By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
(UPDATED DIRECTIVES MARCH 17 – including cancellation of public celebrations of Mass until further notice – BISHOP LETTER.)
[Saskatoon – March 10, 2020] – In response to growing concern about the spread of COVID-19 – also known as “coronavirus” – Bishop Mark Hagemoen March 10 announced a number of temporary restrictions to liturgical practice in parishes across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Effective immediately, all parishes are directed to observe the following:
- Personal contact such as the shaking of hands at the Sign of Peace during the celebration of Mass is to be discontinued. A bow and spoken word of peace may serve as a replacement.
- Holy Communion is to be distributed under the species of bread alone (discontinuing the common cup).
- Pastors, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are to wash their hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based sanitizer, before and after distributing communion.
- Where visits to the sick for sacramental and/ or pastoral care are made, good sanitary practices are to be maintained at all times. Any minister choosing to make such visits should make use of hand sanitizers, if possible washing with soap and water immediately before and immediately after the visit.
- Holy water is to be removed from church fonts.
These are similar to steps taken in 2009 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in response to H1N1.
“We have been coordinating with the Archdiocese of Regina to monitor the situation regularly,” said Bishop Mark Hagemoen in his March 10, 2020 letter to priests, parish leaders and the lay faithful about the diocese’s COVID-19 response. “If necessary, further directives may be required. However, we hope and pray that these temporary directives will not be needed for too long.”
Bishop Hagemoen also asked for continued prayers for those affected by COVID-19 and for the health care workers and other service providers who assist those who are affected by the health-care crisis.
Health authorities and the Government of Canada’s outbreak update website continue to say the risk to Canadians from COVID-19 is low, while acknowledging that the situation could change rapidly. The federal website states that the Public Health Agency of Canada, along with provincial, territorial and community partners, “continues to reassess the public health risk, based on the best available evidence as the situation evolves.”
Catholic dioceses across the country are also monitoring the situation and a number have now implemented changes to liturgical practise in an effort to minimize risk of spreading the virus, including the Saskatchewan dioceses of Saskatoon and Regina. At the time of their announced changes to liturgical changes on March 10, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.