Monday, August 31, 2009

Are priests expendable?

Apparently there is no uniform reaction to the swine `flu threat around the country in Catholic dioceses. One of my parishioners came back from visiting family recently and told me that in her daughter`s parish everyone was still receiving from the chalice and shaking hands at the sign of peace. In Hexham and Newcastle we have been requested to stop exchanging the sign of peace with a handshake, to stop the distribution of Holy Communion from the chalice and to not receive Holy Communion on the tongue.
The last point caused a lot of anguish among the faithful at the EF Mass but so far as I hear there is a kind of exception for the them. Distributing Holy Communion on the tongue to people who are kneeling is a different affair to giving it to those who are standing where there is more chance of the celebrant`s fingers making contact with the communicant`s tongue. For the sign of peace, as I only heard from those who regretted the new regulations, on a Sunday I ask people to turn to their neighbour and wish them peace. This seems to work well enough.
Not included among the request we received was the emptying of holy water fonts but this appears to have happened anyway but I`m not sure it is necessary.
Those who are finding it all difficult point to the sharing of hymn books as a possible source of infection but we`ve not received any request about this. I also never give a thought to avoiding shaking hands with people outside of Mass.
One thing that does strike me as odd is that we still have concelebration. I went to Fr Daley`s Requiem Mass on Friday and all was as normal. As priests we shared the chalice. Should this be happening if the other requests are serious? Maybe it is time to drop concelebration for the time being unless we think priests are expendable or miraculously protected from swine `flu.


Anonymous said...

It's all a bit nonsensical, isn't it? I know several people who have been really hurt by this "no Communion on the tongue". My understanding is that this is a request, not a command. If someone has flu, then they should not be at church; and if the priest has it, he should close everything down! In my church, we are back to normal!

English Pastor said...

My understanding too is that it is a request not to shake hands or receive on the tongue. I wonder if it could be enforced, since that would mean denying us a universal right and enforcing an option, which seems odd. When distributing on the tongue to people who stand, it just takes a bit longer to focus on the action, though some people do nod their heads forward like a pecking chicken..! As for the hands, people cough and sneeze into their hand then touch all manner of things -in some places they come into weekday Mass and place an altar bread on the paten before Mass, but who knows which Host they then receive? It is all a bit OTT I think. The simple advice from the Government of "catch it, bin it, kill it" should be enough.

Augustinus said...

I'm no canonist, but I understand that local bishops are not competent (in the canonical sense of the word) to ban a universal law. If that is the case, then they have no right to ban the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, since that is the universal law of the Church - reception in the hand is by indult.

I've just come back from a holiday in Canada, where we attended Mass in various dioceses. Having been told that some of the dioceses/parishes were extemely liberal (in the sense that Communion in the hand is the norm and people are 'forbidden' from kneeling after the Consecration), my wife and I were more than a little apprehensive over what to expect.

We need not have worried. The Masses were some of the most reverent we have ever attended; most people knelt and a significant number received on the tongue. One Mass was celebrated by a local bishop and he was clearly comfortable with our genuflection before receiving on the tongue.

The general reaction there to the swine-flu-imposed regulations in this country, seemed to be that they were ill-thought out; were reactionary; and were driven by a particular agenda. I can't comment on that, but can see no problem with maintaining current traditions and laws.

As a priest has pointed out, there is probably more chance of 'catching' something from peoples' hands than from their tongues.

Discreet Observer said...

The Catholic belief in Holy Communion is that we are receiving the Body of Christ, whole and entire, under the appearances of bread. Quite frankly, I refuse to believe that our Blessed Lord would allow anyone of faith to catch any disease after receiving his Body on their tongue, or that reception on the tongue would be a means of spreading disease. It is a fact that many (most, if one believes the results of a poll some years ago in the USA) Catholics now believe that Communion is merely symbolic so perhaps this is what spreads the fear of contacting disease - a lack of belief. The Gospels state quite clearly that eating and drinking unworthily will bring damnation but as this is not politically correct (or ecumenical)these days this part is suppressed. Perhaps damnation at the moment for eating unworthily is swine flu? I do have a passing interest in the history of the Church and I cannot remember reading about suspension of Communion on the tongue during the various plagues that appeared on a regular basis. My apologies if I sound so flippant on such a serious matter as the reception of Holy Communion but I find this embargo absolutely ridiculous. Where is faith in all this?
And don't get me started on removing HOLY water from our fonts. We expect our Church leaders to fire us with faith - not worries.

Richard S Rainbow said...

As a preamble may I remind Fr Br that there has been no holy water at St Mary’s for two weeks. Has it just been overlooked? (!!!)
A priest of the H & N diocese leading a pilgrimage to Walsingham last month was giving the Host to people who knelt or stood but who put out their tongues – until a member of the group he was leading did so and was told: ‘No, in the hand!’ and refused to budge until she submitted. Challenged afterwards as to why he had discriminated he answered: ‘Because the others were not from Hexham and Newcastle’!
Perhaps those of us who are, just, over the age of 60 and have an annual ‘flu jab could be issued with a certificate we could present before Holy Communion to show we are immune?
The fact remains that while a bishop can ‘request’ whatever he likes to request he cannot countermand the universal law of the Church which, in this instance, is the method in which we are expected to receive Holy Communion, i.e. on the tongue. It is regrettable that there does seem to be a rather large number of priests who are more afraid of offending their bishops than of being disobedient to the Holy See and disrespectful to Our Lord.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Richard, I did say about the emptying of fonts that it seemed to have happened anyway. I keep meaning to get them refilled.I never asked for them to be emptied but people seemed to be under the impression this had to happen although it was not mentioned anywhere.

What ridiculous goings on at Walsingham!

Victoria said...

Have the orthodox who give Holy Communion from a spoon - the same spoon to everyone - banned Holy Communion?

Of course I may be wrong but does this seem like a golden opportunity to ban communion on the tongue?

Here in Australia, swine flu has disappeared from the headlines. How serious is in in England?

Leo Darroch said...

Father Michael,
Your headline "Are priests expendable?" reminded me of a incident more than 20 years ago in my parish church. At the beginning of his sermon on the shortage of vocations the young curate asked this question. "Give me one word that describes a priest?" Being caught on the hop, a number of words quickly came to mind - such as 'sacrifice, ministry, etc.
After waiting a few moments the curate said that the word was ...."NECESSARY". A priest is 'necessary'. He explained that if there is no priest then there is no Mass, if there is no Mass then............ He did not complete the sentence because he did not need to do so. I have never forgotten this.
Nowadays, with a number of people wishing to take over more of the duties of the priest and create priestless parishes we would do well to heed the wise words of this young priest. So Father, I would not worry too much about contracting swine flu from the chalice as during the Mass you become another Christ and will be suitably protected for this reason alone.