Pandemic will alter Communion rituals for many US Christians

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2020 Christopher Dolan

FILE - In this Sunday, March 22, 2020 file photo, the Rev. William A. Mentz, pastor of the Scranton, Pa.-based St. Francis and Clare Progressive Catholic Church, wears a mask and gloves while distributing prepackaged communion to the faithful attending Mass while sitting in their cars in the parking lot of a shopping center in Moosic, Pa. The Progressive Catholic Church is a small denomination operating independently of the Roman Catholic Church. Other Catholic churches in the Scranton area suspended the celebration of mass to help control the spread of COVID-19. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)

NEW YORK – Holy Communion will have a different look when in-person worship services resume at the end of May in the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee: The wafers signifying the body of Christ will be placed in the hands of parishioners by priests and deacons wearing face masks and safety glasses.

Similarly striking changes in Communion will take place at Catholic and Protestant churches across the United States over coming weeks as restrictions on large gatherings –- imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak –- are gradually eased.

Many churches that formerly encouraged churchgoers to drink wine from a communal cup will halt that practice, at least temporarily. In some cases, clergy will be instructed to use hand sanitizer before commencing with the sacrament.

The Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., Mariann Budde, said she and about 60 of her fellow bishops will meet Wednesday to discuss possible adjustments to Communion and other worship.

“I do think new practices emerge from crises like this,” she said. “They come from communities experimenting, pushing the boundaries. You don’t know how that process will turn out.”

The biggest denomination in the U.S., the Catholic church accounts for the bulk of Holy Communion services nationwide.

Under its governance system, decisions on logistical details of Communion are largely left to individual bishops.

Over the past three weeks, at least two sets of guidelines have been issued to Catholic clergy by high-level bodies. There’s one main difference: the guidelines from the Washington-based Thomistic Institute says communion wafers could continue to be placed on a parishioner’s tongue or be placed in the hand. Guidelines from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions says there should be a temporary ban on receiving the wafer on the tongue.