A dispute has broken out over how best to combat the spread of the coronavirus in churches, as the Bishops’ Conference asked parishes across England and Wales to move to “stage two” of their guidance with immediate effect.
At stage two, Holy Water stoups should be removed and the Sign of Peace suspended; relics should not be physically venerated and Communion should be distributed under one kind, and only on the hand to avoid the spread of the virus.
The Latin Mass Society, which advocates for traditional Rites including the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, welcomed the Bishops’ Guidelines but said in a statement that distributing the Host in the hand was no safer than distributing on the tongue.
“On the contrary, distribution on the hand has the result that the Host touches possibly infected surfaces, the palm of the left hand and the fingers of the right hand of the communicant, which is avoided in distribution by a priest directly onto the communicant’s tongue,” they wrote.
In a letter to The Tablet this week the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, Joseph Shaw, observed that it was not permitted to distribute the host on the hand at the Extraordinary Form, and that in parishes where this was made mandatory, only the priest would consume. He also said that there was no objective medical foundation for suspending reception on the tongue.
Professor Jim McManus, Director of Public Health, who has advised the Bishops’ Conference on their response, told The Tablet: “The guidance is consistent with the fact that coronavirus is spread through saliva. That is backed up by studies which show that the virus has been consistently detected in the saliva of 91.7 per cent of patients.”
Mgr Basil Loftus, in another letter for The Tablet, said that it was urgent that the bishops forbid the giving of Communion on the tongue.
“Imagine a dentist treating patients and putting his hands consecutively into their mouths with no sterilisation … Public health authorities would intervene immediately. Yet this is the scene in our churches,” he wrote. He acknowledged that Communion given into the hands of successive Communicants could also be hazardous, and suggested bowls of consecrated Hosts could be offered by ministers, from which Communicants could serve themselves.
The Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference has also produced a leaflet of prayers for use during a time of flu or illness, which includes a general prayer for health, and Act of Spiritual Communion and guidance for people who have been asked to self-isolate.