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Churches split on whether swine flu rules out chalice; Parishes strike balance between public safety and normal worship.

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

SOME Welsh churches are suspending Holy Communion under both kinds in a bid to stop the spread of swine flu.

Some Anglican and Catholic churches are suspending the sharing of the consecrated wine in a chalice during the pandemic.

Both the Church in Wales and Welsh Catholic dioceses said they had not yet issued any compulsory advice, but acknowledged that some parishes had decided to take their own action.

The move comes as swine flu continued to decline in Wales, although another person - a 24-year-old woman from Cardiff - is being treated in hospital.

The Church in Wales has published Department for Communities and Local Government swine flu guidance for churches. It states that distribution of the consecrated bread at Holy Communion will continue, but that communion should not be given on the tongue and high standards of hand hygiene must be adopted.

The Government advises that the administration of the common cup should be suspended "until the danger has passed". A Church in Wales spokeswoman stressed this is only advice and it was up to individual priests and parishes to decide what to do.

Members of the congregation at a service led by the Archbishop of Wales at St Mary's Church, Seven Sisters, in Neath, were told that they could not share the consecrated wine and the bread was placed on the hand rather than tongue.

Tom Marston, who was at the service, said: "Following the advice of the Church in Wales, only sharing of the bread was taken during this Holy Communion, and this practice will continue until the swine flu pandemic is over. This is because of the virulent nature of the virus, which can exist on silver and in wine long enough to infect others, and the hidden nature of the virus which means you could infect others before you knew you had it."

The Catholic parish of Our Lady and St Illtyd and St Cadoc, in the Vale of Glamorgan, has advised its congregation that sharing of the communion wine is suspended "while swine flu is pandemic".

But Monsignor Bob Reardon, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Cardiff, said: "We have been advised that there is no need, at this present time, to issue guidelines for the whole diocese. One or two individual parishes have amended certain practices. If we do get advice to do so, we will issue guidelines for the whole diocese."

And Bishop Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham, said: "We have let the priests know where they can get advice and have sent them some basic advice, but we do not want to introduce a panic-demic at the moment. We are keeping our options open and want to strike a balance between the safety of the public and the normal celebration of Mass."

There have been suggestions that the practice of intinction - partially dipping the consecrated bread into the wine - would be an acceptable alternative to the common cup. But Government advice states that studies have suggested that intinction may pose a greater risk as fingers tend to be a bigger source of contamination than lips.

The guidance adds: "Consecrated bread handled by an infected person and then dipped into a common cup will carry a risk of contaminating the consecrated wine. Similarly, fingers may dip into the consecrated wine."

Churches around the world have issued similar advice in a bid to stop the spread of swine flu.

Guidance from the North American Old Catholic Church said that shaking hands, hugging, and other bodily contact is prohibited, while New Zealand's Catholic bishops have issued a series of hygiene recommendations.


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ADVICE: But it is up to parishes to decide on sharing the chalice
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 13, 2009
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