Give a nod to the flu instead of a handshake

If you’re at Mass and people don’t shake hands during the sign of peace or the chalice is not offered at Communion, don’t be offended.

It’s probably part of the battle against a particularly nasty flu season this year.

Several parishes in the diocese have already suspended use of the chalice and the sign of peace because of the flu. In a Jan. 6 memo to pastors, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone encouraged others to consider these options but is not requiring it. Each priest will make his own decision regarding his parish.

The spread of influenza around the country has been severe and did not lessen over the holidays as it sometimes does when people are away from work and school, officials said.

Currently, 43 states report heavy flu outbreaks, and in South Carolina 38 flu deaths have been reported this season, according to figures released in early January by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Msgr. Richard D. Harris, vicar general for the Diocese of Charleston, said many lay people, priests and hospital administrators had requested that the use of the chalice and the exchange of peace be suspended during flu season.

In the memo, Msgr. Harris stressed the fact that the “fullness of the Lord” can be received by consuming the body of Christ at the Eucharist, and drinking the Precious Blood is not necessary to get the full benefits of the sacrament.

He also said that people who refrain from receiving the chalice or shaking hands at any time during the year when they feel sick should not be accused of showing disrespect.

Some pastors took action against the flu before the memo was released.

Use of the chalice was suspended in December at St. Peter Church in Columbia, said Father Gary S. Linsky, pastor.

“I had already been sick twice and noticed all of these other people at the parish were ill,” Father Linsky said. “I probably should have done it a month before because the outbreak seemed so severe. I’ve had a lot of positive response, with people saying we made the right call.”

Father Sandy McDonald, pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, decided to ask parishioners not to shake hands or hold hands during prayer after he read a newspaper story that showed Columbia as one of the area’s flu hot spots and talked with the parish nurse.

“We recommend a bow with hand folded across the chest while saying ‘Peace be with you,’” he said. “I also recommended frequent hand washing, coughing into one’s sleeve rather than in the hand, and we placed sanitizing gel dispensers at all the church entrances.”

St. John Neumann has not suspended offering the chalice, but may consider that option if the flu outbreak continues.
How can you avoid the flu?

Get a flu shot. The vaccine is highly recommended and can limit the duration and severity of the virus, said Dr. Saria Saccocio, chief medical officer at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. A good guideline is to wash for as long as it takes to say a Hail Mary.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw the tissue in the trash.

Stay home if you are sick until you have been symptom-free without taking fever reducing medicine for 24 hours.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Eat a healthy diet, exercise and get plenty of rest.