Last fall, it was a sign of the season – the flu season, that is. Area Roman Catholic churches stopped offering communion wine from the common cup during Mass for fear of spreading the H1N1 virus.
Although public health officials say flu season isn’t over, the suspension will end Jan. 10, Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese announced Thursday.
In a written statement, D’Arcy said he consulted with other Indiana bishops, diocesan vicars, a panel of advisers known as the College of Consultors and particular health officials whom he did not name in making the move.
There was a general, though not unanimous, consensus that it is time to consider the lifting of suspension of communion from the cup, he said. Taking everything into account, the suspension is lifted effective on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 10.
Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said H1N1 activity in the area has waned from its peak in mid-October to early November.
I think that we know that the influenza activity has really significantly lessened as of now, so I think if they go back to their prior practices of passing the peace and communion, that’s OK, she said.
However, McMahan pointed out that H1N1’s cousin, seasonal flu, typically peaks in late January and February, and is often prevalent through March.
It’s also uncertain whether there will be a third wave of infections from H1N1, also known as swine flu, she said. Three waves of infection from flu viruses are typical, McMahan said.
McMahan listed refraining from the common cup if you are sick, getting both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines and using hand sanitizer before and after church as reasonable precautions against flu.
If concern would go up, the practices could be suspended again, she said.
Vince LaBarbera, diocesan spokesman, said precautionary instructions to those who serve communion generally remain in place. He said the practice of making a sign of peace was not addressed in the bishop’s statement.
The greeting during Mass is often observed with a handshake, hug or kiss. The form of the gesture is left up to individuals, and many have been choosing a verbal greeting or nod, he said.
The lifting of the suspension means people who attend D’Arcy’s final Mass of Thanksgiving at Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 10 and the Jan. 13 installation of Bishop Kevin Rhoades as the diocese’s new bishop will be able to receive communion from the cup.
I think (the) bishop, with the installation coming up, wanted to have that be as full a celebration as possible, LaBarbera said. Each of the celebrations is expected to be attended by hundreds, he said.
Catholics believe they receive the blood and body of Christ in ingesting consecrated wine and bread during the Eucharist. But they also believe either alone is effective.
People have every right to refrain receiving the Precious Blood from the cup if they wish, the bishop said in making his announcement.