Flu halts handshakes

Question: In our diocese, the bishop has told us not to shake hands at the sign of peace at Mass as long as the swine flu pandemic is going on. What do you suggest in place of the handshake? Also, do you think the handshake of peace is now a thing of the past?

— Name and address withheld 

Answer: The same caution is in operation in my own diocese (Salt Lake City). The week after we asked people to refrain from the handshake, the children at school Mass showed considerable imagination in providing alternatives: rubbing elbows, rubbing knuckles, victory signs, waving, fast high-five signs (the theory seemed to be that germs would be tricked by the speed and wouldn’t have time to jump from one person to another) and bowing.

Bowing seems to be the best option. It has simplicity and dignity to it. This is what I have recommended to our liturgical ministers (who set an example) and to our gregarious schoolchildren. The gesture also has the advantage of not having any secular parallel and being distinctive to the liturgy. Bowing the head simply and saying “Peace be with you” seems like a good way to go.

I don’t think the handshake of peace is a thing of the past — anymore than it is a thing of the past in society at large. It is a natural human gesture which people exchange with ease. (The other day, my doctor even shook my hand — despite the warnings — and then apologized for so doing). However, I would not be sad to see the handshake of peace at Mass be replaced permanently by a bow, but that is just my preference. 


Question: What is the official position of the Church on pornography? I have not seen anything written about it. Also, how can I protect my children from pornography?

— W.H., Weston, Mass. 

Answer: The simplest statement on the matter is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reads: “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (No. 2354).

Protecting children from pornography is one of the greatest challenges of parenting today. It is pervasive in our society and easily available. The Internet is one of the biggest offenders. I am no Internet expert, but I know that there are means by which parents can block Internet access. Talk to school counselors about this. It is a matter with which they should be very familiar.

As a confessor, I am amazed at the extent to which people — even elderly people — are using the Internet to access pornographic material. One parent recently told me of her frustration and fear that the Internet is becoming the means by which children are learning about sexual matters. This underlines the importance of good sexual education of children by parents and of the need for parents not to be outpaced in these matters by negative outside sources. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.