Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are all aware of the public health concerns that have spread to our country in recent weeks due to the various strains of viral flu and upper respiratory illness that have been reported. Whereas it is good to be cautious, we have no reason to be fearful. There are practical choices individuals can make to help reduce the risk of infection and there are certain liturgical practices which can be modified to be prudent in times when risks are particularly high.
Common practices that help prevent the spread of illness include washing hands frequently, including before and after Mass, avoiding contact with possible sources of contamination and refraining from touching one’s eyes, mouth or nose, all places where any virus can easily be introduced. Using hand sanitizer is also helpful in situations where soap and water are not present.
In addition to these precautions, all Catholic people need to understand that missing Mass because of illness is not sinful. Rather, it is a heightened form of charity toward others to stay home from Mass when you are ill. Persons who are sick or caring for someone who is sick and cannot be left unattended are requested to remain home from Mass to avoid spreading viral infections to others.
After consulting with the priests of the diocese and noting the decisions of several other dioceses in the United States, we will also take some additional precautions in our diocese with the following temporary directives. These are not permanent changes to our celebration of the Mass.
First, I would ask all pastors to suspend the distribution of the Blood of Christ to the assembly until further notice. We believe that we receive Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in both forms of Holy Communion, and it is only necessary to receive under one form. While receiving under both forms is a fuller sign which we have practiced in the United States for many years, Communion is not diminished when only one form is offered.
Second, I would ask that all parishioners offer the Sign of Peace to one another verbally without shaking hands or engaging in other forms of touch. Exchanging a gesture of peace in anticipation of the reception of our Lord in Communion is a beautiful and meaningful part of the Mass. It is not necessary to eliminate this ritual completely. However, it is prudent to temporarily modify the gesture to a verbal greeting. Other forms of greeting, such as waving, are not in keeping with the dignity of this moment.
Third, the general guidelines do not prescribe a particular posture or gesture during the Our Father, so, although it is common in many communities to hold hands during this prayer, please refrain from doing so during this time of heightened concern about the spread of disease.
Finally, while every parishioner always has the option to receive communion in the hand or on the tongue, you might consider receiving in the hand for the time being to avoid the possibility of transferring saliva to the hand of the communion minister and then to another communicant. This last guideline is not required but offered for each person’s consideration.
My brother priests and I will monitor this situation and consult with knowledgeable advisors. You will be notified when we determine that it is reasonably safe to begin these ritual practices again.
May God bless you and protect you from all illness, now and always.
Sincerely in Christ,
Very Rev. Michel Mulloy