I’ve read a lot lately about the impact the Swine Flu is having on Catholic worship, specifically whether or not bishops should ban the sign of peace, communal drinking from the sacred chalice, as well as receiving the host on the tongue. There has even been talk of shutting down churches. I have to admit, I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea of such restrictions, but I’ve not been exactly sure why. Mulling it over, I think there are a number of reasons:
- Nanny state. Do we really have to impose such restrictions en masse? If you are fearful of catching the swine flu, don’t shake hands at the sign of peace and make a spiritual communion. Why do we have to impose restrictions on every activity that might possibly harm a few people?
- Emphasis of the physical over the spiritual. Let’s be honest: doesn’t it seem that the underlying assumption is that what we do in church is not as important as our physical health? We are saying that it is okay to even shut down churches if the appropriate health authorities say we should, in spite of the spiritual harm that might cause.
- Bias against communion on the tongue. For centuries the only way to receive communion was via the tongue. Somehow civilization survived. Yet now we get a disease with a little media attention and communion on the tongue becomes an instrument of death, even though there is no evidence that communion on the tongue is more dangerous than in the hand. Something tells me that more than safety concerns are at play here.
Living involves risks. On my way to Mass I could get hit by a truck. On my way up to communion a brink could fall off the ceiling, hit me in the head and I could die. My stomach could explode from all the Mt. Dew I drank in my younger days. There are an almost unlimited number of ways to die. Yet we cannot stop living for fear of dying. And what is supposed to be the source and summit of our life? The Mass. Men and women have faced extreme persecution including the threat of death to attend Mass. We should not let some little virus stop us from going, regardless of the possible risks involved.