.- Addressing liturgical matters amid concerns of a swine flu outbreak, Bishop of Dallas Kevin J. Farrell has advised his diocese’s pastors to consider suspending the reception of the Holy Eucharist under both species and to take other steps to respond to possible health dangers.
The first reported death in the U.S. from swine flu came on Tuesday, when a 23-month-old boy visiting from Mexico died in Houston.
Bishop Farrell’s April 28 letter said awareness has increased about “the potential danger of the possibility of a serious epidemic of ‘swine flu’ for which there is no vaccination.” To assist in preventing the spread of a possible epidemic, he asked that pastors consider modifications to the distribution of the Eucharist and also ensure that Eucharistic Ministers use proper hygiene before distributing the Eucharist at Masses.
He also advised that pastors tell parishioners to be attentive to public health announcements.
The bishop further asked that pastors offer prayers for those afflicted by the illness and for public health officials addressing the possible threat.
Father Michael Dugan, Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Diocese of Dallas, offered some reminders and recommendations to be consulted in the event of a significant outbreak.
Fr. Dugan said that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation is the “ordinary expectation” for Catholics. However, “extraordinary circumstances” including sickness excuse the faithful from the obligation.
“If you are not feeling well, especially during this time of concern, please stay at home and do not risk spreading infection to others. Please stay at home and do not attend Mass,” he wrote.
He said congregants should not be offended if someone chooses not to shake hands during the sign of peace.
“If you are ill, the appropriate response to someone extending a sign of peace might be to bow to them and say, ‘Peace be with You,’ to avoid bodily contact or one might wave slightly at the other person.”
Regarding the reception of Holy Communion, he advised those feeling sick to receive communion in the hand and to refrain from receiving communion under the form of the Blood of Christ.
Fears of swine flu have caused several Catholic schools to close in different parts of the country.
St. Francis Preparatory School in the Queens borough of New York City, the largest private Catholic high school in the nation, cancelled classes for its 2,700 students on Monday and Tuesday in response to the reported outbreak. According to the Associated Press, eight students at the school had contracted swine flu and some students had visited Mexico two weeks ago.
St. Mel's Catholic School in Fair Oaks, California, near Sacramento, was closed until at least Thursday while health officials examine whether a seventh-grader has a flu linked to the outbreak.