Regular handwashing is an essential part of preventing the spread of influenza.

Regular handwashing is an essential part of preventing the spread of influenza.

January 20, 2014

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:

  • Stop the reception of the Precious Blood as part of any public celebration of the Eucharist.
  • Receive the body of Christ in the hands only.
  • Do not shake hands during the Sign of Peace. Nod or bow to those you wish to acknowledge.
  • Empty all holy water fonts.
  • Follow basic hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing. Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizing solution or tissues available at church entrances.
  • Sniffles, cough, not feeling well? Stay at home. You can watch Salt + Light Television on EWTN or online at www.
  • Good hygiene must be practised by lay ministers. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should sanitize their hands immediately before receiving Communion themselves. They should avoid touching their face or other surfaces such as handrails before distributing Communion. Rub hand sanitizer over your hands until completely dry.
  • Tell all pastoral care team members who bring the Blessed Sacrament to shut-ins that they should not attend any homes where the flu is present or suspected to be present.
  • All pastoral care visitors to hospitals and nursing homes must observe all posted infection control procedures at these institutions.

"The last time we went through this was 2009," says Lorraine Turchansky, director of communications and public relations for the archdiocese.

"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."