Can I Get Sick from Receiving Communion?

Mystical Supper Icon

Mystical Supper Icon

With all the talk about “Swine Flu” (H1N1) and other communicable diseases, the question arises: “Can I get sick from the Chalice?” There is a one word answer to this, but more on that later. First, a few words about those who should notreceive Holy Communion …

+ If you are Orthodox and not taking your spiritual life seriously;

+ If you are not living a life of faith and repentance;

+ If you have not been faithful in prayer and in worship;

+ If you refuse to forgive someone;

+ If you have not fasted;

+ If you have not made an honest effort to prepare yourself to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ;

If any of the above is the case:

You should not approach the chalice without first making a sincere confession. In reference to Holy Communion, St Paul writes: “For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks condemnation to himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Living a life of repentance means that you are making an honest effort to refrain from sin: fighting against temptations and the lusts of the flesh, abstaining from all sexual relations outside the Sacrament of Marriage, refraining from the poison of lies, gossip, cursing, and slander, avoiding excessive drinking, drug use, and other bad habits. It also requires that one be striving to better oneself spiritually, attending services regularly, confessing one’s sins, and making peace with one’s enemies.

To sum up: Receiving communion means we are living our life in Jesus Christ.*

According to Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (11:30), many of the people who received Communion in an unworthy manner would become weak, sick, or even would die. In the St John’s Gospel, we hear our Lord say to the Paralytic: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you” (John 5:14). We see a strong agreement between Jesus and St. Paul on how sin and illness are correlated. It is not the Body and Blood of Christ which is a vehicle for illness, but our own human tendencies to fall into sin. The H1N1 virus and many other incurable viral diseases (HIV, the flu, herpes, cold sores, etc) are in existence because of the fall of humanity.

Can I get sick from the Chalice?

The answer is, simply, no.

We should not worry about transmission of germs through common use of sacred vessels that have held and touched “the divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks to the Lord” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). Further, Saint John in his Gospel quotes Jesus saying “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal LIFE…” (John 5:54). Why would something that is LIFE-giving be the carrier of something that causes disease and death? **

Besides, after everyone else receives Holy Communion, the priests and deacons consume the remainder of the chalice. The clergy, therefore, would be the recipients of a host of germs – from everyone! Yet, in truth, that which is in the consecrated chalice is the very Body and Blood of the Physician of our souls. He has trampled down death by death, and upon us, His faithful children, He has bestowed Life!

We can, however, get sick from contact with each other!

Take precautions:

+ Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

+ Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

+ Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

+ Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

+ If you are sick with flu-like illness, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick.

+ While sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

+ Visit the CDC website to find out what to do if you get sick with the flu and how to care for someone at home who is sick with the flu.

———————–

This entire blog post was ripped from my “brother from a different mother,” Fr. Joseph Honeycutt, and his excellent blog Orthodixie and reprinted here with permission.

* - Taken from the May ‘09 issue of The Cathedral Messenger, St George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, Wichita, Kansas.

** - Taken from: The Quiet Revolution

See also: This Side of Glory

Image of the Communion of the Apostles is taken from the website of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Washington, DC.

This article is taken from the quarterly newsletter, The Messenger, of St George Church.


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3 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Christianity

3 responses to “Can I Get Sick from Receiving Communion?

  1. s-p

    Hi Father, I’ll post the comment I made on “This Side of Glory” and “Quiet Revolution” here. I know I’m a “voice crying in the wilderness” on this topic, but what the heck…its not the first time I’ve swum upstream in the popular piety. :) So, here it is again…

    Not to throw a theological wet towel on the discussion, but it seems to me (and mostly only to me, it seems) that we border on being Nestorian regarding the Eucharist: The “earthly” is swallowed up in the “divine”. Christ was two natures in one person and it was heresy that either one was obliterated by the other. After the consecration the elements retain their “earthly properties”: the bread will mold and get stale, the wine still makes the priest drunk if there’s enough of it left over, etc. (notwithstanding some claims to isolated miracles regarding these things). I believe God CAN take care of the germs, it just bothers me when we try to make the Eucharistic gifts something other than what actually are as an apologetical tactic.

    That said, regardless of reasons put forth for why it is safe to commune, we still “draw near with faith and love”, and a bodily illness as a consequence (IF that happens) is still a small price to pay for the spiritual healing of communing in Christ’s flesh and blood.

    • Fr. James Coles

      I agree with you SP. But I stand by this post. It is in response to what I see sometimes and as a “heads up.” Familiarity can sometimes breed (even in the Priest) a lack of piety in those receiving (high fiving on the way up the aisle) and the liturgical prayers call for the Bread to be unto eternal life and the Blood for the healing of many forms of illness.

      I am certainly no arguing for Nestorianism but for awareness.

  2. s-p

    And I agree that there is sometimes a lack of piety in regard to receiving the Body and Blood. I was thinking about this today while working, and thought sometimes we make something “more than it is” because we don’t truly understand what it really is already. Even though I’ve never accepted the “how can something that is life giving cause illness?”, I’ve just never been concerned about getting sick from communion nor have I ever abstained from communing behind people with colds etc. I figure its all in God’s hands in the end. I guess I think if someone is more concerned about their physical health than communing with God…maybe there’s deeper issues that need to be addressed.

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