ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) New York's bishops and cardinals are the latest Catholic officials to announce Wuhan virus-related restrictions when churches reopen for public celebration of the Mass.
In response to the virus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has developed a four-phase approach to reopening the Empire State. Earlier this week, he announced that churches and other houses of worship will not be allowed to reopen until Phase 4.
• Phase 1 – Construction, manufacturing and wholesale supply chain, curbside pick-up service for retail, and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting
• Phase 2 – Professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate/rental leasing
• Phase 3 – Restaurants, food services and hotels/accommodations
• Phase 4 – Arts, entertainment, recreation and education
Churches were included in this category ostensibly because worship services, like the other venues it includes, involve activities where large crowds typically would have been packed together.
New York's bishops don't want to wait until Phase 4 to reopen for public Mass, so they have come up with their own plan of self-imposed restrictions.
In a Skype interview with Buffalo's National Public Radio affiliate, WBFO, New York State Catholic Conference spokesperson Dennis Proust said, "I think what the governor seemed to be saying was to reopen like normal would be a phase-four situation, but we have no intention of reopening like normal. We are going to have to put strict limits in terms of capacity in every church, and all sorts of restrictions."
Catholics around the world have been grappling with Wuhan virus-imposed restrictions on public Masses, with some saying the restrictions are being used to "dismantle the liturgy."
In an interview with National Catholic Register, a woman in Rome shares that worry. She said there's confusion between the precautions doctors take in their contact with patients and priests' contact with parishioners. She suggested that applying the precautionary standards for doctors to priests "effectively denies the sacrality of the Eucharist; it denies his Body and Blood."
In Italy, the debate has been over the use of gloves in the distribution of the Host. In Germany, both singing and the use of wind instruments have been banned. Strict social distancing is de rigueur around the globe.
In New York, all these issues are being considered. Poust told the NPR affiliate that parishioners should "expect a different experience" when they return to Mass.
He said Communion will only be distributed in the hand, and priests will have to sanitize their hands between each communicant. And just like the German Catholics, there will be no singing. So far, there is no word on whether wind instruments are banned.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Wuhan virus restrictions is the insistence of some prelates that receiving Communion on the tongue be banned. The ban is particularly remarkable since a USCCB memorandum sent April 30 to all U.S. bishops specifically says:
We have carefully considered the question of Communion on the tongue vs. Communion in the hand. Given the Church's existing guidance on this point (see Redemptionis Sacramentum, no. 92), and recognizing the differing judgments and sensibilities that are involved, we believe that, with the precautions listed here, it is possible to distribute on the tongue without unreasonable risk.
Since early March, Church Militant has reported extensively on the controversy. Like the bishops and cardinals in New York, Michigan's Catholic leaders are considering similar restrictions.
"They're kicking it around," and likely "trying to get permission through the Vatican," said one source.
Michigan bishops know they need permission from Rome because the Vatican previously overruled attempts of bishops to ban Communion on the tongue in attempts to avoid germs.