In many Roman Catholic churches across the country, lay people no longer receive wine at Communion, and some Catholic clergy have advised congregants not to shake hands or hug at the moment of the liturgy known as “the passing of the peace,” when parishioners typically greet someone in, and offer embodied signs of, the peace of Christ. In my own Episcopal parish, I was greeted by a neighbor last Sunday with an elbow bump. At a United Church of Christ congregation in the suburbs of Chicago, Communion servers now slice up bread into bite-sized bits before distributing Communion; they no longer offer congregants a loaf from which to tear a hunk of bread. In the interest of keeping fingers away from communion wine, communicants at All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, Tenn., are now instructed not to dip their Eucharistic bread into the cup but rather to sip the cup directly, since hands are often more infectious than mouths.
At Cornell University, the Episcopal chaplain, Clark West, has reminded worshippers that they will receive the fullness of the Eucharist if they receive only “one kind”””that is, the wafer and not the wine. “We have alcoholics among us for whom this has been the practice for years without any noticeably adverse effects,” quips Mr. West. To emphasize this, he has, on occasion, used a longer liturgical formula, which names the host as itself both “the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Less reverently, Mr. West has taken to calling the bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, which now sits prominently on the credence table, the post-modern lavabo. (A lavabo is the bowl a priest uses to wash his or her hands in the Eucharist.)