We need to think about the handshake, not only at times of pandemic. There are other Signs of Peace which, I am told, are in common use during Mass elsewhere. People should consider using one of these alternatives.
One of my family has poor immunity. Twice he was hospitalised when a common community-acquired infection developed into pneumonia and endangered his life. Once he was hospitalised with influenza, which also endangered his life. I have seen people cough into a hand or use it to blow their nose before using it to give a Sign of Peace; and people who are well can unwittingly touch surfaces which have bacteria or viruses, and communicate them to others. Some do not know that they are vulnerable until it is too late. Relatively common infections kill people every year. I know of one epidemiologist who says that she never shakes hands because she knows what is on them.
I saw a homeless man, with dirty hands, ignored by every person around him at the Sign of Peace during Mass. What could have been a sign of welcome and inclusion became a sign of isolation and exclusion. I am sure that people would not have been so unkind if a non-contact Sign of Peace were in common use. There are other issues to consider too.
It is reasonable and charitable to consider introducing an alternative to the handshake for permanent use.
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Don’t risk reopening churches too early
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life”. Yet while access to the Eucharist and the sacraments should be a matter of great importance for Catholics everywhere, great care and attention needs to be exercised by the Bishops of England and Wales before any decisions are made on the opening and functioning of churches.
As a registered nurse and someone of a deep faith, I can foresee more harm than good being done by premature opening of church doors. I am not saying that the doors need to stay locked, rather that serious care and attention needs to be exercised by the shepherds of the Church.
While each diocese is under the jurisdiction of its local Ordinary a strategic approach based on pragmatism and common sense needs to be taken. Who is going to police what’s going on in church buildings? In many parishes certain lay faithful are given far too much power as it is; will responsibility for ingress and egress be devolved to them?
Ticketing systems, and relying on common sense – for example, people not cramming into a church that is already busy – might sound good in principle. But they are not straightforward to run. It worries me greatly that many people will take unnecessary risks going back into churches; while I admire the martyrs that have gone before, I don’t intend to be an unnecessary one myself.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
A radical solution
I read the online article about the US Church’s financial woes with interest. One immediately helpful move would be to close down bishops’ conferences, bureaucratic as they are by nature and often financially misfocused. While head of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed concern on several occasions about their uncanonical status and excessive power. Their most effective role is to shield individual bishops looking for an excuse to pass the buck and thus evade performing their pastoral duties.
May I add a reason for endorsing Colin Brazier’s appreciation of siblings (Diary, May 2020)? Siblings are not always easy to live with (“Get on with the washing up … we had to do it when we were your age!”) But how proud I was of brotherly appreciation when I won the egg-and-spoon race at my junior school.
We were seven children by two marriages, my mother having died, with about 30 years between No 1 and no 7. In the intervening years, death has taken two: my sister who died in her later years, and a brother in middle age. My eldest brother will be 88 in November. A bachelor, his home is littered with photos of nephews and nieces, for whom he prays daily. There are grandchildren, great-nephews and nieces over 30. Alas, only one fully practising the Faith.
But this is where we score: our juniors have the advantage of cherished seniors living a fully coherent Christian life, something they can return to, and in the cold blows of a modern locked-down world they remain part of a functional, happy and hopefully pious family.
In his letter concerning changes to traditional hymns to accommodate more “inclusive” language, Mr Sutherland criticises the change of the name of the third person of the Holy Trinity from “Holy Ghost” to “Holy Spirit” in certain hymns. He claims that the latter renders unmetrical the lines where it appears, due to the extra syllable.
This is not quite right. Whilst there are two syllables in “Spirit”, it has long been the custom to scan the word as one syllable in English verse. Indeed, the poet and proponent of literary formalism, Lewis Putnam Turco, states in his “Book of Forms” that the custom is seldom deviated from.
Nevertheless, I am in full agreement with Mr Sutherland on his other points. My personal bugbear is that the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers appears nowadays to have become “Onward Christian Pilgrims”, a pathetic and effeminate change in my view. Perhaps the liberal clergymen and lay folk who dislike the modern translation of the Mass for being stilted and artificial should consider their own sins in this regard (or, as I am sure many of them would put it, “check their own privilege”).
Br William Rees IC
In defence of vegans
I have calmed down somewhat, I hope, after reading Madeleine Teahan’s Diary (April 10). But if she could tell me who the merciless vegan is who stole the soya yoghurt from her son’s little hands, I will gladly go and sort him/her out!
Meanwhile I would recommend that she watch Cowspiracy, currently on Netflix, and accept, as I did when I viewed it, that the production of meat and dairy products forms a great part of the climate crisis, if not the greatest.
The current situation has surely highlighted the disgusting treatment and risky consumption of wildlife. When we mistreat animals, people are affected too: the situation, for example, of the poor folks who have to live amongst the stench and pollution of American hog farms still haunts me.
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