ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The Diocese of San Angelo, which is the parent church of Catholic churches in Abilene and the Big Country, is launching several changes and procedures to help quell the potential spread of the novel coronavirus.
Most notably, Catholic churches will be removing holy water from fonts.
Not shaking hands during “The Sign of Peace,” not holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer, and temporarily suspending the distribution of the Precious Blood during Holy Communion are other precautions being taken across the Diocese.
“In response to concerns about COVID-19 (the Novel Coronavirus), the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo has instituted temporary changes to some of the practices in the Mass, in the interest of the health and well-being of our faith community,” the Diocese said in a statement. “We should be vigilant but not panic. Since it is possible for a person to be contagious for some time without being aware of it, we should all take care not to be inadvertent transmitters of the virus. We should take seriously the advice of public health authorities in our local areas.”
Additionally, the Diocese said hand sanitizers are being placed throughout churches.
Full statement from the Diocese of San Angelo
Bishop Michael J. Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo has announced several precautionary measures aimed at preventing the potential spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among the communities of the diocese. These temporary changes are effective immediately in all churches of the diocese and are to remain in place until further notice from the bishop.
Coronavirus and the Liturgy
Diocese of San Angelo
March 3, 2020
In response to concerns about COVID-19 (the Novel Coronavirus), the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo has instituted temporary changes to some of the practices in the Mass, in the interest of the health and well-being of our faith community. These changes are to take place immediately, and they will remain in place until determined otherwise by the bishop. Parishes will be notified when the temporary measures are lifted.
We should be vigilant but not panic. Since it is possible for a person to be contagious for some time without being aware of it, we should all take care not to be inadvertent transmitters of the virus. We should take seriously the advice of public health authorities in our local areas.
If you are sick:
We care for the Body of Christ by first taking care of our own body. The obligation to participate in Mass is not required for those who are sick. If you are sick, do not worsen your illness by trying to get to church, and do not put others at risk of catching your illness. It is not sinful to miss Mass if you are sick; it is actually an expression of care for the health of others. If your children are sick, keep them home from Mass, religious education, or youth ministry meetings.
If you are seriously ill, the Church wants to celebrate with you the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. You can arrange for this by contacting your parish office.
If you or someone in your family shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, please seek medical attention.
Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands:
Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, then throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue handy, do what school children are taught to do: cough or sneeze into your shirt sleeve at the bent elbow, and avoid touching the area of fabric you coughed into. At all times, avoid touching your nose and mouth with your hands.
Wash your hands often:
Soap, water, and a good scrubbing are the best defense against viruses. This is especially important after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, and before sharing food or drink with others. Scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are not near soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or disposable hand wipe.
Those who greet people at the entrances of churches should limit physical contact, refraining from shaking hands, instead using smiles, eye contact, kind words, waves, simple bows, pats on the back, or even elbow bumps.
Holy water fonts:
Holy water should be removed from fonts at this time.
In this particular time of public health concern over the Coronavirus, we should refrain from holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer.
No hand position is prescribed in the Roman Missal for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer. While it is generally acceptable for individuals or families to hold hands spontaneously during the Lord’s Prayer if they wish, it should never be imposed as a general parish posture. The orans posture (with hands extended) is an optional posture during the Lord’s Prayer which any member of the community is free to perform if they wish. No particular posture of the hands during the Lord’s Prayer should be imposed or made obligatory by the presider or any other person. Whether it is a time of disease outbreak or not, the choice of any individual not to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer should always be respected.
The Sign of Peace:
Whenever the sign of peace is exchanged, it should be done without shaking hands.
Some gestures that might be used are a smile, eye contact, a simple bow of the head, or a wave.
Distribution of Holy Communion:
The distribution of the Precious Blood is temporarily suspended, except for those few who must receive from the chalice due to severe cases of celiac disease. Those individuals who cannot receive the Eucharistic bread due to gluten intolerance or allergy should consult their pastor on making accommodations to receive the Precious Blood.
To reduce the likelihood of spreading disease, people are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.
When receiving the Eucharist, we receive the fullness of the Body and Blood of Christ under the species of bread alone or wine alone. The sign of Communion is more complete when receiving under both kinds, but receiving both is not required. Even if you are typically accustomed to receiving Communion on the tongue, you will prevent spreading your saliva to the hand of the Communion minister by receiving Communion in the hand during times of serious illness outbreaks or when you or someone in your household has been sick. Nevertheless, it is ultimately the choice of the communicant whether to receive the Body of Christ on the hand or on the tongue. No one is to be denied the Eucharist over this measure.
All ministers of Holy Communion, both ordinary and extraordinary, should wash their hands with soap and water before and after Mass. Then, if Communion ministers have practiced good hygiene during the Mass, there is no obligation for them to wash their hands again during Mass. But if Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion need to wash their hands during Mass, the best way is to clean their hands in their pew, using a sanitizing gel or antibacterial wipe, after the Sign of Peace and just before they come to the sanctuary. The action of sanitizing their hands should be done in such a way as not to delay the Communion Rite or distract from the focus at the altar.
What if the priest is sick?
If the priest is sick, it is best that he not preside at the Mass. However, if this is not possible and he must preside while he is sick, the duty of distributing Communion to the assembly can be done by other ordinary ministers: assisting deacons and concelebrants at the Mass. If these are not available, the presiding priest may temporarily refrain from distributing Communion to the assembly in order to prevent the spread of disease, allowing the extraordinary ministers to be the ones to distribute Communion to the assembly.
In our church facilities, surfaces touched by the public should be disinfected frequently.
Hand sanitizer dispensers should be made available in church facilities.
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