With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rising each day, it makes sense that even religious establishments would—for once—turn to science.
The novel coronavirus outbreak that's got the whole world on high alert since late last year has now forced Catholic churches to reevaluate some of its practices. Churches in and outside America are now adopting a number of measures to reduce transmission of the virus including emptying communal holy water fonts, banning hymn books, and stopping communion being distributed from the chalice. With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rising each day, it makes sense that even religious establishments would—for once—turn to science.
According to BBC, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lancaster has also asked churchgoers to stop drinking wine from altar chalices and shaking hands during mass. Explaining that these measures had been introduced to "reduce possible transmission," priests have been advised to provide disposable single-use song sheets instead of hymn and prayer books, and to wash their hands before distributing communion. Priests and deacons are also being reminded that they can make modifications to how the host—or sacramental bread—is offered to the congregation.
"Given the frequency of direct contact with saliva in the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue, every consideration should be given by each individual to receive Holy Communion reverently in open hands for the time being," the Archdiocese of Chicago stated in new guidelines that were last week, reports HuffPost. Some bishops are also reportedly encouraging congregants to refrain from physical contact while reciting the Lord’s Prayer and during the Sign of Peace. As parishioners usually greet each other with a handshake, hug or a kiss on the cheek during the Sign of Peace—a practice that could potentially facilitate the spread of the virus—the Diocese of Brooklyn has decided to skip it altogether.
At my Latin Mass Church the Catholic Church of the Holy Name this morning here in Australia, the Adelaide bishop as a result of the #coronavirus there was no Holy water in the fonts, & communion in the tongue is forbidden. We won't be able to have the Eucharist for now. pic.twitter.com/GaZzsT7ksp— Carl Strehlow (@carlstrehlow) March 8, 2020
"The church practice states that the priest or deacon should ask the faithful to exchange the sign of peace 'if appropriate.' At this time, in light of the coronavirus, it has been deemed in fact, not an appropriate time to do so," stated spokesperson John Quaglione. Meanwhile, Seattle's Archbishop Paul D. Etienne has urged Catholics to avoid going to church and stay at home if they are feeling sick.
Meanwhile, overseas, the Vatican has temporarily closed the Italian catacombs and bishops are encouraging the faithful to watch services from home. In the Balearic island of Menorca, church authorities have enforced strict preventative measures despite health officials maintaining that the island faces minimal risk. According to Express, Menorca's Bishop said in a statement: "Thanks to God, no cases of coronavirus infection have been diagnosed in Menorca. But that does not stop us from taking the precautionary measures recommended by the health authorities. We are reminded of the exemplary value to which we as Christians are especially obliged."
The Catholic Church in Oslo replaced holy water with Antibac bc of the Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/eohA7r9aQp— Tradia (@amalieskram) March 1, 2020
"Therefore, all the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, must adhere to all that is recommended for the common good of society and people, right now the rules of hygiene that affect both people and homes," the statement added. "Within this framework of prevention, until this situation is resolved, the holy water will be removed from the fonts in our churches, the sign of the peace will be with a head nod and the images and crosses will not be kissed either. At the same time, it is recommended to receive communion in your hand. And, above all, we must insist on personal and community prayer so that the progression of the contagion is stopped and that the sick can recover."
Muslims are cancelling Friday prayers. Christians are taking away “holy water” from church. All in the name of preventing corona virus spread. I am not understanding this thing called religion anymore. Wasn’t that supposed to be our last line of defence ?? pic.twitter.com/03Nq04ZPLf— Alpha 0 (@AkinpeluWand) March 6, 2020
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference also announced the implementation of similar measures stating that dioceses and parishes should consider the changes "given the regular assembly of large groups for liturgical celebrations and a number of inquiries from dioceses, parishes, and individuals." According to ABC, the conference said churchgoers should consider their own health "including any potential to infect others with a contagious disease" before attending services. "When exchanging the sign of peace, individuals should avoid shaking hands but offer a smile, wave, nod or bow," a statement issued by the conference urged.