On Monday we received notice to say that the precautionary measures we introduced last weekend were now to be implemented with immediate effect. In addition to those measures (no holy water, no sign of peace, no Communion on the tongue or under both kinds), there were several more. We are removing the hymn books and other items that might be handled by several people in close succession. We will print out some hymns for each of the Masses at which we sing and these sheets, together with the missalettes and any remaining newsletters will be removed from church and binned after each Mass. Door handles will be cleaned regularly with sanitary wipes. We will suspend the Offertory Procession so that the sacred vessels are not being handled unnecessarily nor the hosts/wine/water left exposed to greater risk of contamination with the virus. We are advised not to pass the collection basket around, so our collection(s) will be taken as you leave church. We will introduce new procedures for serving tea/coffee after Mass, so please co-operate with these and leave it to those who have been instructed in how this is now to be done.
There are reminders that everyone should follow the usual approach to good hygiene, noting the “Catch it – Bin it – Kill it” campaign. Whilst we are encouraged to provide hand sanitizer gel for everyone entering the church, this is currently in short supply so it may be a week or more before we can do this. Gel is available for the priests and Eucharistic ministers to sanitize their hands before and after distributing Communion. Any ministers or others (such as SVP members) who are going to see people in their homes should observe the instruction not to visit anyone who is self-isolating and to follow advice from staff on infection control in care homes or hospitals.
It is important that we protect ourselves and others as best we can. There is particular advice from the Bishops’ Conference regarding the most vulnerable (such as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems or underlying conditions like cancer, diabetes or heart disease). The advice is to “refrain from large parish gatherings and stay at home”. Anyone in this category will not be committing any sin by staying away from Mass during this time. Likewise, anyone (of any age) with cold or flu symptoms should stay away from Mass or other public events until such time as the symptoms have cleared up and they are certain that they have not got the virus.
There is a lot to take in here but most of it is common sense and general good practice. We can act together to keep our church environment as safe as possible for all who use it (including ourselves).
Prayer: O God, our refuge and our shield, even when we walk in the shadow of death you are there at our side. Be with your people in this time of danger: bring strength to the afflicted and protection to those untouched by disease. Give us love and courage, that we may trust in your power to save and reach out to all who need our care. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.