CATHOLIC CHURCH-GOERS have been told not to offer the sign of peace or bless themselves with holy water when attending any Mass in Ireland.
The instruction comes after a woman who travelled through Dublin Airport on her way to Northern Ireland was diagnosed with coronavirus – the first official case on the island of Ireland.
In the wake of the news, the Dublin Archdiocese urged any priests or parishioners feeling unwell to stay away from any Mass for a minimum of two weeks.
Those that do attend Mass must also adhere to a strict set of instructions designed to minimise the potential spread of the virus.
Holy Communion, for example, must now be placed in the hands of the communicants rather than directly onto their tongues.
The use of communal vessels has been suspended while mass goers are encouraged to bow, nod or smile instead of giving handshakes.
“During Holy Communion in Christian religious services only the celebrant should drink from the Chalice,” church guidance literature says.
“No one else should drink from the Chalice, this includes other priests, ministers of the Eucharist and members of the congregation.”
A statement from the Archdiocese of Dublin has outlined the advice issued by the Health Service Executive for religious services.
“We have circulated (guidelines) to all parishes in the Archdiocese. (Persons who are ill) may be asked to limit their social interactions for 14 days, including staying at home and not attending religious services.
“In order to reduce the possible spread of infection, these people should not be visited by religious leaders/members of the clergy while they are in self isolation. Pastoral care can be provided over the telephone/Skype if resources permit," it continues.
“Most physical interaction during religious services, e.g. shaking hands while exchanging the sign of peace in Christian religious services involves a low-risk of spreading the virus, especially if members of the congregation who are unwell do not attend religious services while they are ill.
“However, because Covid-19 is a new disease that has not been seen in people before, we need to exercise extreme caution to limit the spread of the virus.
“Current information suggests that Covid-19 can spread easily between people and could be spread from an infected person even before they develop any symptoms.
“For these reasons, we suggest that physical interaction during religious services, including the sign of peace, should be suspended. For Christian religious services, the priest may choose to give the congregation permission to carry out an alternative sign of peace that does not involve hand contact (such as smile/nod/bow) if so wished,” it said.
“The practice of shaking hands on greeting and departure at religious services is to also be suspended for both clergy and laity. Massgoers are being advised that holy water fonts are not to be used.”
The statement adds: “Everyone administering Holy Communion should wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand gel before beginning. Holy Communion should be administered into the hands only and not onto the tongue.
“The use of communal vessels should be suspended.”
“With regard to arrangement for parochial activities and social religious gatherings on church premises, they should follow sensible practices, including hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene.”