A diocese in Northern Ireland has asked Catholics not to exchange the sign of peace during Mass owing to a surge in flu cases
The Diocese of Down and Connor also told priests to disinfect their hands before distributing Holy Communion, and warned them against distributing the Precious Blood as part of Communion.
The diocese said it was reviving measures first put in place during the swine flu epidemic in 2009.
Fr Martin Magill, of St John’s parish in Belfast, told the BBC that parishioners would understand the move.
“I think all of us are aware of the huge amount of pressure that our hospitals are under at this stage and so [we had] this idea of doing something that will make a difference,” he said. “It’s precautionary more than anything else.”
The H3N2 virus, referred to as “Australian flu” or “Aussie flu”, has spread across Britain and Ireland this winter. During Australia’s winter last year health officials logged 170,000 cases of the flu – double the number of cases on the year before – and 72 flu-related deaths. The H3N2 virus was thought to make up a large number of these cases.
Various dioceses around the world suspended the sign of peace during the swine flu epidemic in 2009.
In the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, Bishop Arthur Serratelli said that, at the sign of peace, “a simple bow and greeting would suffice”. Other churches told parishioners not to hold hands during the Our Father.
In England and Wales bishops decided that any response to the outbreak should be decided by parish priests. But one bishop, Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth, advised priests not to offer Communion on the tongue or with the chalice.
Half a million raised for church
Parishioners in Birmingham have raised nearly £450,000 to repair their Grade II-listed church.
The Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary in Aston, built in 1922, has a mosaic interior of the kind envisaged for Westminster Cathedral. It needed extensive roof repairs to protect this mosaic. Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving there on Sunday.