updated 12/24/2003 10:55:41 AM ET 2003-12-24T15:55:41

The Boston Archdiocese is asking parishioners with cold or flu symptoms to forgo long-standing traditions of Mass — including communion and shaking hands as a symbol of peace — to avoid spreading the illnesses.

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The request, made in a memo sent to all churches in the nation’s fourth largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, follows similar moves in some western states hit hard by the flu.

“While at this time we do not advocate refraining from offering the cup, we made suggestions that anyone who had symptoms or who would be vulnerable to contagion refrain,” archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne told the Boston Herald for its editions Wednesday, one day before Christmas.

Test your IQThe memo suggests “a nod of the head or a verbal exchange of peace would be gracious and fitting” for those who do not wish to shake hands. It also asks that priests wash their hands before distributing communion.

Federal health officials have described the flu this season as a likely epidemic. At least 42 children have died from it in the United States.

Earlier this month, Catholic church officials in parts of the San Francisco area abandoned communion procedures including sharing a chalice of wine and placing wafers on parishioners’ tongues to avoid spreading the flu. The dioceses of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Reno, Nevada, sent letters suggesting other ways to offer Communion, such as dipping the wafer in the consecrated wine or handing it to the parishioner.

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