Do germs spread through the chalice?

So, am I going to get sick from receiving the Precious Blood from the chalice at Mass? That guy who was coughing and sneezing just received, and I really don’t want his germs…

We know you’ve thought about it. And depending on how concerned you are about germs, you may have refrained from receiving the Blood of Christ at Mass during flu season. It’s possible that your parish has even withheld the chalice from the congregation during outbreaks of illness in order to prevent further spread of disease. Father Matthew Spencer, host of Saint Joseph’s Workshop on Relevant Radio®, spoke about the likelihood of spreading germs at Mass.

Can germs pass from one person to another via the chalice? “This is not something that we as Catholics believe is impossible. Even though it’s a very sacred moment, we don’t presume that the presence of the Divine in that moment will prevent the spread of disease or of other germs. Because we realize that our lives are filled with faith and our lives are also governed by Natural Law, and therefore, just because it’s a sacrament doesn’t mean that the spread of germs is precluded in that way. So we have to be careful,” said Fr. Matthew.

Anne LaGrange Loving, a microbiologist from New Jersey, conducted a study twenty-five years ago on the spread of germs through Communion cups. “She tracked hundreds of individuals over the course of, I think, ten weeks during a flu season,” explained Fr. Matthew. “And she evaluated, was there any noticeable difference of spread of contagion or disease among those who receive from the cup versus those who don’t. And also, she included people who received daily, even.”

And the verdict is…

“I was surprised – there is no noticeable difference. In fact, the spread of germs from a Communion cup is extremely unlikely. In fact, apparently the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta gets inquiries about this regularly. I was reading this article from the LA Times back in 2005, I think, that interviewed spokesperson Bonnie Hebert from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and she said, ‘Theoretically, there’s a risk. But the risk is so small it’s probably undetectable.’”

There are a few explanations for these findings, says Fr. Matthew. “Believe it or not, wiping the chalice with a purificator … is actually helpful, it makes a difference.”

Secondly, the material of the chalice matters. “Silver and gold have some antimicrobial characteristics to them. So what’s interesting to me is that it’s important for theological reasons that you and I use precious materials for the chalices that we … distribute Communion from. But also, notice there are very good side effects from doing the same thing.”

Third, viruses and bacteria cannot survive long in alcohol. “Clearly it’s not wine anymore, it’s the Precious Blood—but the accident of alcohol and the characteristics of alcohol remain. It’s difficult for germs to survive in alcohol for any length of time, especially if it’s a good wine with a higher alcohol content.”

For these reasons, Fr. Matthew says, “Perhaps the spread of germs through the Communion cup is probably a fear that is unwarranted in your life.”

Listen to the full podcast here: