Via Archbishop Cranmer I discover that Roman Catholic bishops in New Zealand are to introduce swine flu precautions, though they don’t seem to have gone as far as Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster. As a very lapsed papist I find their lack of both faith and any trace of common sense quite disturbing.
Reportedly the Bishops are :
stopping parishioners receiving communion wafers on the tongue, communion wine from the chalice and from shaking hands at the sign of peace at masses in New Zealand.
Now apart from the odd lack of faith that worries about diseases being communicated via the sacraments, and I don’t recall any such precautions been taken during the AIDs scares in the 80’s. But that aide the actual risk of infection by any of these methods is so minuscule that it must surely be better to let people decide their own risk level rather than encourage communities to view each other as deadly germ factories.
Looking at each of these measures in turn:
- receiving communion wafers on the tongue – For those that don’t know this works by your sticking your tongue out at the priest and he places a communion wafer/slice of bread on your tongue. In many communities it’s quite unusual to receive communion this way. But the only obvious transmission vectors I can see are either, you sneeze on the priest a risk no matter how you receive, or the some part of the priests hand touches your tongue and than transports your germs to the next person. Now normally that doesn’t happen but if it did the priest could quite easily wipe his hands between people, and given the tiny amount of saliva that could be transferred this way if ti was a substantial risk every Catholic community would be decimated by every cold or flu that came around.
- communion wine from the chalice – Again for those that don’t know this is just what it seems you all take a sip of wine from a shared cup. The alternatives to this are no communion wine or you dip the communion wafer in the wine and then place the dipped bread onto the communicants tongue (which item one rules out). So broadly speaking this rules out half the sacrament, though liturgically it isn’t a required part. Here I can refer to groups that have looked at the matter in more detail than I such as the Orthodox church in America and Dr. Greg Kenyon M.D. who both conclude the chances are tiny and you’re more likely to get infected from your local restaurant. As with the communion wafer the transmission vector is most likely to be saliva which isn’t terribly good at such things.
- Finally shaking hands at the sign of peace this is exactly what it seems, you shake hands with those around you. Who if your church has much of a sense of community you probably know and will have either shaken hands with them on the way in or will do so on the way out (or in the pub afterwards). Everything stated about risk vectors previously applies here and can you think of any better way of killing any community spirit than by telling people to be afraid to shake hands with their neighbour?
Surely it would have been far better for the Bishops to have told people to use their own judgement, but maybe to have suggested to people generally and especially those that are feeling a bit poorly to try not to sneeze or cough over the sacraments, priests or fellow parishioners. Maybe go so far as to suggest applying a bit of soap and water to ones hands before mass might not be a bad idea? Whilst neither article says I would presume from their fear over communion that the Bishops have also cancelled all bake sales, coffee mornings and any other social activity which might cause physical contact between their flock.
I have been lapsed for quite a while now, and my theological studies were never that deep, so I apologise in advance for any misrepresentation of the Roman Catholic Church or the Bishops I may have made. But really such scaremongering amongst those with a calling to guide and protect their congregation beggars belief.