Health scare: churchgoers warned about getting hepatitis from communion — UPDATED

It may have happened on one of the busiest and most crowded days on the church calendar: Christmas.

From the New York Daily News:

Churchgoers who received Communion at a Catholic church in Long Island on Christmas Day could have been infected with hepatitis A, the Nassau County Health Department warned Monday.

Department and church officials did not name the source of the virus, but said that people who attended services at 10:30 a.m. and noon at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park could have been exposed during the Communion ceremony, when priests, deacons and selected parishioners distribute wafers and wine.

Mary Ellen Laurain, a spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health, said that “a person involved in the Communion process has tested positive for hepatitis A.”

“We feel the transmission [level] is low,” she told Newsday, saying only a few people were possibly exposed. “And to protect the public from potential illness, those who received Holy Communion on Dec. 25 should receive prophylactic treatment.”

Hepatitis A is not as dangerous as hepatitis B and C. Most people infected with it experience flu symptoms like fever, nausea and diarrhea. It does not lead to chronic liver disease, like hepatitis B and C.

It is normally transmitted by food that is handled by an infected person who has not washed his or her hands properly, or if an infected person’s stool comes in contact with food.

Check out the rest.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more details, including the fact that the pastor of the parish is none other than the well-known former Christophers host, and Fox News commentator, Msgr. Jim Lisante.


  1. Dev Thakur says:

    -Terribly written story: it’s not “wine” and a professional journalist should be able to write in a way more accurately reflective of Catholic beliefs. (Of course the Precious Blood still has the accidents of wine and there’s no reason it cannot transmit a virus)

    -Second thought: this stuff would be less likely to happen if we stopped distributing both species so much, and if distribution by EMHCs were limited to what the law actually allows (i.e. used only when necessary).

  2. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Dev …

    Tellingly, the story takes pains not to mention who is carrying the virus and might have passed it on.

    It’s just “a person involved in the communion process.”

    It might be a priest, a deacon, an EMHC or even the sacristan who put the hosts into the ciborium before they were consecrated.

    Dcn. G.

  3. This issue has come up before, especially during the flu scare over the past couple of years. Don’t we have to ask ourselves, do we really believe the most precious body and blood of our Lord would be capable of transmitting disease? I am not sticking my head in the sand, and being that naive about science….but does not faith take over here?

  4. I think the answer is to use reasonable precautions, but not to be paranoid. In our parish the EMHCs are instructed to use sanitizer gel before they come up to distribute Communion. Several containers are kept in the pew where they sit during Mass.
    One reason why I hope Communion on the tongue does not become mandatory is that when I am EMHC, I have noticed that it is almost impossible to avoid touching someone’s mouth when they receive this way. When I have received on the tongue, the person distributing the Host usually touches my mouth; and that includes priests. Most of the time this probably doesn’t matter, but incidents such as the one cited do happen. If people know they are sick, they should get a sub if they are an EMHC; if they come to Mass they should receive Communion on the hand. (Without a doubt, people need to work on reverence when they are receiving in the hand. The ones who seem to do the best are the little kids who have recently made First Communion.)

  5. There was a time when Christians were not considered very hygienic, did not bath enough. Jesus and his deciples did not wash their cups as much as the Pharisees did. Jesus was not as hygieneic as the Pharisees, not even close. Touching peoples tongues, making mud from spit, etc.

    It was a common practice in the early church and certain areas to breath on someone. Especially in the ancient North Arfican church before Islam. In the 16th century the Spanish explorer/ conquestador Cabaza de Vaca made his great odyssey through the Gulf of Mexico coast and he fascinated the local Indians with his prayers for their sick and his practice of breathing on them.

    For the past centuries the growth of hygienic practices has eliminated many things due to fear of infectious disease.

    However the paradign has shifted and now the problem is too many people are too clean and have limited natural resistance to new strong pathogens. As adults we should not be so concerned about things like this fear of Communion. If anything, properly received with preparation of spirit and body, reconciliation and attention it can be considerd something healthy.

  6. The whole conversation about both species brings forth a great deal of misunderstanding about good Eucharistic theology.

    Like Melody, as an EMHC I find that I end up touching the tongue of many people – it happens. (I did read your post on this topic the other day.)

    There is a lesson in all of this and it is not to be more afraid, that much I believe. I’m not sure what else I can add beyond that.

  7. Deacon Luis says:

    Since I purify the vessels after communion I drink after everyone. For some reason I am not worried. perhaps I’m just stupid.

  8. That NY Times article also quotes John Moreno, a former NYC Police Officer who wrote the book “Spirituality for Police Officers”. He also runs Catholic Lay Preachers which runs retreats and nights of recollection that are very well done. Fr. Groeschel has been involved with them since the beginning, always opening their teachings of the Church retreat every year.

  9. I’m always skeptical of the NY Time’s motives when they report on anything Catholic.

    The person at the center of the controversy was almost certainly a member of the clergy. I don’t know many EMHCs who do double duty on Sundays, even in our tiny diocese. That being said, almost certainly being asymptomatic at the time, he almost certainly didn’t know he was infected when he touched the hosts. This isn’t anyone’s fault. As some parishioners alluded, it comes with the times, and I’m glad to see the sense of the 80 year old gentleman who said it wasn’t going to change his daily Mass regimen.


  1. RT @TopsyRT: Health scare: churchgoers warned about getting hepatitis from communion

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