Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 13:14 UK

Communion wine ban 'to halt flu'

Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Nicholas Reader
The Bishop issued the guidance in letters to all clergy

Anglican churchgoers in Lancashire are being prevented from taking Holy Communion wine as a precaution against the spread of swine flu.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, has asked all clergy not to distribute consecrated wine during the services.

Bishop Reade said the guidance was in reaction to the increasing seriousness of the outbreak.

So far 29 people with the H1N1 virus have died in the UK.

Bishop Reade issued the advice in letters to all Church of England clergy in the diocese's 230 parishes.

Normally we get away with it because for most infections people have got inbuilt resistance
Reverend Ed Saville, Diocese of Blackburn

"For the time being, I must ask that we do not use the chalice or any other common vessel for the distribution of the consecrated wine," he wrote.

"Wine consecrated for Holy Communion should be consumed only by the priest presiding at the service," he added.

The bishop has also advised that consecrated bread should only be placed directly in people's hands, and not on the tongue.

He also called for the use of intinction, the dipping of the consecrated bread into the chalice, to be suspended.

All of the restrictions are in place "until further notice", the diocese said.

No resistance

Spokesman Reverend Ed Saville said the use of the chalice during Communion services was "basically unhygienic".

"Normally we get away with it because, for most infections, people have got inbuilt resistance," he said.

"But with this H1N1 flu virus there is no inbuilt resistance."

Communion is the act of celebrating Eucharist, generally considered to be a commemoration of the Last Supper.

During the ritual, worshippers take a sip of wine from a chalice and eat a tiny piece of a form of bread, both of which have been consecrated.

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