First, some perspective: As of today (Friday, March 6), there are there are around 200 (per National Public Radio; the Centers for Disease Control reports 164) cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Washington – the state with the most confirmed cases – reports 70. There are two confirmed cases in Colorado. At 200 cases out of 331 million Americans, that’s .00006%. Myself, I can’t count that low.
How does this compare with the seasonal flu? The CDC (cdc.gov) estimates that there have been 32 MILLION cases of flu so far this season. Thirty-two million out of 331 million is 9.7%. The coronavirus does not cause flu. But you knew that.
- Perspective aside, here’s how we’re handling the situation at Loyola Parish. We’re being proactive. We’re not going to panic. There’s no reason to panic. Instead, WE’RE GOING TO spray everyone down with Lysol® and wrap them in plastic wrap TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. Here’s how:
- Beginning with this weekend’s Masses, we’ll TEMPORARILY suspend Holy Communion under two species. In other words, FOR NOW we’ll offer Holy Communion only in the form of the consecrated bread. No wine, and please no whining. Canon Law is cool with this option.
- FOR NOW we’re offering Holy Communion in the hand only and NOT on the tongue. That’s to avoid accidentally touching tongues or lips.
- AS ALWAYS, our priests and Eucharistic Ministers will sanitize their hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer (recommended by the CDC) before distributing Holy Communion. Additionally, hand sanitizer is available at every exit.
- Beginning with this weekend’s Masses, we’ll TEMPORARILY refrain from shaking hands, holding hands, bumping fists, or embracing one another while we’re together in church. FOR NOW.
- FOR NOW we have removed the water from our holy water fonts.
- FOR NOW we will no longer bring the gifts up at the offertory.
- The priest is required to wash his hands with soap and water before presiding at Mass IN ANY CASE.
- Sacred vessels (patens, plates, bowls, chalices and cups) are ritually purified after Communion and then ALWAYS washed thoroughly with soap and water.
- We’re taking extra steps to clean and sanitize door handles, light switches and other surfaces in the church.
- We’ve recruited a crack team of health-care professionals (physicians and nurses, all parishioners) to help us with all of this.
Things will be different for a while, but these precautions needn’t change the character of our worship. Again, THIS IS WHAT WE’RE DOING TO TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. And we can be creative and even have a bit of fun with all of it. For example, think of some of the non-contact ways you can greet your sisters and brothers:
- Polite bows. (Yawn.)
- Namaste-style bows. For Hindus, the gesture means, “I bow to the divine in you. A Christian version might be, “I reverence the Holy Spirit within you.” Nice.
- Enthusiastic waving.
- Jumping up and down excitedly. (Rags votes for this one. Also tail wags.)
- Vulcan “live long and prosper” salutes.
- Peace signs.
- Smoke signals.
- Military-style salutes, smartly done.
Science Minute: Are viruses alive? Nope. At least that’s the general consensus. A virus (more properly called a virion) is essentially a packet of genetic material (in the case of coronaviruses, RNA or ribonucleic acid) in a protein shell. That’s about it, usually. Some viruses – including the coronavirus – have an outer layer called an envelope, often consisting of proteins and phospholipids (Remember the phospholipid bilayer from chemistry class?). Viruses are not cells. They don’t have the things inside them that cells do. No arms, legs, eyes or ears. Or noses. No brains either. They can’t move on their own. They don’t eat. They only “reproduce” – ahem – when they bind to living cells and force – in an inanimate sort of way – the cells to make copies of the virus. VIRUSES NEITHER LAUGH NOR WEEP.
My dear Jesuit friend Fr. Greg Croft – now with Jesus, late of the British Province of the Society of Jesus – was fond of saying “All biology is chemistry, and all chemistry is physics.” That’s a water-cooler freebie for you.
We’ll keep you updated. We’re going to get through this. Meanwhile, be assured that you, dear ones, are beloved.