A new directive will change worship for the rest of the flu season. Communion will be celebrated with wafers and no wine, and there won’t be any hugs or handshakes for the customary Sign of Peace.
The swine flu threat is prompting some changes in the ways Catholics will worship starting this weekend.
The Boston Archdiocese is strongly recommending parishes alter several practices:
Communion will be distributed as a wafer of bread only, without the cup of wine.
Priests should avoid touching the tongue or hand of anyone receiving Communion.
Those at services should exchange the sign of peace by nodding, instead of the customary handshake or hug.
Holy water fonts are to be drained, cleaned with a disinfecting soap and refilled with holy water on a regular basis.
Parishioners who are sick or think they are sick are not bound by the weekly Mass obligation.
The archdiocese sent those instructions to parishes Tuesday. They will be effective as of Saturday and will last until the cold and flu season is over.
The Rev. Jerry DiGiralamo, director of the Chapel of Our Savior at Westgate Mall in Brockton, said the guidelines are so new that most parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston have not yet received them.
But DiGiralamo said he remembered a similar situation when he worked on Long Island, N.Y. During flu season, church pastors were advised to have parishioners “refrain from the common Communion cup, and during the sign of peace, to give a gesture rather than shaking hands,” he recalled.
Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman will issue similar guidelines by the end of the week for that diocese, which includes churches in Easton, Raynham and Taunton, according to communications director John E. Kearns Jr.
Last spring and again in September, when flu concerns emerged, the diocese left it to individual church pastors to determine how to best implement good hygiene practices at Mass, Kearns said.
Many pastors in the Fall River diocese began making changes as early as last weekend, suspending the sign of peace, or asking for a gesture rather than the traditional handshake, and eliminating the reception of the sacred wine, Kearns said.
Some South Shore parishes also have already changed their practices.
The pastor at St. Anthony’s in Cohasset, the Rev. John Mulvehill, suspended handshakes a month ago. Both St. Anthony’s and St. Mary of the Nativity in Scituate already use only the wafer to distribute Communion. Both parishes have also placed bottles of hand sanitizer at their main entrances.
But St. Bonaventure in Plymouth will continue to offer Communion wine and allow handshakes for the sign of peace.
“It’s always up to the individual anyway,” said the Rev. Kenneth Overbeck, St. Bonaventure’s pastor.
Besides, he added, “once you stop these rituals, when do you start them again? When does flu season end?”
Enterprise staff writer Vicki-Ann Downing contributed to this report.