March 8, 2020

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With flu season in full swing and the threat of a pandemic looming, we should discuss the measures we have taken and can take to safeguard each other’s health. At the direction of the Diocese of Arlington...

  1. we encourage all parishioners, especially those interacting with the public (clergy, teachers, office staff, ushers, lectors, servers, choristers, etc.) to stay home if they feel in any way sick.
  2. we have placed hand sanitizer on the tables in the vestibule.

The Diocese also recommended that we consider refraining from shaking hands at the Sign of Peace and from distributing the Precious Blood with a common chalice. We already do the former in flu season and the latter in general. One further consideration should be given to the distribution of the Sacred Host. It has been suggested that we should distribute Our Lord only in the hand and not on the tongue.

I am no medical professional but I am a professed germophobe. When I use a public bathroom I use the paper towel to open the door on the way out. I have been checking the CDC website several times a day as I prepare for a short trip to Rome. En route and upon my return I will follow all of their guidelines.

The hygienic problem with Communion in the hand is that there still is skin-to-skin contact. Moreover, given that everyone coming into church opens at least one door, inevitably touches the pew, and handles a missalette and hymnal, receiving in the hand offers only an illusion of safety since everyone's hands have touched so many surfaces that cannot be cleaned. The doors can be disinfected regularly but the books certainly cannot be disinfected. You could bring your own hand sanitizer and purify your hands right before Holy Communion, but that will not protect you from the hands that have touched the hand that will give the Blessed Sacrament to you. We have just instructed all those who will be distributing Holy Communion to wash up immediately prior to entering the sanctuary. Even with that, the Communion line will never be a sterile environment.

The safest course of action would be to refrain from distributing Holy Communion altogether. The Church has resorted to this in times of plague. We still do not know how the infection rate and mortality rate of COVID-19 will compare to the seasonal flu.

In the meantime, wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, go to confession, stay home if you are ill, care for the sick, help us connect with the homebound and trust in God.

Fr. Christopher J. Pollard

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Heb 13,8