Flu puts kink in communion | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Flu puts kink in communion

William Ferchland, Tribune staff writer

Sipping the shared chalice for Holy Communion wine and hand-holding during prayer will be suspended at one South Shore church this holiday season.

St. Theresa Catholic Church will modify its services for the foreseeable future to help prevent the spread of a flu strain which is widespread in 36 states, including California and Nevada.

The changes were suggested in a Thursday letter sent by Sacramento Bishop William Weigand, whose jurisdiction includes the California side of Lake Tahoe.

The Rev. Mark Richards will make the announcement to St. Theresa parishioners before the weekend services. The church on Lyons Avenue has a capacity of 700 and has been packed with residents and visitors during Christmas Mass.

The bishop’s recommendations include suspending the Holy Communion from the wine chalice, giving the Eucharist to parishioners with open hands and not on their tongue, not shaking hands during the sign of peace and asking followers not to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer.

Those who distribute the host should wash their hands with an alcohol-based, anti-bacterial solution. The bishop urged sick people to remain home.

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“Please remind the faithful that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass does not apply when someone is ill, particularly with an infectious condition,” Weigand wrote. “Out of consideration for others, it would be prudent for anyone who has the flu symptoms to remain at home.”

Catholic churches in Tahoe City and Truckee fall under Weigand’s jurisdiction, which includes 20 Northern California counties in a 42,000-square-mile area.

The Rev. Richard DeMolen at Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church in Round Hill could not be reached for comment.

Other South Shore churches weren’t planning on any changes. Most offer communion on a monthly basis or don’t share cups.

“It’s all very individualized and fairly clean anyway, so we don’t have problems with those things,” said the Rev. Dr. Steven Blocher of Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church.

An official from Sierra Community Church stated communion is not scheduled to be offered until next month.

Lynette Magnino, communications director for the Sacramento Catholic Diocese, said she doesn’t know the effect of the changes on parishioners, especially during a time when more people attend services for the holidays. Magnino said she doesn’t remember a time when such adaptations took place.

“Nobody can predict the length of flu season, but I think the intent is to have a heightened level of awareness,” she said.

Barton Memorial Hospital ran out of their supply of 3,000 flu shots this week. Phone calls have been arriving almost daily on the matter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the flu epidemic has become widespread in 36 states.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.