An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion uses hand sanitizer before before distributing Communion during Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Atlanta March 8, 2020. (CNS photo/Christopher Aluka Berry, Reuters)
WASHINGTON (CNS) — “How to hand-wash Catholic style” reads the headline on an informational graphic from the Diocese of Dallas.
It suggests Catholics say the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be as they follow the protocol for hand-washing being recommended around the globe as one of many ways for people to protect themselves against the coronavirus, designated COVID-19 by world health authorities.
“Clean hands are life savers … and prayers save souls!” says the Dallas diocesan guidance on hand-washing for 30 to 45 seconds.
The guidance is just part of a number of protocols issued by Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns to protect the faithful from coronavirus, like his brother bishops and other church leaders in this country’s nearly 200 archdioceses and dioceses.
In Dallas and elsewhere, among the most common preventative measures being taken are urging reception of holy Communion in the hand, suspension of distribution of the Communion cup and exchanging the sign of peace without physical contact.
Diocesan leaders also asked people who are ill to refrain from attending Mass and have urged prayers for the recovery of those afflicted by the illness and for their family members and other caretakers.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre issued the following guidelines on March 4:
As a health precaution, the Diocese of Rockville Centre has instructed all Parish Churches to enact the following measures:
1. Until further notice, the Precious Blood of Christ (the Chalice) is not to be distributed to anyone other than clergy (priests/deacons) or to those who for personal health reasons must only receive the Precious Blood.
2. Until further notice, the Sign of Peace will not be given/exchanged in any form during Holy Mass.
3. The obligation to attend Holy Mass does not apply if you are ill. Parishioners are instructed to remain at home if they are sick. Those who are able to attend Mass should frequently wash and sanitize their hands and observe proper health and hygiene practices.
In a March 9 memo to parishes and institutions in the archdiocese, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco similarly urged such precautions, adding that those parishioners who are ill and stay home on Sundays are encouraged to follow the televised Mass, and to make an act of spiritual Communion.
“This a situation in which one is not at fault for not attending Mass,” the archbishop said. In addition, homebound parishioners may enter into the spirit of observing the Lord’s Day, such as meditating on the readings for that Sunday, praying the rosary, and (for those who have the availability) praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, California, in a March 6 letter to Catholics, said: “In light of the delicate situation we are facing at this time, I dispense persons falling into the categories of greater risk from attending Mass.”
He said these categories included These categories would include people over age 50, those with health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases such as COPD, “as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.”
“May we continue to observe the precautions prescribed by our public health department to protect ourselves and our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Cantu said. “Let us also continue to pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died from this illness, for the healing of those who are ill, and for the protection of all our health care workers.
In Alabama, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile said in a March 9 statement regarding protocols in his archdiocese: “Worship of God is integral to the life of faith. Changes in the liturgy deeply affect people and must be carefully considered. I felt that people would make their own decisions when attending Mass. Threatened by the coronavirus, any gathering of people needs to be conducted in a fashion which safeguards health.”
He said he was issuing the statement because “some parishes have publicly issued their own liturgical guidance,” which has varied and created some confusion among the faithful.
Archbishop Rodi said that “for the foreseeable future, I hereby dispense from the obligation to attend Mass anyone with a serious underlying medical condition for whom contracting the coronavirus may be a life-threatening situation.”
Regarding the sign of peace, Archbishop Rodi said it may be maintained in Masses, “but no one is required to make physical contact during the sign of peace.”
He noted the sign of peace is “an ancient liturgical practice. St. Justin the Martyr writing in the year 155 A.D. mentions it as a part of the Mass.”
“I hope that this will make people feel safer, however, daily life causes us to come in contact with surfaces touched by many hands — gas pumps, grocery carts, etc.,” the archbishop added. “Even opening the church door is touching a surface which has been touched by many hands. We cannot avoid all contact which stresses the importance of the frequent washing of hands.”
In the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, among protocols he outlined for his diocese, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano addressed the sign of peace at confirmation.
“For the celebration of Confirmation, the sign of peace will be exchanged between the bishop and the confirmandi without a handshake. Photographs will take place in church immediately after the celebration of Mass and will include only the bishop, the confirmandi and their sponsors.
He urged parishes to consider postponing or canceling nonliturgical, social events scheduled to take place in the immediate weeks ahead, especially those at which the elderly may be inclined to participate. “As important and life-giving as some of these events can be for a parish or institution, looking out for the well-being of others is of primary concern,” he said.
At the same time, at least one bishop urged calm as people responded to the coronavirus.
“Please encourage your communities during this time of uncertainty to prepare, but not panic,” Auxiliary Bishop Joel M. Konzen, administrator of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said in a Feb. 28 memo. He said precautions preventing the spread of COVID-19 were similar to those to prevent the spread of flu.
Addressing the subject of Lent, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, tweeted a message for the faithful in his diocese March 6, saying “Those who are ill, from the coronavirus, flu, a cold, etc., and their caregivers, should feel free to dispense themselves from any Lenten disciplines or sacrifices they’ve made. Your illness, and your care for the ill, is your Lenten sacrifice.”