Concerned about the health of their parishioners, several United States bishops have issued advisories, telling churchgoers that they should not shake hands or drink from the chalice during mass if they have a flu or a cold.
The advisories were issued recently in the dioceses of Boston and Springfield in Massachusetts, after an unforeseen shortage of influenza vaccine this year in the Northeastern U.S.
The Archdiocese of Boston issued an advisory to its 2.1 million parishioners in early November, saying common sense “should reign supreme.”
“If one is sick, one should not receive from the cup,” it said. Likewise, it would be better – “for the good of others” – not to shake hands.
Diocesan spokesperson Kelly Lynch said Boston’s advisories were in part a response to inquiries from parishioners.
Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield went so far as to say that parishioners who are sick “can excuse themselves from Sunday worship out of respect for their fellow worshipers.”
Reportedly, it was an issue raised by a physician, who was concerned that unless elderly faithful Catholics heard from the bishop that they could excuse themselves from mass if they were sick, they would continue to attend to their detriment and to the detriment of fellow parishioners.
Bishop Kenneth Angell of Burlington, Vermont, issued similar guidelines in October, after the state said it was short 50,000 doses of flu vaccine. The ban began Oct. 31 and will end Easter Sunday, March 27.
Health advisories are not unusual. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has occasionally issued recommendations on how to prevent disease transmission during mass.