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Can the Blood of Jesus Make You Sick?

I don’t mean this to sound snarky, but I’m seriously confused by stories coming out of places like Palm Beach, Peoria, and Austin that their respective Catholic archdioceses are recommending worshipers not receive the precious Blood of Christ from a common cup, or at all, at the Eucharist due to fears over the spread of swine flu.

I’m confused because it has been my understanding that Catholics believe in transsubstatiation, the view that at the Eucharist the physical elements of bread and wine are transformed in substance so that they are no longer bread and wine but in fact the Body and Blood of Jesus. The outward “accidents” of the elements are unchanged (the taste, aroma, etc.) but the inward “substance”—what it really is—is transformed.

So, what does it mean theologically that germs can be spread through the medium of consecrated Communion wine? Can the Blood of Christ make you sick? The image that comes to mind is someone hesitating to shake hands with Jesus because Jesus may have shaken hands with someone contagious. I’m not sure what I think about that image, but I struggle to see the faith in it—Eucharistic or otherwise.

I can understand why other groups (the Austin TX article mentioned Methodists) would consider the possibility of contagion from Communion wine and take suitable precautions. For them, it’s still wine in substance and not merely in accidents. (It may be considered to convey the real presence of Christ, depending on the denomination we’re talking about, but the wine is “really present” as well.)

I welcome any clarification or correction from my Catholic readers. And yes, I will delete any uncharitable comments directed at any point of view concerning the meaning of Communion.


3 Comments

  1. mike says:

    The sacramental species retain all the qualities of bread and wine. Eating many hosts will fill your stomach. Emptying a very full chalice will make you drunk. I suppose there could be some minimal risk of picking something up, though it would likely be from the vessel rather than its contents — which retain the antiseptic qualities of alcohol. There are people who prefer not to drink from the common cup, for these and other reasons. I don’t share their aversions. But the Church accommodates them. In receiving either species or both, we receive the whole Christ — body, blood, soul, and divinity.

    I’m not a theologian, Darrell, but I wonder whether it’s correct to use the word “physical” as a synonym for “substantial.” If the physical elements were changed, then we could send it to a lab to determine blood type, and no Christian of any age ever made that claim.

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  2. mikelioso says:

    My first communion was a pretty bad experience. The waffer tasted like paper and got stuck to the roof my mouth and the taste of it made me feel sick. I told my grandmother and she told me that there was no way that the body of Christ could make me sick. So I think my grandmother would say that you cannot get swine flu from the blood of Christ, the cup on the otherhand is a different story.

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  3. Chris says:

    David, over at postings from prairie hill, has discussion about the issues of illness transmission at communion, making the point that the more “protestant” (my distinction) form of communion – little cups – requires more handling, and thus risks greater contamination from dirty hands than does sharing the sacrament via a common cup.

    Check out his post here: http://stjohnprairiehill.blogspot.com/2009/04/h1n1-swine-flu-churches.html

    As for the nature of sacrament … it still has all the nature and attributes of wine, but isn’t wine. So to the outsider it is wine, and even to the believer it has all the attributes of wine (and would act like wine vis-a-vis disease, etc.), but to the believer it is the blood of Christ.

    A little bit of paradox is fine with me.

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