Archdiocese of Boston removing handshake from sign of peace amid coronavirus concerns

BOSTON — It’s been part of the Catholic mass for decades, but concern over flu and coronavirus has led the Archdiocese of Boston to eliminate a potential route of transmission on the first Sunday of Lent.

“Since we are in flu season, the archbishop has directed all parishes, for the foreseeable future, to suspend the shaking of hands during the sign of peace,” said Margaret Felice, a cantor.

Handshaking became part of the mass almost 60 years ago as part of Vatican II reforms. But with widespread influenza in Massachusetts and the looming threat of coronavirus, the archdiocese is shutting it down, for now, in favor of non-contact ways of wishing peace.

“At that time, a simple, wave, gesture, bow or smile will suffice,” Felice said.

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The church is taking other precautions, as well.

“And I'm glad the holy water fonts are being cleaned out, too,” said Pam Hennessey, a local parishioner.

At South Boston's Gate of Heaven Church those fonts were empty and will remain empty by order of the archdiocese until flu season is over.

“Any effort to reduce the spread of the virus is a good idea,” said Brendan Fox, another parishioner.

The archdiocese has good reason to be concerned about the spread of flu and other viruses. The Pew Research Center finds nearly 60% of those who attend mass weekly are 65 years or older, a group vulnerable to respiratory illness.

“I think it's probably okay,” said Sam Barrack of the new signs of peace. “You turn around greet somebody with a smile, wave of a hand. I think that's just fine.”

The Catholic Church is not the only institution taking a pass on handshakes these days. Around the world, the most basic of human greetings is no longer considered a sign of good manners. At least for now.

“I think it’s nice to be able to shake someone’s hand,” Barrack said when asked if the new rule should be adopted even when coronavirus isn’t a concern.

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