Beloved in Christ,
As you are aware, the COVID-19 virus (“coronavirus”) has emerged only in the last couple of weeks as a serious threat to public health. It is a situation that cannot help but affect church communities, as evidenced by the cancellation of next week’s planned meeting of the House of Bishops as an in-person event.
I am not a public health expert, so I hold any technical opinions quite tentatively. But it does fall to me to exercise leadership as concerns the principal thing we come together to do–that is, celebrate the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day. I here offer counsel on three specific aspects of our worship life on Sundays.
First, come to church! Unless you are ill to a degree that you would stay home anyway, the current status of the outbreak does not merit measures so extreme as to disrupt this central element in our common life. If anything, it is even more important than ever for us to let our communities function in a way as close to normal as possible.
Second, avoid shaking hands at the Peace. From all I can tell, hands and fingers are the primary culprits in the spread of any communicable disease. Some have suggested avoiding any physical contact at the Peace, but I believe this is not necessary. The classic historic gesture for this liturgical act is actually neither a handshake nor a hug, but the mutual placing of hands on one another’s shoulders or arms. The photo below illustrates what I’m talking about. Of course, we should all heed the advice about frequent and thorough hand-washing. I would urge anyone who handles communion bread, either before or after consecration, to conspicuously wash his or her hands just prior to doing so. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that anti-bacterial hand sanitizers, while a popular symbol of conscientiousness in this regard, offer no protection against viruses.
Third, suspend the practice of communicants intincting the host in the chalice. While this may seem counterintuitive, the risk of contracting a viral infection from fingertips accidentally having been in contact with the consecrated wine is many times higher than simply drinking from the chalice in the traditional manner. We might also all bear in mind the long-established teaching known as the “doctrine of concomitance,” which holds that both the Body and Blood of Christ are fully present in either the bread or the wine. If you choose to receive the consecrated bread only, you are receiving both the Body and Blood of our Lord. You are not short-changing yourself, or getting only a “half portion.” The important thing is to avoid dipping your own host into the chalice.
With these modest changes to our habits, I believe we can weather the storm of the epidemic and maintain the safety of our assembling for worship. Do hold in your daily prayers all who are affected by this distressing turn of events.