Why people now nod at you in British churches

The water stoup at the entrance to my parish church has been removed. Our priest will not give Communion on the tongue, only in the hand. And we no longer shake hands to give the peace but put our hands together, bow slightly, and make smiling Indian gestures to each other.  

It is not trendy liturgists but Catholic diocesan precautions against swine flu that are responsible for these changes.

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Britain is the hardest-hit in Europe: thousands have been taken ill with soaring temperatures, vomiting and diarrhoea; 30 people have so far died, a third of these children, and many of them quite healthy.

It's not many compared to the thousands ordinary seasonal 'flu carries off; and most sufferers recover without any medical treatment. But it's serious: 100,000 were infected last week, and it is reckoned that at its peak a third to a half of all Britons will have had it.

Hence the precautions. The Church of England is invoking 16th-century rules drawn up after the Bubonic Plague to allow intinction -- the dipping of the eucharistic bread in wine -- as part of its measures against cross-infection, or has disallowed the chalice altogether. Under the Sacrament Act of 1547, communion should be received in both kinds, “except where necessity otherwise require”.

Priests are being told to sterilize their hands with an alcohol-based gel before handling hosts and after visiting the sick. One London Anglican diocese is specifying embraces rather than handshakes for the giving of the peace, leading to the agency headline: "Flu to trigger hugs in British churches".

The Government has been advised that closing schools and churches could have cut the death toll by almost half in the world’s worst flu pandemic in 1918. The Government has so far rejected that advice; but it could come to that later.

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