Bishop Vann’s Statement Regarding
Precautionary Swine Flu Liturgical Adaptations
For the Parish Community
Because of the concerns regarding the possible spread of the Swine Flu that has been detected in North Texas, the Diocese of Fort Worth, in consultation with the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Tarrant County Health Department, is asking all our parishes and schools to take precautions to help mitigate its effects. This applies to the entire diocese.
I have recommended that all priests and deacons as well as members of our diocese exercise common sense precautions when it comes to the liturgy. Influenza is often spread from person to person through contact with coughing and sneezing of an infected person. Simple hygiene such as washing hands and using alcohol based hand sanitizers at appropriate times can prevent the spread of influenza. If a priest, altar server or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is sick whether it is the flu or the common cold or whatever, then he or she should not serve until the sickness has passed. Likewise, if members of the faithful community are not feeling well,
especially during this period, please stay home and do not risk the possibility of spreading infections to others.
The following precautions should be followed concerning the celebration of Mass:
- The faithful should be encouraged to not hold hands during the reciting of the Our Father.
- The faithful should be encouraged to share the Sign of Peace without touching hands or kissing. This can be done with meaningful eye contact, smiles and a bow of the head in reverence to one another.
- The faithful should be encouraged to receive Communion in their hands and not on their tongue.
- The cup is not to be shared with the faithful during Mass. Communion is only to be given in the species of the consecrated bread.
- Priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be especially reminded of the need to practice good hygiene. Ministers of Holy Communion must 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. As good practice is the distribution of alcohol based antibacterial solution by the Eucharistic Minister Captain to other ministers while the priest is preparing for distribution of Communion.
The Diocesan School Superintendent’s Office is coordinating with each school concerning precautionary actions in schools.
Let us all pray for our community and the families that are affected by this disease suffer minor affects and recover promptly. And pray for those who have died. May their souls rest in peace.It will be interesting to see how these rules are implemented in various parishes in the Fort Worth diocese; I'd love to hear from Fort Worth diocese readers this weekend (either in comments below this post or in emails) to learn how or if your parish reacted to this letter.
For myself, I have no real problem with the restriction of communion to one species, the restrained Sign of Peace (which I think should be the usual norm anyway) and the no-holding-hands during the Our Father (which is liturgically incorrect and ought to be abolished). I do, however, find myself challenged to be obedient to the direction to take communion in the hand.
I did not receive my First Communion in the hand; the practice was instituted at some point after that. And unlike this EWTN paper, when communion in the hand was implemented in our parish we were taught that we had to receive in this manner from now on; if the people in the parish and in our school didn't outright say that communion on the tongue was now forbidden they certainly went out of their way to create that impression. We school kids had to practice in the classroom; a priest came in to teach us the new way to receive communion. So for many years, from grade school into my high school years, I received in this way.
My family returned to the practice of receiving on the tongue when our awareness of how much had been "forced" on us by the "Spirit of Vatican II" which was never part of that Council, and which did not really fit the spirit of reverence or obedience. Communion in the hand may have been intended for good reasons, but there can be little doubt that the effect of this method of receiving communion has in some ways contributed to the lack of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament which plagues our nation's Catholic population today. The ancient way of receiving shows more clearly the line between the ordained priesthood and the laity (as did the practice of having priests distribute Holy Communion, and from a communion rail, not lay people from every corner of the church into which they can be crammed).
But in considering the bishop's letter, I realized that the lack of communion rails leads to the concern for transmission of illness. When you are kneeling and the priest is standing, your posture, with your head tilted back, makes it unlikely in the extreme that the priest will end up touching your mouth as he gives you the Eucharist; I can't remember this ever happening in a church where I knelt to receive. But when you are standing, the possibility that the priest (or the EMHCs, who I find are quite squeamish about giving communion on the tongue as a general rule) will indeed place a finger on your lips, or brush it against your tongue or teeth, is much more likely. So Bishop Vann's concern in this area is not unjust.
I grant that the letter merely says that the "faithful should be encouraged" to receive on the hand, which means that no one is taking away the right of the faithful to receive on the tongue if their consciences compel them to do so or, indeed, if for some reason it isn't possible for them to receive in the hand (e.g. for physical handicap, or because they are carrying an infant, etc.). But in pondering this, I realized that I can't say this of myself; I have no limitation that forbids me to receive in the hand, and if I believed that it was inherently irreverent to receive in the hand, I would be saying that it is objectively sinful for people to receive this way and that the Church is in error for permitting it--which I do not believe.
There is, moreover, a salutary benefit to choosing to be obedient to the wishes of one's bishop, provided that his wishes do not contradict the will of the Church, of course; but clearly Bishop Vann isn't asking his flock to do anything the Church hasn't approved, and the graces I may receive from submitting my will here in a spirit of obedience to the Church's lawful authority may be far greater than any qualms I may have about taking Our Lord into my own hands.
Further, if I wish those who are disinclined to give up the chalice, or the hand-shaking, or the Our Father hand-holding to do so in that same spirit, then it behooves me to set a good example by agreeing to do the one of these things I find troublesome, and not only those I don't mind at all. Cheerfully accepting this temporary limit on how I may receive communion will display, I hope, the kind of obedience we Catholics should have toward our bishops, and may make it easier, when this is all over, to suggest the same obedience toward the Church's liturgical rules going forward, instead of the permissive and innovative spirit that is often in place in our parishes.