Responding to a Public Health Crisis

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.


+Daniel Springfield

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Linda Foster March 5, 2020, 8:18 am

    I truly appreciate this information as I will use it at all of our services .
    Linda Foster

  • Jane Schmoetzer March 5, 2020, 8:54 am

    I will offer one gentle correction: hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of 60% or greater is indeed effective against viruses as well as bacteria. In addition, it’s a simple and inexpensive thing to DIY: mix 2/3c rubbing alcohol with 1/3 cup aloe vera gel.

    • Stephen Hasslacher March 15, 2020, 8:43 am

      A survey of boring scientific articles does not bear this out. Please cite where you find something showing the efficacy of hand sanitizers against viruses. Even the labels admits ‘effective against most germs’.

  • Ronald Sprague March 5, 2020, 9:40 am

    What do I do, then, if while acting as chalice bearer, the elderly lady who has done intinction since St. Peter was a young man, kneels at the rail, with host in hand and wants to dip her host into the chalice? yes, most people allow the chalice bearer to take the host from them, dip in into the wine, and then administer it to their mouth (and will we still do this??), but a few insist on doing the dipping themselves, waving away my hand.
    Perhaps we should limit the chalice to only the priest, until this perceived crisis has passed by??

    • Bishop Daniel March 12, 2020, 8:39 am

      Nobody has intincted since St Peter was a young man because it’s a relatively novel practice–springing up only in the last 20 years or so.

  • Fr. Dale Coleman March 5, 2020, 9:41 am

    Thank you, Bishop. Very timely.

  • Judy warner March 5, 2020, 5:00 pm

    Thank you for clarifying on this subject. I will continue on a daily basis to pray for the well being and safety of all people.

  • Jane Weingartner March 12, 2020, 2:45 pm

    To protect the well-being of our Priests and Eucharistic ministers, why not just limit the chalice to the priest. Offer the bread to everyone else. People understand this is a serious issue.

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