Flu fears impact worship services

May 1, 2009

Flu fears are already changing the face of some religious services, from Mexico where church gatherings are discouraged to the United States where wine shared from a common cup has been suspended in some parishes. We’ve already blogged about this but offer more detail from other places here.


U.S. Catholic bishops have issued general guidelines saying clergy and lay ministers who distribute communion wafers “should be encouraged to wash their hands before Mass begins,  or even to use an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.”

“They should instruct people who feel ill not to receive from the cup,” containing wine which Catholics believe becomes the blood of Jesus Christ during Mass.

And while the bishops’ Committee on divine Worship said it does not see the need for widespread changes in liturgy, some churches have already made then.

In Texas where border communities have been hit by flu cases Bishop Raymundo Pena of the Diocese of Brownsville has asked priests to offer only bread to communicants, give communion in the hand and not on the tongue and ask parishioners not to hold hands during recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or to shake hands at the sign of peace during Mass.

“They may bow to their neighbor or place their hands on each other’s shoulders,” he suggested in a memo.

The archbishop of San Antonio, Jose Gomez, made a similar request of his flock.

The Archdiocee of New York says it has asked pastors to tell those worried about shaking hands during Mass that “there are other ways to offer the sign of peace, including a wave, a nod of the head or some other gesture. Handshakes are not mandated.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago  has told pastors who minister to its the 2.3 million Catholics that they may caution church-goers about drinking wine from the cup or shaking hands during mass if they think it is appropriate.

My colleague Ed Stoddard in Dallas reports that the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, part of the largest U.S. Protestant church, had checked with several congregations in Fort Worth and Houston and none was cancelling Sunday services though they will if local authorities ask them to do so.

But it is a differnt scene in Mexico where the new strain of flu first appeared, as correspondent Michael Scott O’Boyle reports:

“Sunday Masses in Mexico City and the densely populated surrounding valley have been suspended, with a rare simulcast of Mass from the Basicilica de Guadalupe by the two national TV channels. Sparsely attended daily Masses have still been allowed  in the capital, and churches remain open to the public.

“On a national level bishops are asking that priests distribute communion by hand and congregations pass on the peace offering, but Masses are not being unifromly suspended — only in certain communities where there have been signs of the outbreak, said Fr. Jesus Aguilar from the Mexico City archdiocese.

“A huge national youth conference this weekend, aimed at fanning anti-abortion movements as certain areas of the country move to legalize abortions … had to be cancelled. Even Mexico’s cult of Saint Death is heeding the government calls, cancelling its celebrations that take place on the first of every month before street altars reared to the skeletal saint, the most famous of which is off the Tepito district, the capital’s biggest black market den.”

(Photo:A man wears a surgical mask as he prays at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. REUTERS/Jorge Dan, April 28, 2009, MEXICO)

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