This week I heard in the news that in Fort Wayne, the Catholic Diocese has determined that the best practice for their churches is to limit communion to individual glasses for fear that receiving communion from the common cup may pass contagious germs throughout the congregation. Bishop D'Arcy further recommends that no one shake hands during the passing of the peace.
Yesterday, I talked with a student whose friend's baby had H1N1 and while the family feared for the young one's recovery, is doing much better now, thankfully. But my student's comment about this was something along the lines of, "I don't want to touch anyone anymore."
Both of these situations touched a nerve. Over the summer I read a book called Generation Me by Jean Twenge. After years of research, she has come to the conclusion that the younger generation (born in the 70s, 80s and 90s) are more isolated and thus more depressed, anxiety, and lonely than ever before. I fear for us when our society--and even our churches are afraid to gather together.
We're already isolated enough. Instead of listening to the radio to wait for our favorite song to come on, we select our personal playlist on our iPods and plug ourselves in to our own little world. We cocoon ourselves by putting on those headphones and ignoring the person on the bus next to us.
Instead of talking problems out with co-workers and coming to solutions together, we immediately go to their superiors to complain.
Instead of going to a gathering, we sit behind our computer screen and de-friend people on Facebook whose opinions we don't share.
So, with all of these thoughts in my mind, I saw the news about the diocese changing the policies on communion and shaking hands and realized that not only is the policy an overreaction to the virus itself, it also serves as a way to isolate us further into our own little cocoons. Furthermore, studies over the years have been done which prove that there is no link between sipping from the Common Cup and getting sick. The American Medical Association did a study years ago that shows how unlikely people are to share germs by drinking the Common Cup. The study found that the precious metal of the chalice, the alcohol itself, and the fact that the chalice is wiped clean after each communicant drinks all lowered the risk of passing germs. I also found this good article in the L.A. Times about how communing from the chalice is much less risky than talking with someone in close proximity who is contagiously ill.
I have theological reasons for preferring the Common Cup, and for those reasons, I always prefer taking the Chalice.
But lately, I've also been considering the the sociological reasons. When we tune out the world and the people in our community and the person sitting next to us, we not only run the risk of perpetuating our own isolation and loneliness, but we cut off the other from a connection with someone else who is in the same boat, so to speak. People now are more depressed, lonely, and anxious than ever. The statistics are always on the rise, and I attribute that, at least in part, to our unwillingness to talk to one another, to cut ourselves off from community, and not shake hands for fear of getting sick.
I'm not saying I want people to contract H1N1. Far from it. But being safe and smart with one's health while still connecting to others is important not only for each individual, but also for the community.