As South Africa confirms its first coronavirus case, the Archdiocese of Cape Town is proactively implementing measures to prevent the spread of the disease while the faithful are attending mass. These measures include removing holy water from the fonts, refraining from shaking hands at the sign of peace, receiving communion on the hand, and stopping administering the Precious Blood during communion. Churches are also encouraged to run awareness campaigns on routine hygiene practices that can help to contain the spread of coronavirus and other communicable diseases. This is also an act of charity when many of the Church’s congregants are immunocompromised or elderly, and we need to do what we can to keep them healthy. Below is the full statement from the Archdiocese of Cape Town.*
[*Since spotlight.africa published the policy from the Archdiocese of Cape Town, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conferece (SACBC) has released a statement, and the Archdioceses of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban (with a leaflet for Parishes) have all issued similar guidance.]
To all Priests in the Archdiocese of Cape Town
Policy Document: The prevention of communicable diseases
Recently with the rise and rapid spread of the dreaded Coronavirus, several well-meaning persons have written in to express concern that some liturgical practices such as the shaking/holding of hands during the liturgy place worshippers at the risk of picking up a communicable disease. A brief document entitled “Health Issues in the Church” was introduced at the College of Deans meeting on 19th February with the aim of stimulating discussions in deaneries. With more information now available to us, serious consideration has to be given to urgent preventative measures. Thus far there have been no reported cases of Coronavirus infections in South Africa, but the possibility of such infections exists. Cape Town is a port city and recent news bulletins have shown serious infections on ships. Considering the seriousness of the matter we wish to request every priest to take precautions in this regard and to exercise great care in creating a worship space which is safe- especially for those who have impaired immune systems.
In light of the foregoing it has become necessary to issue a policy to assist Parishes. Internationally, we have looked at what other local Churches around the world have done. Locally, three independent practising Catholic medical specialists and one scientist with a strong ecological bent (also a practising Catholic) have been consulted. All four stated categorically that the shaking of hands was the main way in which infectious diseases are transmitted and all recommended the establishing of preventative measures. Following their recommendations we wish to request all concerned to observe the following practices until such time the serious threat to life no longer presents itself:
(1) To remove holy water fonts (which can contain fungi and bacteria) and instead to sprinkle persons on occasion using the asperges rite.
(2) To stop the practice of holding/shaking hands during the liturgy. It must be borne in mind that the sharing of a sign of peace is optional and that the shaking of hands is not a prescribed rite.
(3) We request that communion be received on the hand. Where it is necessary to give communion on the tongue, care must be taken so to avoid touching saliva. In this regard, priests are requested to give careful instructions on how to receive communion on the tongue.
(4) To stop giving the chalice.
(5) Hand sanitizers are to be available before and after communion for the priests and for all those who assist with the distribution of holy communion.
(6) Parishioners be advised to cough, sneeze, etc. on their arm (sometimes the term sneezing in the elbow is used) rather than into a handkerchief or into their hands. This appears to be routine practice in some parts of the world. It will help if notices/posters in this regard could be prominently displayed.
(7) The usual routine hygiene practices recommended by clinics and schools such as the washing of the hands using ordinary soap and water needs to become common practice.
As in most cases where change is necessary, careful catechesis needs to be given. If possible, a doctor/nurse who is a practising Catholic can be of assistance. Perhaps just to end with a quote from The Guardian to show what is happening in the Church in some Italian Dioceses: “It seemed important to us, during this period, to favour the directives taken by the Italian authorities, to put into practice small sacrifices to avoid the spread of the virus,” Vincenzo Corrado, the head of communications for the Italian bishops’ conference, told the Guardian. “The health of the people is the priority at the moment.”
We urge all concerned to give this matter the attention it deserves and to keep on praying for the well-being of those who have been infected – not only by Coronavirus but by other communicable diseases as well. One of the medical specialists consulted thought it was important that we communicate our policy in such a way so as not to cause panic. The idea is not only to stop the spread of Coronavirus, but all communicable diseases such as the common cold, influenza and a host of other infections that threaten mainly those with
weakened immune systems such as the elderly and little children.
With much prayer and good wishes for a meaningful Lenten season,
+Sylvester David OMI
Vicar General: Cape Town
4th March 2020
[Download the policy from the Archdiocese of Cape Town, and read the statement from the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conferece (SACBC), and the relevant policies and guidances for the Archdioceses of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban (with a leaflet for Parishes) which were published after we went to press.]