Bishop of Derry, Bishop Donal McKeown
The Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown has advised that “extreme caution” must be exercised following the coronavirus outbreak.
The Catholic Church has therefore taken the decision to “suspend” the Sign of Peace during religious services and advised that water fonts should not be used.
Bishop McKeown said: “Most physical interaction during religious services, e.g. shaking hands while exchanging the ‘Sign of Peace’ in Christian religious services, involves a low risk of spreading the virus, especially if members of the congregation who are unwell do not attend religious services while they are ill.
“However, because COVID-19 is a new disease that has not been seen in people before, we need to exercise extreme caution to limit the spread of the virus.”
Current information suggests that COVID-19 can spread easily between people and could be spread from an infected person even before they develop any symptoms.
For these reasons the church has decided that physical interaction during religious services, including the Sign of Peace, should be suspended.
He added: “The practice of shaking hands on greeting and departure at religious services/gatherings should be suspended for both religious leaders/clergy and laity.
“Because COVID-19 is a new disease and appears to spread easily between people, we advise that holy water fonts should not be used.
“Using communal vessels during religious services, e.g. drinking from the Chalice during Holy Communion in Christian services. To minimise the risk of spread of infection, the use of communal vessels should be suspended.
“For example, during Holy Communion in Christian religious services only the celebrant should drink from the Chalice. No one else should drink from the Chalice – this includes other priests, ministers of the Eucharist and members of the congregation.”
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