The oink and Holy Communion

LastSupperFullSo my husband fell ill with the flu last week -- likely swine flu. We've been taking the necessary precautions, which include not attending Divine Service today at our church. While much of the hoopla surrounding swine flu is overblown -- we've learned it's basically the same as normal flu, just scarier sounding -- the pandemic is affecting the way congregations handle communion. This is an old story, in that every time there's a particularly bad flu outbreak we get stories about the matter, but this piece that ran on CNN.com seemed a bit brief and problematic.

The headline, to begin with, struck me as a bit irreverent:

Poisoned chalice? Swine flu hits church wine

It also makes it seem as if, well, swine flu actually hit church wine. Nothing in the story supports that idea. It's just that the archbishops of Canterbury and York in the Church of England have recommended that parishioners stop sharing the chalice during communion because of fears over swine flu.

The article itself isn't bad, explaining intinction and Health Department advisories against sharing common vessels. It never even comes close to discussing the theological implications of the change in practice. And there's this error in the final graph:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Church, the second-largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic Church.

No, that would be the Orthodox Church. Haven't we been here before? Yes indeed, we have.

For additional information on pandemics and communion, much better work has been done. Religion News Service had this back in April. And I liked this Chicago Tribune piece during the same time period for the way it highlighted how sharing the peace or holding hands during the Lord's Prayer might also be avoided.

One interesting thing, that I learned from an old Al Tompkins column at Poynter, is that the CDC gets asked about transmission of infectious diseases via the chalice all the time. They report that people who share the chalice have no higher incident of infection than those who don't. Interesting.

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