As the ongoing flu epidemic continues around the United States, some church leaders around the country are changing procedures and issuing recommendations for avoiding the contagious ailment while worshipping.
At masses this weekend in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, however, signs of peace and wine distribution from communal chalices during Communion will follow regular procedures, a diocesan spokesman said Friday.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week said it does not see the need for widespread changes to liturgy to prevent the spread of the flu nationally. It also noted that the decision lies with individual diocesan bishops to recommend or mandate such changes in their communities.
For now in Western Pennsylvania, no liturgical changes have been directed by Bishop David A. Zubik, diocesan officials said.
Elsewhere around the country, church officials in Boston, New York and other cities have told priests they can suspend or modify those actions in an effort to curb the spread of flu.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., guidelines posted online by Cardinal Donald Wuerl—former bishop of Pittsburgh—also ask parishioners to exercise common sense, noting that illness is a legitimate excuse to stay home from Mass. Those who are ill may instead watch Mass on TV at home and pray with their parish, the archdiocese website states.
The last time flu concerns prompted church leaders to make widespread revisions to Mass occurred in 2009. The rapid spread of the H1N1 strain that year prompted many priests in Pennsylvania and across the county to suspend wine distribution and encourage members of the congregation to verbally give the sign of peace to one another.
During that 2009 flu season, Bishop Zubik in a letter to priests called it "a wise pastoral practice" to remind parishioners that they should be responsible for taking precautions "as he or she sees fit."
In that letter, he also reminded worshippers that bowing is an acceptable sign of peace for those who are uncomfortable embracing or shaking hands during flu season.
- Priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be especially reminded of the need to practice good hygiene.
- Ministers of Holy Communion should always wash their hands before Mass begins.
- A further precaution suggests using an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.
- The faithful should be instructed not to receive wine from the chalice if they feel ill.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of flu remain "high and widespread" and continue at epidemic level. The flu outbreak also began earlier than usual this season, according to the CDC.
Pennsylvania is among the 30 states where high flu activity continue to be reported—an increase from 24 states last week, according to the CDC. New York City also is reported a high level of flu activity, while 10 other states are reporting moderate levels of flu, according to the CDC.