Norwich Bishop backs swine flu wine caution
By Keith Morris
2009: The Bishop of Norwich has reluctantly backed calls to suspend the sharing of the Holy Communion wine chalice during church services because of fears about the current spread of swine flu, but urged Anglican clergy not to add to public anxiety.
He has also said that there is no evidence that the practice of receiving Holy Communion has been the means of transmitting the infection.
The original recommendation came from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who have written to all Church of England Bishops following advice from the Department of Health.
The DoH said: “In a pandemic it makes good sense to take precautions to limit the spread of disease by not sharing common vessels for food and drink."
For those who still wish to offer both bread and wine, the Archbishops have recommended use of "personal intinction by the presiding minister". This allows the priest, whose hands should have been washed with the appropriate alcohol-based rub before handling the elements and the vessels, to dip communion wafers in the chalice before handing them out to communicants. This is a practice already widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa.
“Communicants receiving in this way need to be confident that the clergy and all assistant ministers follow the relevant guidance on hygiene,” said the Archbishops’ advice.
Bishop Graham James said: “I believe it is important to stress that there is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that receiving Holy Communion in both kinds (i.e. bread and wine) has been the means of transmission of any infection. Any action which is to be taken is precautionary. The sacrament of Holy Communion, instituted by Jesus Christ himself, remains a means of grace for all God’s people.
“The prospect of an epidemic induces anxiety and fear. It is wise not to add to it unnecessarily but there are some sensible precautions to be taken. The first is for all celebrants of the Eucharist and those assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion to use alcohol gel before doing so.
“The Archbishops recommend that Holy Communion be given in one kind only, i.e. bread or wafer with the celebrant consecrating a chalice of wine but restricting its consumption to himself or herself.
“Some may find this advice theologically unattractive as well as limiting the freedom of the laity to make judgements for themselves. What I suggest is that celebrants make it clear to congregations that receiving Holy Communion under one kind is entirely acceptable and if they wish to do so they may take that decision. The celebrant may also make it clear that Holy Communion under both kinds will be administered for those who wish to receive it.
“The Archbishops suggest that Holy Communion under both kinds is administered by intinction with the celebrant himself intincting the wafer in the wine and then in placing it in the communicant’s hands. This is very different to the common practice of intinction exercised by many lay people who keep the wafer and dip it in the wine in the chalice before consuming it. That practice is not recommended. The possibility of touching the inside of the chalice with one’s hands when doing so may make the transmission of harmful bacteria more likely rather than less,” said Bishop Graham..
The Ven Jan McFarlane, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Norwich, said: “Bishop Graham has asked for the information to be forwarded to clergy and asks them to use common sense in deciding whether to follow the guidelines in their area. It's important to get the balance right between being cautious and causing panic.”
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