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Saturday 21 September 2019

Flu fear temporarily halts 'sign of peace' handshakes at Mass

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Donna Deeney

The flu season is affecting Sunday Masses across Northern Ireland, with some parishes suspending the practice of exchanging a 'sign of peace'.

One priest said his congregation will not be exchanging a handshake with those around them on a temporary basis.

Fr Jimmy McPhillips, the parish priest of Aghlurcher in Co Fermanagh, said it will be reintroduced "once the coughing has stopped".

He said: "This is the first time I have introduced this in this parish, but in previous parishes I have been in I have done the same.

"I know a lot of our older parishioners don't particularly like it.

"From a liturgical point of view, it helped make people think before they received the Eucharist that they are at peace with people, at peace with their neighbour."

He added: "I like the practice and I will bring it back once the coughing and sneezing stop.

"It has also been the practice for our Eucharist ministers to use hand-sanitising gel before they distribute Communion, but that's something we do all-year round and not just for the flu season."

In the Derry Diocese no directive has been issued on whether the sign of peace should be suspended.

It is a decision for each individual parish priest to make.

In the Glendermott parish in the Waterside, parishioners at Sunday Mass continue to exchange a handshake.

Parish priest Fr Michael Canny said: "I wasn't aware of a particular outbreak of the flu, so it isn't something I have even thought of.

"In our parish, our Eucharist ministers wash their hands using gel disinfectant before giving out Communion, which I think is a fairly widespread practice everywhere."

A handshake exchanged as a sign of peace is also practised in the Church of Ireland ahead of the distribution of Communion.

At St Thomas' Church in Eglantine Avenue in Belfast, there are no plans to suspend the practice.

Rev Paul Jack said: "The exchange of peace is a regular feature of our life in St Thomas' and we haven't suspended the practice.

"But if there was a serious outbreak of the flu, we would respond accordingly."

Belfast Telegraph

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