OPINION: Why the Catholic Church must reconsider some rituals in the wake of coronavirus

By Kwamboka Magoma | Friday, Mar 6th 2020 at 11:56
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Your place of worship could be where you contract the COVID-19.

Not to scare you. But think about it.

Apart from riding in a matatu with all the windows closed, is there anywhere else with closer physical interaction among participants?

If you are Catholic, your odds are even higher. The church may find itself an inadvertent conduit of the virus if it does not put a pause to some of its rituals.

Remember, the virus is not airborne.

It spreads through person to person contact. That is, when an infected person sneezes or coughs, they emit droplets, which contain the virus. You may get infected in two ways: direct contact with these droplets, or by touching things surfaces that have the virus on them, and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.

Let us examine some of the high-risk rituals of the Catholic church with regards to the spread of the virus.

Holy water at the door

At the entrance of all Catholic churches lies the holy water fonts. These are the vessels that contain holy water. When coming in for mass, you dip your fingers in the font and cross yourself to bless and purify yourself in readiness for mass.

An infected person can easily contaminate this communal vessel and expose many church members to the virus.

Already, some archdioceses have banned the use of communal vessels. For instance, the Irish Post published a communique by the Archdiocese of Dublin to its priests and parishioners, urging them to take specific measures to minimize the potential spread of the virus.

Sign of Peace

“Let us offer each other the sign of peace.’’ says the priest, just after the recital of the Lord’s Prayer. This is an invitation for the faithful to shake hands with all those around them.

In this symbolic act, the celebrant invites communion and reconciliation before engaging in the Sacrament of Holy Communion that follows soon after.

Again, here is where a single infected individual can potentially infect multiple people.

Other non-contact ways are encouraged during this period, such as a nod, a smile or a bow.

Receiving the Holy Eucharist

Catholics have the option of receiving the Holy Eucharist on the tongue or the hand while standing or kneeling. However, many still prefer the more reverent practice receiving it on the tongue. To them, receiving the Body of Christ on the hand is a testament to a lack of submission.

Yet, receiving communion directly onto your tongue can increase the chances of catching the virus from an infected person.

To illustrate, the priest’s fingers may inadvertently come into contact with an infected person’s droplets, putting the rest of the faithful at risk of receiving the virus directly into their mouth.

Disgusting, but possible.

The Church should consider giving a decree that during this period, Holy Communion should be administered onto the hands only and not on the tongue. Alternatively, the priest and everyone involved in administering the Holy Communion should wash their hands with alcohol-based gel whenever there are special requirements to give communion on the tongue.

What other measures can be taken by the church?

The church’s role as a legitimate source of information for its congregation cannot be overlooked. As such, it is in a good position to carry out appropriate education on the COVOD-19 for adults and Sunday school children. It is important to equip each member with information on how the virus spreads and how to avoid infection.

Furthermore, they should encourage their members to exercise personal responsibility in halting the spread of the virus. For instance, you must take care of your hygiene. If you develop specific symptoms of the virus, you should self-quarantine while seeking appropriate medical interventions.

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