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Hand Sanitizer Does More Harm Than Good

hand sanitizerPredictions that using hand sanitizer as a significant ritual actual would become unmovable have, thankfully, proved incorrect. The distracting, grand, highly-visible ritual of the sanitising of hands (in the sanctuary) by those who will distribute communion seems to be decreasing. The reduction of the practice is helped by increasing awareness of the
mounting data suggesting antibacterial soaps do more harm than good (building on earlier such evidence).

I hope presiders are aware of the tradition of washing hands properly with soap and warm water in the vestry/sacristy prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. The traditional (allegorical) prayer that goes with this is:

Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.

Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that, being cleansed from all stain, I might serve You with purity of mind and body.

In many vestries/sacristies, this prayer is displayed on the wall above the sink, traditionally with towel racks labeled Ante Missam (Before the Eucharist) and Post Missam (After the Eucharist).

The tradition of washing hands before prayer is ancient and widespread – not merely within Christianity. Blessing oneself with holy water as you come into the church building is part of this tradition. As is the lavabo/hand washing prior to the central prayer of the Eucharist – the Great Thanksgiving Prayer.

Read this post in a Throw back Thursday sort of way.
hand sanitizer lavabo
Lavabo 1
Lavabo 2
Lavabo 3
Washing hands

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7 thoughts on “Hand Sanitizer Does More Harm Than Good”

  1. I was at an interfaith meeting today with Christians and Muslims and one of the things we discussed was the differences in Muslim schools of thought about when and how washing (wudu, or ablutions) should be performed. It can be a point of debate and division for them as well. For me, I am glad to hear that hand sanitizer is falling out of favor. The symbol of cleansing hands to represent cleansing hearts is powerful.I have found the squeezing in of the sanitizer ritual, erm…distracting. The idea that young Catholics would grow up identifying the strong scent of rubbing alcohol with the Eucharist is also unappealing.

  2. The tradition of washing hands before prayer is ancient and widespread

    No it isn’t: I’ve yet to see/hear of any Anglican clergy doing this in the UK, nor yet any Catholics in France. We’re entirely reliant on the ritual gesture of a dribble of water poured over fingers.

    …but then given we have to drink battery acid from the chalic, dirty fingers are probably the least of our problems 🙂

  3. Interesting . But the vestry in my parish church has no basin or running water (built 1865) and neither did many of the rural churches I visited when I was ministry officer. Who knows how they cleaned up in the old days, but hand sanitiser an obvious solution today.

    1. Bosco Peters

      Thanks, Ken. The thought of cleaning the chalice and paten using hand sanitiser had not entered my head until now. Yes, the impatient, instant world we live in is relatively new in human history. When I presided weekly for a community of sisters, I arrived to their (19th century) vestry with a bowl of water and a thermos of boiling water. At the nearby parish church, the lavabo before the Eucharistic Prayer is with warm, soapy water and a clean towel. There is no tap in sight. Easter Season Greetings.

  4. Forgive me if I missed something while skimming but there is a disconnect for me here between the article and the links you provided The article references hand sanitizer, by which is usually meant alcohol based waterless hand cleaner. The research articles are referencing anti-bacterial soap and specifically the chemicals triclosan and triclocarban. These aren’t the same thing. You may find sanitizers with this ingredient but many do not. Plain Soap and water are still great though

    1. Bosco Peters

      Thanks, Josh. There are a number of links from this post. Yes, a couple of the links mention triclosan and triclocarban. In relation to those two, I’m not aware of many churches particularly taking care to exclude those, but I’m happy to be corrected on that. I stand by the primary points of my post. Easter Season Blessings.

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