Coronavirus not affecting communion rites yet, Canadian Catholic archdioceses say

TORONTO — Catholic archdioceses in Canada are preparing COVID-19 guidance ahead of the gathering of large congregations for Easter ceremonies.

On Tuesday, Canada’s largest and most diverse Catholic diocese, the archdiocese of Toronto, issued a memo to its more than 200 parishes ahead of Easter next month.

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“Active cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide have led to some understandable concern among the faithful,” wrote Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“Regarding liturgical practices, local health officials have indicated that it is not necessary to alter current practices at this time. Parishes should ensure that those distributing communion wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after the distribution of communion.”

Archdioceses take their guidance from local public health authorities and Toronto’s memo included practical advice on preventing the spread of the disease.

Toronto’s memo also included a note from Toronto Public Health, where eight people are in self-isolation recovering from COVID-19.

“I continue to be asked if we would consider recommending postponement of events or limiting places where people gather in large numbers,” wrote Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health, in a March 2 statement.

“These are significant measures that must be assessed, evaluated and taken only after we balance preventing the spread of infection with the need for people and communities to function.

“At this time, we are not recommending these approaches, but examples such as limiting non-essential public gatherings are public health measures that can be used to further protect our community, if our local situation changes.”

A spokesperson for the archdiocese of Montreal told CTVNews.ca that it is also preparing coronavirus guidance for Easter in Quebec, which will be published on its website.

In February, the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth advised all its churches to stop offering holy wine during communion because this uses a shared cup, in a bid to combat the spread of winter flu.

“At the time we were clear in that message that we would keep an eye on the trends regarding COVID-19 and would provide more direction as needed,” archdiocese spokeswoman Aurea Sadi wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca.

“We are at the point where we are contemplating if, when, and what further direction we need to advise to the faithful.”

In Edmonton, Lorraine Turchansky, a spokesperson for the archdiocese there said there was no new advice for the faithful in regards to COVID-19, but reminded Catholics to refrain from shaking hands at the sign of peace and that if people are sick they are not required to attend mass.

She confirmed the archdiocese is monitoring the situation and takes its guidance from the chief medical officer of Alberta.

CTVNews.ca has also contacted the archdiocese of Vancouver and the archdiocese of St. John’s in Newfoundland to see if they have any special measures in place.

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