MADISON -- In response to questions regarding liturgical changes due to the spread of influenza A(H1N1) infection, commonly referred to as "swine flu," the Diocese of Madison's Office of Worship has released a statement and information, available on the diocesan Web site at www.madisondiocese.org
As of May 1, 11 countries have reported 331 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Only 10 confirmed deaths have been officially reported, including one death in the United States. Eight possible cases of the influenza were reported in Wisconsin as of May 1 at noon.
Influenza A(H1N1) spreads like the common influenza virus, through person-to-person contact and through the air due to coughing and sneezing around others.
Though not diocesan policy, the diocese has suggested that:
Those who distribute Holy Communion should take care to clean hands prior to distribution of Communion. This should be done discretely, preferably outside of the sanctuary. Ministers should find or request a substitute if they feel that they may be getting sick.
People should be reminded that if they are not feeling well or if their own immune system is suppressed that they should refrain from touching others during the sign of peace and refrain from receiving Holy Communion from the chalice. All should be encouraged to respect others if they choose to refrain from shaking hands during the sign of peace, though they can still say the greeting of peace and smile.
If a person is seriously ill they are not bound to participate in (attend) Sunday Mass. Those who get sick are encouraged to stay home from work, school, and parish activities. Limiting contact with others is the best way to prevent infecting others.
According to Patrick Gorman, director of the Office of Worship, Dr. Jeff Davis of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health advised public health officials on May 1 of concerns regarding people sharing the common chalice in liturgical worship at this time. While there is no need for panic, state and local public health officials feel that it would be prudent to distribute Holy Communion under the form of bread until the risk of widespread illness is reduced. Information is expected to be published on the state's informational website dedicated to the flu outbreak at pandemic.wisconsin.gov
"I certainly don't want to give in to hysteria," Gorman wrote in an e-mail to colleagues. "However, I would advise you to consider not offering Holy Communion to the faithful from the chalice until this current risk has passed. This is not a diocesan directive or mandate, but simply prudent advice based upon the counsel of local and state public health officials."
He continued: "For those who are celebrating first Holy Communion, you will need to make a pastoral decision. It does not seem entirely inappropriate to offer the chalice only to those children who will receive their first Communion. You may wish to consult with the parents ahead of time to see what their wishes are for their children."
For more information on influenza A(H1N1) and current conditions, visit the WHO website at www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/
For more information on the Church's response and a series of 10 questions and answers about the influenza A(H1N1) virus, visit www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2009/09-095.shtml or usccb.org/liturgy/swineflu.shtml The Q-and-A echoes information developed in 2006 at the time of the avian (bird) flu and was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Center for Disease Control.