By Paul Dion, STL
“Our faith tells us the germs and bacteria that affects those who administer the body and blood of our Lord cannot possibly be shared with others due to the protective forces that surrounds those sacred species.”
I do not accept that the Body and Blood of Christ can communicate anything bur the best of health - spiritual, mental, and physical. The lips and hands of sinners, regardless of their state of grace, may well so do; we should take all appropriate steps to prevent such propagation.
minimize the danger of passing on the contagion."
I have to offer an answer to these very daring and interesting statements. They came about because of a meeting in which the leader of the health ministry was asking for awareness with regards the possibility of an epidemic of the bird flu. She was making a point that the church would institute some training for Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist to minimize the danger of passing on the contagion. It didn’t take long before a discussion ensued about the possibility of parishioners being contaminated by coming in contact with the chicken flu germs that might be on the consecrated host and on the chalice containing the consecrated wine. The position above was staunchly expostulated as a matter of Dogma and was never really refuted. The discussion came to an end only when the pastor mentioned that the practices that would be followed in the parish would be mandated by the bishop’s office and that we would follow them in our parish.
Before I go too far down this road, I have to say that I may have to use some words that are not really common, every day words. I will do my best to keep everything within the bounds of familiar vocabulary.
Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated host and the consecrated wine. This Real Presence is called the Sacramental Presence. It takes place at the moment of consecration when the priest pronounces the words of the Institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist: “This is my Body”, followed by: “This is my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.”
This is the moment when a miraculous and mysterious conversion called Transubstantiation takes place. This conversion has the effect of changing the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This action is dogmatically defined by the Church.
This does not mean that the bread is the body and the wine is the blood. By Church Dogma we believe that Jesus Christ is sacramentally present in body and blood in each “species”, the bread and the wine. Both, the bread and the wine are converted, from their substance to the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is therefore doctrinally correct to say that the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Question: Why does the bread keep its bread flavor? Ditto for the wine?
The conversion from bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus Christ changes the substance of the two species, bread and wine, but doesn’t take away their qualities - nor their properties of bread and wine. They retain all the appearances, feel, taste, ingredients and yes, alcoholic and sugar content too of bread and wine. They retain the substance of the Real Presence for as long as they retain their pure and true qualities of bread and wine. When they lose their identity as true bread and wine as good, edible food, they also lose the Divine Substance that they had before their natural degeneration.
So what about germs?
Germs, bacteria, viruses, dust, mist, poison, etc. are all substances that can join themselves to the qualities and properties of the bread and wine that have now become substantially body and blood of Jesus Christ. These beings do not change their nature when they come in contact with the sacred, sacramental substance.
These beings can affect us when they enter our bodies, no matter what platform they use as a springboard to get to us. If our immune system is not strong enough to fend them off, we get ill. It is not because they use the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ as a means to get to us that we will be protected against the effects of their attack.
This is easy to understand when we believe in the creation action of God Himself. He is the creator of nature and He does not tamper with the forces of nature that He Himself created.
It is easy to understand that drinking too much of the Sacred Blood from the chalice will have the same effect as that of non-transubstantiated wine. It will inebriate the person who drinks too much of it. There is in fact a law that allows alcoholic priests to get permission from the Vatican to use pure grape juice in the celebration of the Holy Mass. This protects them from the effects of alcohol on them.
The mystery of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ is a sacramental one. Just as Jesus, true God and true man, was fully susceptible to illness and injury, so are we when we come in contact with germs transferred to us from His glorified presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Historic examples of Church conduct about contagious disease and Communion
Bishop Acts to Keep the Flu From the Flock [NYT] November 28, 2004
Bishop Kenneth Angell of Vermont is modifying his services to help stop the spread of this year's deadly flu virus: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is the only one in the country that has formally asked priests to refrain from using the communion chalice and parishioners to avoid the usual handshake, hug or kiss when they make the sign of peace during Mass until the end of flu season, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says.
Other dioceses are taking precautionary measures, like encouraging hand-washing, requesting that sick people refrain from taking communion and encouraging those uncomfortable with shaking hands not to do so, a spokesman for the conference said.
During the SARS epidemic Canadian Catholic churches made similar modifications to Easter services. [CBC]
April 17, 2003 Toronto, Ontario
The news spread, however, and is raising concerns. The Archdiocese of Toronto ordered all of its churches to change customary Holy Communion practices this Easter because of the outbreak among the Catholic group. Delivering Communion from the cup will be suspended, as will kissing the Crucifix on Good Friday and shaking hands for the sign of peace.
August, 2003 My dear People of God,
Due to the SARS epidemic, precautions must be taken to contain its spread. We will appreciate if you can kindly follow the following instructions:
1. If you are suspected of the illness, or have been in contact with people infected with this problem, please refrain from attending Mass on Sundays. 2. Holy Communion is to be received on your palm and not on the tongue.
These instructions are to be observed as long as we are faced with this epidemic. Let’s pray that this epidemic will be contained soon. Let’s take all the necessary precautions and trust in the Lord.
Yours devotedly in Christ, Archbishop Nicholas Chia
It is not a matter of faith and our Catholic doctrine that you can’t pass germs through the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
If you can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am wrong, I will willingly change my position in public just to make you so happy that you will not have any temptation to cry at my funeral.