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Should I attend Mass if I'm sick? Guidelines for flu season

Image: Receiving the blood of Christ during Holy Communion at MassWherever two or more people gather, some sharing of germs is inevitable. When Catholics gather in Jesus’ name to celebrate the Eucharist, our first concern is sharing our gratitude, our faith and our belief in Christ among us.

However, with the cold and flu season at its height, each of us has the responsibility of taking precautions to prevent the spread of these illnesses by: 

  • Washing hands frequently and for the appropriate length of time using soap & water
  • Covering up using the upper part of your sleeve or a kleenex when coughing/sneezing
  • Click here for additional health habits for preventing the flu from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

In the event of a severe flu outbreak in our community, stricter guidelines may be issued.

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to the flu and Mass:

Should I come to Mass?

The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and other holy days of obligation is the ordinary expectation for Roman Catholics (Canon 1247). However, extraordinary circumstances such as sickness or severe weather excuse the faithful from this obligation. If you suspect you have the flu or are suffering from a serious cold, please stay at home and do not risk spreading infection to others.

Holding hands during the Lord's Prayer

Well-intentioned folks introduced this custom into parishes in the 1980s. Although holding hands is a beautiful expression of people united in prayer, the gesture is not envisioned in any Church documents governing liturgy. Thus, no one is required to hold hands. It is very fitting to pray the “Our Father” in the orans position with your palms lifted upward, or with your hands placed together in prayer.

The sign of peace

Please don’t be offended if someone chooses not to shake hands with you during the sign of peace. An appropriate gesture for those who are concerned about spreading the flu virus might be to strive for eye contact rather than physical contact. You could clasp your hands together and bow gently to those around you, and with a smile say “Peace be with you,” or “Peace of Christ.”

Receiving Holy Communion

Roman Catholics believe that both the body and the blood of Christ are contained in the Holy Eucharist under the form of the consecrated host. But the Church encourages reception of the cup at Mass as a fuller expression of the Last Supper and Christ’s precious blood poured out for us in sacrifice. If you are feeling sick, please receive Holy Communion in the hand, rather on the tongue, and refrain from receiving Communion from the cup. It is not appropriate to dip your host into the cup, as this is irreverent and can contaminate the cup.

Pregnant women and persons with compromised immune systems

If you’ve been told by your physician/medical advisor that you are particularly susceptible to infection or to complications due to flu in particular, please refrain from practices that might make you sick, including shaking hands, receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, drinking the Precious Blood from the chalice, etc.

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Resource: Diocese of Grand Rapids, Office for Worship