Springfield Catholic Diocese takes flu, coronavirus precautions

  • Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, is seen with Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, the executive director for Catholic Charities, in 2017.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2020 2:02:25 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Keeping holy water fonts dry and not distributing wine to parishioners are among a series of steps aimed at limiting the spread of both the flu and the coronavirus that are being taken by churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski issued precautionary directives this week to Catholic churches that came following consultation with his priests’ advisers and diocesan staff.

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said in an email that it is not unusual during intense flu seasons for an advisory with recommendations to be issued.

“This time around, given the heightened concerns regarding the spreading of the COVID-19 virus, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski decided it was best to take a more definitive action by issuing these directives,” Dupont said.

For people who attend Mass, one immediate change comes as they enter the churches, where the holy water fonts, in which parishioners dip their hands before making the sign of the cross, will not have water in them. Churches have been instructed to drain and clean the fonts, and leave them empty for the foreseeable future.

Communion will only be offered in the form of the hosts, or wafers, known as the Precious Body, and not in the form of wine, or the Precious Blood. Rare exceptions to serve wine may be allowed for people with celiac disease or other conditions.

Eucharistic ministers, who place the hosts in the hand or mouth of congregants, will have access to both soap and hand sanitizers before serving in their roles.

Finally, the sign of peace, which is offered between parishioners, often by shaking hands and occasionally through kisses on the cheek and hugs, will be discontinued for a period of time. Dupont said this is the first time such a temporary suspension has occurred.

Rozanski notes this is an optional rite of the Mass, with some already forgoing the close contact, and instead waving, nodding or smiling at others.

Some churches will also have hand sanitizers at the entrances, Dupont said.

The diocese advises anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to refrain from gatherings, including attending liturgies. The obligation to attend weekend Mass is dispensed for those who are ill.

Rozanski, working with his cabinet, parishes and schools, will be developing contingency plans should additional steps be needed to prevent the spread of illness.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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