the start not knowing what would be coming.

    God Bless our Pastor for the generous interpretation of the Bishop’s recommendations.

  6. Amy MEV says:

    Perhaps we could also simply ‘forget’ to return to such silliness.

  7. Eric says:

    This policy smacks of common sense.
    We’ll have none of that in our Church!

  8. Choirmaster says:

    I would like to see the text from the Diocese, but I will assume that this report is an accurate account.

    These guidelines seem like they would be appropriate at all times and in all places. The threat of contagious disease is always there, whether the media has trumped up a particular flu strain or not. Therefore it is always the best practice for the minister of Holy Communion to avoid touching the communicants’ tongue and/or hand.

    The Chalice, while not inherently problematic like the “Sign of Peace” (see below), presents a clear risk for contamination and infection. Offering the Chalice to all communicants forces the laity to make an awkward decision between complicated sacramental theology and the conventional hygienic wisdom. [I suspect most people faced with decision aren’t thinking in terms of sacramental theology or fullness of signs.] Usually these awkward decisions take the form of dubious or superstitious “scientific” conclusions such as: “Jesus will protect me from getting sick because it’s his blood”, and such conclusions are not dispelled by well-meaning priests who use words like “fuller” and “symbol” to promote ordinary and general reception from the Chalice. The policy of not ordinarily offering the Chalice eases the worship practices for us simple-minded churchgoers, and also protects us from unnecessary exposure to infectious disease.

    Additionally, the current manifestation of the “Sign of Peace” is problematic on theological, liturgical, as well as hygienic (or epidemiological) grounds. These guidelines, while addressing only the hygienic, indirectly improve the theological/liturgical situation.

    The same goes for the hand-holding during the Pater Noster, although that issue is compounded by the laity’s use of the Orans posture. I have no idea how to fix that.

  9. DisturbedMary says:

    I really hate guidelines that eliminate the rare (only once a week in my parish) opportunity to take the precious blood. Why not make it voluntary? I take the subway every day. I’d have to wear a space suit to avoid close contact with every germ imaginable — anything you touch is filthy. Not to mention the coughing, sneezing and face-to-face crowding. Come on. I’ll take my chances with the blood of Christ.

  10. DisturedMary asks why not make it voluntary. I was asked the same question earlier in the year. The answer is that there is no way to make it voluntary for the priests and deacons. We still must consume the remaining Precious Blood and purify the vessels. You aren’t taking chances with the Precious Blood, you are taking chances with saliva on chalices. A much better way to receive under both species is by intinction, but as this requires communion on the tongue, I don’t see liturgists supporting it in this country. I suspect the push for communion in the hand during this flu season has less to do with hygiene and more to do with an archeologic view of communion in the hand as the more ancient and hence proper was of receiving.

  11. tzard says:

    The priest ritually purifies his hands before the consecration – any cleaning with alcohol-based cleansers (or perhaps soap and water) should happen before Mass, don’t you think?

    I don’t like the idea of the priest using the cleanser right before distribution. What was his hands like during the consecration?

  12. Mr Flapatap says:

    “6. Priests, Deacons and Communion Ministers”

    Isn’t this redundant?

    I am starting to wonder if God sent us the swine flu knowing that it would do away with certain practices…

  13. Phil_NL says:

    I’d say they should keep this set of procedures till all flu has been wiped of the face of the earth, that is, indefinately.

  14. I feel the same way, Pater. Good comments on the follow-up info, too.

  15. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    One gripe from the ‘merely ordained’: “Only the celebrant would receive from the chalice.” For “celebrant” it should read “sacred ministers”, but we deacons are used to it. Grrr.

  16. An indefinite use of these guidelines would be good. I’m with you Father, let’s eliminate row by row Communion. It’d be much easier to have everyone kneeling and receiving on the tongue.

  17. bubba says:

    I was at the Cathedral in Savannah last week for Latin Mass and at St. James this past weekend. The Cathedral is lovely and is one of my personal favorites. At St. James, Fr. Ross covered this in a very kind and generous fashion. Even those who don’t/won’t like it can see that it makes some sense. Fr. also took the time to request that “IF you have a cold, STAY HOME and make a spiritual communion”–good point even if it’s not the flu. I count myself fortunate to have met Bishop Boland and I think that the word “insist” is simply an unfortunate choice of words. I think it was used based on the fact he is ASKING people to receive in the hand in the letter in item #3. Come on–be real–most people receive in the hand, so the policy should address those people first, right? All in all -common sense and done very well where I attended. PS–I didn’t have to go to the “back of the line”, so easy people…

  18. Childermass says:

    Father, the Boston Archdiocese’s regulations are outstanding:

    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. 

