Regular handwashing is an essential part of preventing the spread of influenza.
The worrisome spread of H1N1 influenza has prompted the Archdiocese of Edmonton to implement safety precautions during the celebration of the Eucharist, following the advice from Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health.
Given the threat posed by the disease, Archbishop Richard Smith, in a Jan. 8 letter, urged parishes and parishioners to follow these guidelines immediately and continue until the end of January:
"The last time we went through this was 2009," says Lorraine Turchansky, director of communications and public relations for the archdiocese.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Those who are ill and unable to attend Mass can make an act of spiritual communion.
This is an act expressing what was described by St. Thomas Aquinas as "an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in loving embracing him."
The following prayer comes from the archdiocese's Office of Divine Worship.
"My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Eucharist. I love you above all things and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen."
"At that time, the archbishop was in contact with Dr. Predy looking for advice on what we could do to keep parishioners as safe as possible. So those liturgical restrictions were developed out of those consultations.
"The idea is to remind the pastors and parishioners to keep each other safe. We have our responsibility to keep our brothers and sisters safe. That's really what it is all about."
With the escalation of H1N1 this year – eight are confirmed dead but that number may change according to confirmation of diagnoses – the archbishop again consulted Predy.
"He thought the situation warranted the same kinds of restrictions and it was his view that would be a good idea as a preventive measure," said Turchansky.
"As he said, 'We are seeing a lot of very, very sick people.' The risk is perhaps not quite as high as the pandemic year; it's very similar compared to the years between."
The archbishop also consulted with his episcopal council and asked for their thoughts.
"I know he has prayed about it too because sometimes people find restrictions (such as not taking the wafer on the tongue) difficult to accept," says Turchansky. "So we want to assure people that it is very, very temporary."
For those upset by these restrictions, shut in at home or for someone looking after someone at home, Father Paul Kavanagh has included a prayer for a spiritual communion. (See sidebar.)
"The idea is certainly not to shut anyone from the Eucharist," assures Turchansky. "That is the last thing we would want to ever to do."
The Alberta government sourced out 65,000 doses of flu vaccine that will be distributed through vaccination clinics operated by Alberta Health Services, "the last (doses) on the planet," says Health Minister Fred Horne.
As of Jan. 9, nearly one million Albertans had received their flu shots this year. As of Jan. 7, there were 1,430 confirmed flu cases, with 1,287 of the H1N1 strain. There are 354 people in hospital, with 83 in the intensive care unit.
In his letter, the archbishop said, "This is certainly a time for prayer to the great physician Jesus Christ, to heal those who are suffering and grieving during this outbreak."