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Archdiocese to suspend sign of peace, consecrated wine at Masses as coronavirus precautions

The Archdiocese of Baltimore is taking several steps this week to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus as more cases are reported in the United States.

Archbishop William E. Lori on Tuesday ordered the clergy to suspend the sign of peace at Masses and stop offering consecrated wine.

Parishioners should forgo shaking hands during the sign of peace and instead greet their neighbor with a bow and the words “peace be with you.” Priests and ministers will still distribute the host, but parishes will stop offering consecrated wine for the time being.

Parishioners always have the option to receive Communion in their hands, rather than on their tongue and ministers are advised to take care not to touch the tongue or hand of communicants. Ministers of Holy Communion will use hand sanitizer before distributing the Eucharist, Archbishop Lori said.

Archbishop Lori said those who are sick with contagious ailments are encouraged to stay home and not attend church services. Church leaders emphasized that missing Mass because of an illness is not a sin. Recorded services are available via radio, television and online.

Archbishop Lori said holy water fonts may be drained and remain empty at the discretion of each pastor. If the fonts do not remain empty, they should be drained, cleaned and sanitized, and refilled regularly, Archbishop Lori said.

The archdiocese said maintenance workers will step up efforts at parishes to disinfect areas that frequently come into contact with hands, such as tops of pews.

In an earlier letter to priests and deacons, the archbishop also advised clergy to follow general guidelines laid out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health, including:

– Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water for at least 20 seconds;

– Cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing;

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick;

– If you are sick, stay home from work or school;

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands;

– Practice good health habits;

– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces;

– Get a flu shot. While the influenza vaccine does not protect against coronavirus infection, it can help keep you healthy during the flu season.

Those guidelines are on how to prevent the flu, which has some symptoms and transmission methods similar to COVID-19.

A similar letter was sent to administrators of Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic schools.

“We are closely monitoring all coronavirus information and recommendations and will modify our response in compliance with the directives provided by the various health authorities and experts, should circumstances warrant it,” Archbishop Lori wrote to the clergy.

No cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, have been confirmed in Maryland as of March 3, although several people have been tested.

COVID-19 originated in China late last year and has since spread across the globe. Several countries including Italy, South Korea and Iran are dealing with epidemics. There are about 100 confirmed cases in the U.S. and seven people have died, all in Washington state. On the East Coast, there have been cases reported in New York and Rhode Island.

COVID-19 is respiratory illness and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure and symptoms can range from mild to severe, complicating health officials’ efforts to contain the disease.

Father Jason C. Worley, the pastor of St. Ursula, Parkville, wrote a letter to his parishioners this week as a precaution about the coronavirus, but he said parishioners are not overly concerned as of yet.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said of the response. “And sadly, that’s the case until something hits home. No one really pays too much attention to it.”

Father Worley said the precautions are wise and won’t adversely affect churchgoers, adding that some parishes have done away with consecrated wine already, unrelated to the concerns about COVID-19.

“People don’t need to receive both the Precious Blood and the Body of Christ. They can receive either or both,” Father Worley said.

The Body and Blood of Christ is fully present in either species. “Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is wholly present under the appearance either of bread or of wine in the Eucharist,” according to a 2001 question-and-answer document on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

Email Tim Swift at tswift@catholicreview.org

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