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Coronavirus precautions lead some Southern California Catholic churches to alter communion services

Catholic Church leaders throughout Southern California have altered or suggested changes in their worship service practices amid concerns of the spread of the new coronavirus, church officials said Saturday.

The dioceses serving Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties issued statements to parishes in recent days highlighting the changes, which include a ban on communion by cup, receiving the bread from hand to mouth, and holding and shaking hands during prayer and greetings.

While the Diocese of Orange made the restrictions mandatory, the Diocese of San Bernardino, serving San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said on its website the changes are optional for parishes.

In the communion ceremony, worshipers are given a wafer and may sip wine from a chalice, or dip the wafer in the chalice before putting it in their mouths. A minister may also place the wafer directly into a worshiper’s mouth, or can drop the wafer into their hand.

Catholics believe that the wafer and wine, after consecration by a priest, is a way to receive the body and blood of Christ.

Worshipers with celiac disease, who cannot eat the wafers, would still be allowed to accept the wine to partake in communion.

In Orange County church officials said the restrictions were established in response to a local health emergency  tied to the virus declared by county leaders on Wednesday and to “ease concerns of the faithful,” said Tracey Kincaid, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Orange, who read from a memo issued by church leaders to local parish pastors on Friday.

Church officials also encouraged sick or ill congregants to remain at home.

“If you are sick, or are even attending to someone who is sick, you can stay home and you don’t have to attend mass,” Kincaid said over the phone.

Church officials in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are also advising ministers to wash or sanitize their hands before communion. Rather than shaking hands at the end of the service, worshipers were encouraged to make eye contact, smile, or bow their heads.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in a memo issued to its clergy on Thursday, said it won’t issue any restrictions, but encouraged “vigilance and discretion” and to use “common sense and good hygiene,” giving similar suggestions as its counterparts across the region.

Though the diocese elected against mandatory restrictions, some individual Los Angeles-area Catholic churches have decided to suspend the giving of wine during communion until the concern of the virus had passed. Among them was St. Pancratius Church in Lakewood.

The announcement of alterations came just days after Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a 40-day season leading up to Easter.

Catholic Church leaders in Boston also decided to issue similar restrictions on Saturday amid coronavirus concerns. Churches throughout the Holy Land also put restrictions in place.

The virus has also affected Muslim worshipers abroad with Saudi Arabia announcing Thursday it closed off the holiest sites in Islam to foreign pilgrims, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The coronavirus has spread to at least 83,000 people around the world and as of Saturday afternoon killed more than 2,800 of those infected.

The first death in the U.S. was reported in the state of Washington on Saturday

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Source: Orange County Register

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