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Australian bishops seeking to calm coronavirus alarmism

Communion: The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement that said they had “not called for the suspension of any practices at Mass in response to novel coronavirus that appeared in China and has been detected in several countries, including Australia”. Photo: CNS

PARISHES and dioceses taking precautions like refusing to offer Holy Communion from the chalice to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak in China were not called to do so.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement that said they had “not called for the suspension of any practices at Mass in response to novel coronavirus that appeared in China and has been detected in several countries, including Australia”.

“As always, common sense dictates that people who suspect they may be suffering from or carrying an infectious condition should stay home until they are well,” the statement said.

“At this point, health authorities have said that the risk of exposure to the public is very low, especially if they have not travelled to one of the affected areas or have had contact with someone who has.

“If health authorities provide further advice on public gatherings or regarding the reception of Holy Communion, the conference will issue further instructions.

“Dioceses, in liaison with parishes and other ministries, are encouraged to monitor local and national health advice.”

Liturgy Brisbane director Fr Tom Elich said novel coronavirus was “very tightly-controlled” in Australia and was contained to a small number of cases.

He said years ago when the SARS virus was spreading there was a staged process to ensure people’s safety based on the level of the health threat.

Australian parishes were not under enough threat from novel coronavirus at this stage that liturgical practices needed to change, he said.

“We have got to take advice from public health, they’re the ones who monitor these things, and if we take normal, sensible advice, then I think that’s the best way forward,” he said.

Fr Elich said business was carrying on as usual elsewhere in Australia – people were coming to work and going about their lives – and this should be the same in the liturgy.

Banning Holy Communion from the chalice was a significant step because it was “integral” to the liturgy.

“Jesus said, ‘Take this bread and eat’, ‘Take this cup and drink’; it’s how we share in the sacrament of Christ – it’s not just something peripheral,” Fr Elich said.

Both Parramatta diocese and Broken Bay diocese issued statements about taking precautions against novel coronavirus.

Broken Bay diocese ordered the “chalice is not to be shared at any Masses, but is to be reserved to the celebrant only”.

Hand sanitiser was ordered to be used by all communion ministers too.

Broken Bay’s precautions would be in place until the end of February. 

Parramatta diocese issued a statement on February 3 that “Communion of the Precious Blood will be for the celebrant only” and people were not to “exchange the Greeting of Peace”. 

An official from the Parramatta diocese said he hoped to advise soon that the restrictions be rescinded, but at time of printing, they were in place.

These liturgical changes were not in line with ACBC advice, but local pastoral practice was ultimately up to the parish priest.

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