H1N1 virus fear brings changes to Catholic services

Hold the wine and keep the peace.

That’s the message midstate Catholics received from the pulpit Sunday as priests announced changes in the Mass to help prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland has mandated parishioners stop drinking consecrated wine from a common cup and refrain from shaking hands or making contact with others during the exchange of peace. Catholics routinely shake hands and greet others sitting near them after reciting the Lord’s Prayer during Mass.

Both practices have been voluntary.

“Some parishes have the practice of holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer,” Boland stated in the letter. “It might be advisable to discontinue this practice.”

Parishes included in the ban are those in Macon and Warner Robins and from Sandersville to Pine Mountain and south to the Florida border.

The Rev. Allan McDonald, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, told the congregation that Catholics believe the consecrated host contains both the body and blood of Jesus so parishioners will not be missing anything with the changes that will take effect Sunday. Many people already opt out of drinking from the cup because of health concerns or other personal reasons.

The bishop also directed priests to request that everyone receive Communion in the hand instead of having the host placed on the tongue.

“Communion on the tongue can be difficult for the minister in attempting to avoid contact with saliva,” the letter stated.

All priests and Communion ministers are urged to wash their hands and use an alcohol-based sanitizer before distributing Communion.

Churches in Forsyth, Milledgeville and points north are not included in the directive.

“We have not made any mandatory changes in our liturgical practices,” said Pat Chivers, director of communications for the Atlanta Diocese.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory did send a letter to priests in the northern district Sept. 15, Chivers said.

The letter stated the diocese was monitoring the spread of influenza and urged Catholics who have been ill to avoid personal contact with others.

“Please feel free to refrain from receiving Communion from the cup,” the letter stated. “Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should not attend Sunday Mass or other parish activities.”

The letter listed the symptoms as fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat and runny nose.

“We are trying to spread the word,” Chivers said. “Some people might think it’s a sin to miss Mass.”

The Atlanta diocese includes Baldwin, Greene, Henry, Hancock, Jasper, Lamar, Monroe, Oconee and Upson counties in Middle Georgia.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.