Catholic worries about Eucharist spreading flu germs


Q: I'm not germ-o-phobic, but I do have an issue with receiving the Eucharist these days. As I witness the eucharistic ministers at the altar preparing the gifts, I often see eye-rubbing, nose-scratching, hands covering mouths for coughs, and fingers blotting runny noses. Then, these ministers hand out the Eucharist.

The wine sip is an act I've eliminated completely due to the fact that a single wipe with a cloth can in no way remove the germs from the person's mouth who drank from the cup before me. I don't want to even get into the backwashing that could occur.

In light of the seasonal flu/swine flu outbreak, can you recommend a safe way to receive these gifts? Or am I opening a Pandora's box that could be detrimental to my fellow Catholic worshippers? -- D., Dix Hills, N.Y., via

A: The flu pandemic has made your question one of international concern and, I must say, irrational worry. The basic rule already followed by priests, and hopefully by communicants, is to simply practice good hygiene.

Priests clean their hands with hand sanitizers before Communion. However, some changes have occurred in Eucharistic rituals in response to valid health concerns. First, the Sign of Peace, during which parishioners greet those around them with a handshake, has been replaced in some dioceses with only a smile and a nod of the head.

As far as Communion is concerned, there are two "species": bread and the wine, that are, by Catholic Christian belief, transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. It's not obligatory to receive both bread and wine during Communion; the wine is not obligatory, while the wafer is necessary. Receiving only the Eucharist wafer is acceptable.

I'm told that the Brooklyn Diocese no longer offers wine at all. I've also read that the Anglican Communion in England (The Church of England) now recommends that ministers intinct all wafers (dipping each in the wine before handing it to a communicant) to reduce the chance of spreading germs, but still allow communicants to receive both bread and wine. Check with your pastor to determine his preferred practice at this time.

Flu fears are even more epidemic now than the flu itself. I urge you not to be afraid and not to panic. All of us often shake hands with people and stand near sneezing folks in our daily lives, and this is far more dangerous than any Eucharistically communicated germs.

I don't take Communion because it's not a ritual of my faith, but if I were Christian, I would have no worries. We bless the wine on the Sabbath, and my Cantor, or the bar or bat mitzvah children, drink it without sharing. They don't leave me any wine but, frankly, it's not that good. Have trust and glory in the saving mystery of your faith.


Q: I'm a Christian who believes all faiths are equal.

Pondering what "this" is all about here on earth and concluding (so far), that our journey on earth is but one leg of a much longer journey, therefore we have the need to develop emotionally and spiritually as we encounter both good times and adversity.

All humans possess good and evil. To the extent that we can enable good to overcome evil has a bearing on some form of existence after death. Obviously, we'll never know the answer, given our ability as humans to mess things up. But, that said, do you have any insights? -- G., Raleigh, NC, via

A: You're asking if we'll ever triumph in the battle of good over evil. One reason you feel such despair is that we are indeed broken by sin. However, I urge you to also realize that news organizations are generally not interested in revealing all the good deeds being done. We're forced to endure a parade of gruesome stories, which can skew our perception of what's really happening in the world.

In reality, people are helping other people all the time. I urge you to take hope from the examples of goodness you can witness all around you.

I also believe that your question comes from a society fixated on scoring things. You want to know who will win the battle of good and evil in our world. I believe this is the wrong question. Rather, you might consider asking yourself this question: "Did I do my part to bring about the victory of goodness in our broken world today?" Every other question is beyond our capacity to answer.

As the poet T.S. Elliot wrote, "Trying is all that matters. Everything else is just not our business." That is not only what I believe, but it is what I try to do. Do good things and everything else will take care of itself.


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