Hygiene at Mass“I try and avoid it, but it’s impossible because people will turn around to you and you can’t be downright rude and not put your hand out.”

As heard on liveline

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The coronavirus has got plenty of people exercised and Liveline has heard from some Irish people who are worried about the spread of the disease. But on Tuesday’s programme Joe Duffy heard from Margaret who has long been unhappy that the Catholic Church continues its practice of asking attendees at mass to shake hands when the priest asks them to show each other the sign of peace. It’s not that Margaret isn’t interested in offering peace to her fellow-worshippers, it’s a hygiene issue.

“The sign of peace, I think it’s very unhygienic. And especially, you know, you sit there and people are coughing and sneezing and they’ll put their hands up to their face, up to their mouth and their nose and then come the sign of peace, they’ll put their hand out to shake your hand.”

Margaret’s worry is that these people who’ve coughed and sneezed into their hands then go on to shake hands with six or seven people. Margaret tries to avoid the sign of peace when she can, but she doesn’t refuse people’s hands when they’re offered:

“I try and avoid it, but it’s impossible because people will turn around to you and you can’t be downright rude and not put your hand out.”

She had a friend who was going through chemotherapy, Margaret told Joe, who had to stop going to mass because of the sign of peace, as she had to try to avoid infection. Then there’s the lay people who hand out communion:

“They’re shaking hands with six, seven people. Then they go up on the altar straight away after that to give out communion.”

When asked by Joe if the coronavirus is the source of her worries, Margaret tells him no, her concern predates the latest viral outbreak. Joe suggests that maybe Margaret shouldn’t go to mass. That’s not happening. Instead, Margaret’s solution is:

“I just want the priest to stop this…. I want it stopped. It’s a hygiene issue.”

Margaret went further, telling Joe that the sign of peace gesture has no place at mass, regardless of the hygiene issue:

“It’s a meaningless practice inside at mass. For me anyway, it has no meaning whatsoever.”

Plenty of listeners shared their opinions on the sign of peace in the age of the coronavirus and you can hear them all here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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