  19. Childermass says:

    The letter:

    [REMOVED. It was broken. Please use “tiny” URLs!]

  20. GScheid says:

    Is there a rash of people being injured or harmed from receiving the Blessed Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?

  21. KellyH says:

    Bishop Edward Kmiec, Diocese of Buffalo, issued a similar policy on October 23. http://tinyurl.com/Diocese-of-Buffalo

  22. DisturbedMary says:

    Just 3 more thoughts on this subject. Gscheid, I have the same question: Is there a rash of people being injured or harmed from receiving the Blessed Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? Also, are there priests who have always had or perhaps develop an aversion to giving Communion on the tongue even before the flu scare? One of my parish priests openly winces and pulls his head back when giving me Communion on my tongue. I never saw anything like it. I now approach a Eucharistic Minister instead of him. Thirdly, as I recall from my childhood, when you kneel at a Communion rail, tilt your head back and receive on your tongue, there is less of a chance of the priest actually touching your tongue. I don’t even remember as a kid having that happen. And also the priest distributed Communion by sort of turning his hand over so it was above the host before placing it on my tongue. Maybe that’s why there was no contact that I recall?

  23. Mitchell NY says:

    Although I do not like to see receiving on the tongue go, even temporarily as it was just gaining again, the Sign of Peace and holding hands during the Our Father can go quietly and without fuss. Do people receive kneeling and in the hand? What is the Holy Father doing now? I know he recently said that when receiving from him you must kneel and receive on the tongue. I do agree with Mary that at an Altar Rail with head tilted back seems the best way to receive safely and with all the symbolic reverance, both at the same time.

  24. Mum26 says:

    In our diocese there is no Chalice (wonderful), no sign of peace (excellent), and all of a sudden we have a much more reverent Mass. Wonder why?

    And I have also wondered how diseases are actually spread via the Holy Eucharist. We are talking about the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity as well as the sacred hands of the priest spreading germs. Sigh!

    Lose the EMHCs and put the altar rails back in, already!

  25. bookworm says:

    Aside from concerns about spreading flu and other diseases… what’s so awful or irreverent about receiving from the chalice?

    I don’t recieve from the chalice all the time, and I realize that it is not necessary for a “complete” or valid reception of the Eucharist. Nor do I think it has to be done at every Mass. But Christ did invite His followers to eat His Body AND drink His Blood, so what’s so “wonderful” about getting rid of the Precious Blood part of it? Also there are some people who due to digestive conditions like celiac disease, cannot tolerate the Host, but can receive the Precious Blood without difficulty.

    Also, if Communion on the tongue does make a comeback, it probably would best be done with the communicants kneeling. Making the priest reach up to give the Host to a tall person (like me) is kinda awkward.

  26. bookworm says:

    Okay, after reading some of the comments above that I rushed past, I see the hygenic problem with the common chalice. But I still don’t see the “irreverence” problem.

  27. At the hospital I work at, all signs point to this flu as being just another strain. After all, the vaccination is just another strain of the regular flu shot. But, if we can use this crisis to restore the liturgy, why not? A crisis is a terrible thing to waste… ;)

    Or we could just do what would be best without a crisis. Bring back the altar rail for gosh sakes. Slow down the reception of our Lord anyway. Raising the liturgy raises us all.

  28. I realize a lot of folks are focusing on items 2 and 4, but I was brought up short on number 3. Sorry, I have a problem with the terminology used…”drop” the Body of Christ?

    Please don’t drop the host in my unconsecrated and unclean hands. Place it on my tongue. Thanks!

  29. bookworm: nothing irreverant about receiving from the Chalice…I’d much rather have intinction though

  30. MichaelJ says:

    Why did the Church, in her wisdom, stop the practice of the laity receiving the Precious Blood in the Latin Rite? Did we “outgrow” those reasons or did they otherwise cease to exist when the practice was re-introduced? If not, was special care taken to ensure that the problems did not re-surface?

  31. DisturbedMary says:

    I asked in an earlier comment: are there priests who have always had or perhaps develop an aversion to giving Communion on the tongue even before the flu scare? Is this more common than we civilians know and could that be why there is generally no teaching about Communion on the tongue. Come to think of it, I haven’t been to a First Communion in years, are children given the option to receive on their tongue?

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