Sign of peace suspended in churches 'until risk of infection is reduced'
Mass-goers are being asked to consider an alternative to the handshake or sign of peace in a bid to combat the spread of the winter flu virus.
The Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr John Buckley has written to priests in his diocese, asking them to temporarily suspend the traditional handshake.
Dr Buckley has suggested priests ask congregations to consider using an alternative non-contact gesture to reflect the symbolism and meaning of the sign of peace.
This could range from a wave, a bow or simply a smile to show friendship and respect towards other Mass goers.
The measure is being recommended on a temporary basis.
It is aimed at avoiding any type of physical contact that could facilitate the spread of the flu virus between worshippers.
The precautionary measure was originally implemented during concern about the swine flu epidemic in 2009.
Masses in the diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland have also suspended the traditional sign of peace handshake this week.
A spokesman for the North's largest Catholic diocese said shaking of hands was being "suspended until the risk of infection is significantly reduced".
He added that it was a "precautionary" measure due to the "increasing risk and impact" of the two dangerous strains of flu that are currently in circulation.
"Provision should be made for all ministers to use alcohol gel or wash their hands in warm soapy water before Mass and after the distribution of Holy Communion to minimise risk of infection," he said.
It is expected other bishops in dioceses nationwide will follow their example and issue similar non-contact advice to parishes.
The measure came as the Health Service Executive (HSE) urged people with the flu virus to recover at home and to minimise any possible spread of the virus.
This has included recommending that children do not attend school until they are fully recovered from any flu outbreaks.