It seems that the H1N1 “Swine Flu” is changing church and changing the way congregations do “church”. Churches in Sweden, who use a common cup, are using strong or fortified wine for communion to fight against Swine Flu. In Anglican, Catholic, and other European churches, it is more common for churches to share one cup to drink from instead of individual cups for communion.
As reported on by The Local , church leaders hope that fortified wine will give better protection against the spread of swine flu when the common communion cup is used from parishioner to parishioner. The change is a local decision and the Church of Sweden said that the church has not made any mandatory regulations using the fortified wine.
The rationale for this change is the hope that a heavy content of alcohol will kill germs and fight the spread of swine flu than non-alcoholic communion juice.
If you are wondering what the specific definition of fortified wine is, the following is useful:
Saying a wine is fortified means the alcohol content is greater than what natural yeast fermentation could give. Wines are ‘fortified’ to higher alcohol content by adding brandy or neutral spirit hence the name fortified wines…The higher alcohol content will kill the yeast and after a day or two.
I could not find any official medical proof for the rationale of using a fortified wine for communion, but one would think that it the practice could guard against the spread of germs. Sailors for hundreds of years would drink only beer or alcohol related drinks on ships because it would not harbor disease like water would.
Of course, this brings up many concerns for some Christians. Most non-Catholic churches and non-Anglican related churches use grape juice instead of wine for communion because of the concerns of contributing to alcoholism. In
addition, these non-Anglican/Catholic churches sometimes believe drinking alcohol in general should be frowned upon or even is sinful.
Churches are not only changing the way they serve communion, but also how congregants greet each other. The Church of England took steps to protect church goers by ending the common cup from communion time:
In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu. For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister, whose hands should have been washed with the appropriate alcohol-based rub before handling the elements and the vessels, personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.
European churches and Anglican churches are not the only churches changing how church goers interact with each other. A Catholic church in Cincinnati, OH has band priests and parishioners from shaking hands because of fears of swine flu. Florida churches made similar changes when they ended the tradition of Passing the Peace or shaking hands during church.
Are these modern concerns and fears of illness changing centuries of how Christian churches operate? Not being about to embrace other congregation members during the Passing of the Peace certainly changes the theology behind being a community that practices reconciliation in worship. Can such illnesses change the way churches relate to each other? Will we have to wear medical masks to church?
These actions do not change Christian theology, but they do challenge our how we fellowship, worship, and live. We can take communion in a variety of modes and each mode is a different way to experience the symbol of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. Certainly, one of our prime concerns for congregants should be their health and safety, but this is one of those issues that pushes churches to be creative with their worship.
At what point do medical concerns take “the holy” out of the moment? Certainly receiving communion from someone with surgical gloves and a mask changes the way we think about communion. When does the sterile affect the sacred?