Suburban churches taking precautions to prevent coronavirus spread
Many suburban churches won't offer shared communion wine and are calling off traditional handshakes during services in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Archdiocese of Chicago officials sent detailed instructions Monday afternoon to churches in Cook and Lake counties addressing concerns about COVID-19, the illness caused by the latest coronavirus.
Spokeswoman Yasmin Quiroz said the directive for all Chicago archdiocese parishes went into effect immediately and was based on guidance from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on divine worship.
All priests, deacons, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of holy communion now must wash their hands before Mass. They also must use an alcohol-based antibacterial solution before and after distributing holy communion wafers.
In addition, the Chicago archdiocese asks that there be no physical contact during the sign of peace or use of holy water fonts. Hand-holding also should not occur during the Lord's Prayer and, given the frequency of direct contact with saliva in the distribution of communion on the tongue, worshippers who typically prefer that method should consider taking it reverently in open hands for now.
Similar measures were announced by the Diocese of Joliet on Feb. 28. The Joliet diocese includes churches in Naperville, Glen Ellyn, Carol Stream and other parts of DuPage County.
"At this time, because of unknown dimensions of this virus and its rapid spreading worldwide, prudence and prayer are called for," wrote the Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, acting bishop and apostolic administrator for the Joliet diocese.
Congregants at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington are now asked to refrain from handshakes when greeting each other, spokeswoman Liz Schauer said. Willow Creek members also are being reminded to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, colds and flu.
Willow Creek doesn't use shared cups, opting instead for prepackaged, individual communion elements.
"Our goal is for all of us -- staff, volunteers, congregants and neighbors -- to try and stay as healthy as possible," Schauer said.
Willow Creek is monitoring coronavirus updates and plans to work with local officials, hospitals and school districts "to determine what next steps are necessary," Schauer said.
"We have a staff team working diligently on Willow's plan to manage and operate during a potential coronavirus outbreak in our area," she said.
Diocese of Rockford officials folded the COVID-19 virus into an annual list of recommendations issued on healthy ways to practice the Catholic faith during cold and flu season. The offering of communion as the bread and wine is up to a pastor's discretion, as are a handshake or embrace at the sign of peace.
The Rockford diocese includes Catholic churches in Algonquin, Huntley, St. Charles, Elgin and Aurora.