Food, safety and God

I was recently involved in discussions around hygienic practices needed when preparing for communion in my local church.  Is the service of the blood (wine) and body of Christ (wafers) risky to the health of churchgoers taking part?

Questions raised included:

  • Do we need to wash our hands before counting communion wafers or do we use tongs?
  • How do we keep the chalice clean if so many drink from it?
  • Is dipping communion wafers into wine hygienic because people could put their fingers in as well?
  • Does the President (person who takes the service) wash his hands before breaking the large wafer or ‘bread’?
  • Do chalices get washed?
  • How often is the water for handwashing and diluting the wine changed?
  • What do we do if we notice someone has a cold sore?
  • What about people who are gluten intolerant and how do we prevent cross-contamination?  (I thought the wafers were rice paper but are actually made from wheat flour.)

For a part of the service in which people are only involved directly for a very short time there is quite a lot to consider.

All questions were considered valid and addressed.  Equipment and hand washing is an integral part of the preparation and ritual, chalice rims are wiped in-between each person and hand sanitiser is available as is gluten-free ‘bread’ kept in a separate box.

Today, Priests are much more aware of the importance of hygienic practices particularly during flu or similar epidemics and the importance of protecting an increasingly ageing and therefore susceptible population in many Christian churches.