Cold and flu season is upon us, and some parishes and dioceses take certain precautions to reduce the potential for germs to spread. Eucharistic ministers sanitize their hands before and after Communion, some parishes refrain from offering the Precious Blood during this season. But many still wonder about the Sign of Peace. Should you shake someone’s hand or is it too much of a risk of spreading germs?
That’s what a listener recently asked when she called in to Go Ask Your Father™. Monsignor Stuart Swetland acknowledged that many parishes already take precautions to reduce the spreading of germs at Mass, and that some people have even suggested doing away with the Sign of Peace during certain seasons, as it is an optional part of the Mass.
“I personally don’t think that is something that we should do. But, I understand people being overly cautious. And that’s what I think it is – being overly cautious. We know when we’re contagious, or should know when we’re contagious. And if we’re really contagious, we should stay home. God understands that we shouldn’t be spreading our flu or cold if we are in that time when we’re contagious. So, you know, I just think prudence comes into play here, and we need to be prudent as people. We don’t need a lot of rules and regulations about this. We just need to act with good old-fashioned prudence and common sense.”
But what if you are healthy, but the person in the pew behind you is coughing and blowing their nose throughout the Mass? Is it rude or uncharitable to not extend your hand for the Sign of Peace?
Msgr. Swetland offered a suggestion from his experience, saying, “The Missionaries of Charity, when I used to say Mass for them … if we had a congregation they would fold their hands and just bow and say ‘peace.’ Or they didn’t even have to say it when they bowed. If you fold your hands and just say ‘peace’ like that people would understand.”
While Msgr. Swetland advised prudence in reducing the spread of germs during the Mass, he also advised prudence in making sure we are doing what we can to help protect the vulnerable during this cold and flu season.
“I understand that people are concerned, especially those with compromised immune systems, of catching cold or catching the flu,” he said. “That’s why I hope everybody got their flu shot, too. We’ve got to keep our responsibility to the common good by doing what we can to minimize the spread of disease.”