Temporary changes for Catholics

H1N1 concerns prompt precautions in churches

Published: Monday, Oct. 19 2009 12:22 a.m. MDT

Christine Trinkle and Fernando Almanza react to an empty font at the cathedral. Holy water had been removed from it.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When congregants entered the Cathedral of the Madeleine Sunday morning and reached into the holy water font, it was empty.

And when they filed forward for Holy Communion during Mass, there was no wine to be sipped from a communal cup. Wafers usually placed on their tongues were dropped in their hands instead.

These disruptions of traditional practice were just the latest signs that swine flu has arrived.

The cathedral and other churches in the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City were adjusting this weekend to several temporary changes suggested by diocese officials last week amid growing concerns about the spread of the H1N1 virus.

There have been 127 hospitalizations related to both the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu since Aug. 30, according to the Utah Department of Health, and four people have died of the flu so far this season.

Scott Dodge, a deacon at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, said he has never seen such precautions taken during services, but the congregation seems to be taking them in stride.

"The only part that I think is causing concern is not receiving Communion from the cup, because that's the way we normally receive Communion," Dodge said after Sunday's Mass.

But going without holy water is not something that comes naturally to some.

"It's so reflexive to put your hand in (the font)," Dodge said. "I feel kind of bad when people look in there and see it's empty."

He said he expects the changes to last until health officials say the worst of the flu scare is over.

Anne Kurek, parish secretary for St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in West Jordan, said similar measures would be in place during the church's final service at its old building on Redwood Road Sunday evening, along with tissues and bottles of hand sanitizer.

"The biggest thing is we're asking people who are sick to stay home and take care of themselves, especially those who may be contagious," Kurek said.

She acknowledged it was difficult to suspend traditional parts of Mass. "I think some people are very fond of these things … but everybody is concerned about the spread of swine flu."

Still, it may be hard to adopt all of the changes overnight. During the "greeting of peace," which church leaders suggested be abbreviated to a verbal greeting or a bow of the head, there was still plenty of hugging and hand-shaking Sunday at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

"As with any situation of this kind," stated a flier enclosed in the church bulletin, "there is a danger of both overreacting and under-reacting."

Mass changes:

The common cup for Holy Communion will not be offered at Mass.

Holy Communion (wafer) will be placed in the hand rather than on the tongue.

Holy water will be temporarily removed from fonts at front doors.

The "greeting of peace" is to involve only a verbal greeting or a simple bow of the head.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com

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