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With H1N1 threat fading, archdiocese lifts liturgical restrictions

By Jim Lockwood
Posted: 2/19/2010

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Father Tom Stegman, SJ elevates the host and chalice during a 2009 Mass at Sacred Hearts Parish in Malden. Parishes should again be offering Communion under both species and handshaking at the sign of peace by Palm Sunday. Pilot file photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

BRAINTREE -- With the threat of H1N1 influenza waning, the archdiocese has decided to relax liturgical restrictions enacted last fall to prevent the spread of the virus.

On Feb. 3, the archdiocese issued a directive encouraging parishes to return to distributing Communion under both species and allowing for optional handshaking by the faithful at the sign of peace during Mass by Palm Sunday of this year, reversing an Oct. 31, 2009 directive which encouraged parishes to suspend these practices.

“We anticipate by Palm Sunday, and based on advice we’ve received from health authorities, we would be over any major threat of flu activity,” said Father Jonathan Gaspar, Co-Director of the Office for Worship and Spiritual Life.

Father Gaspar said, however, that he had originally hoped to return to the normal liturgical practices on Ash Wednesday to coincide with the start of the liturgical season of Lent.

However, February is the peak of flu season in Massachusetts, according to Joe McEnness, Executive Director of the archdiocese’s Office of Risk Management and Insurance.

Instead, archdiocesan officials recommended Palm Sunday because it begins the holiest week in the Church calendar, Father Gaspar said.

Father Gaspar said that Palm Sunday was also chosen because parishes would have ample time to schedule extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

McEnness said the state’s department of health accepted the Palm Sunday proposal.

“The sense was we were at a point where we could return to the normalcy,” McEnness said. “The question was at what point. We didn’t have any reason to believe it needed to be extended beyond that point.”

In an interview with the Pilot on Feb. 17, Father Gaspar said that some parishes have already returned to normal practices while others may wait until Palm Sunday. At the same time, he said, some parishes have never suspended Communion under both species and handshaking at the sign of peace.

“You’re likely to see parishes implement them between now and then,” Father Gaspar said. “The position we’re taking is that by Palm Sunday, they should return to normal practices.”