It varies from place to place, though it appears many churches, for starters, are suspending handshakes, the distribution of the Precious Blood and offering Holy Communion on the tongue.
Frankly, I’m surprised the USCCB hasn’t weighed in.
But here’s a quick roundup, from around the globe:
From Ireland: Catholic Church drains holy water fonts and suspends sign of peace.
From Jerusalem: Coronavirus fears lead Israel Catholic churches to give communion by hand.
From Boston: Boston archdiocese makes temporary changes to Mass
From Texas: Caution, cancellations mark Ash Wednesday in time of virus
From Italy: Italian churches go into quarantine
There are also scattered reports of school trips being canceled and some changes to church practices and rituals, both Catholic and non-Catholic:
The outbreak that began in China has since spread to other countries. In the Philippines, Catholic priests were urged to sprinkle ashes on parishioners instead of marking their foreheads through direct contact. In Italy, several churches closed for Ash Wednesday. In South Korea, a secretive megachurch that has been at the center of the virus’s spread was shut down by authorities.
Spokespeople for many of the largest Christian denominations in the United States said this week that they have not issued special directives for their churches but are closely monitoring guidance from government officials. The Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey told clergy and lay leaders Tuesday that anyone administering Communion should wash their hands, preferably with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and keep their distance during the greeting ritual known as the “passing of the peace.”
“Parishioners who are coughing or sneezing should refrain from handshaking during the Peace,” the email from the diocese said. “Fist bumps, elbow bumps, friendly waves, and peace signs are all acceptable substitutes.”
Houses of worship are one of the few places in American life where people of all ages and backgrounds intermingle on a regular basis. And many churches are on the front lines of assisting people who are sick, hosting clinics to provide flu shots or other health services and posting signs encouraging hand-washing.
“Little old church ladies often want to come up and give you a hug,” Hardy said. “Perhaps it’s a time to reconsider hugging and shaking hands.”
Mount Olivet, for example, has a nursery and preschool, where staff ask parents not to bring in children who have had fevers within the past 24 hours. On the third Sunday of every month, the church welcomes about 300 people for health screenings and donations of food and clothing.
“What does it mean to sit in the pew with people coming off the streets or folks who need a stopgap?” Hardy said. “The decision is we’ll follow the CDC and other health organizations. We’re trained clergy, not health professionals. We don’t want to spread unnecessary concern and panic.”
It remains to be seen, of course, just how far these moves will go, or how serious this outbreak becomes.
For many, I fear, it’s going to be a long and difficult Lent.