JOLIET, IL — The office of Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of the Catholic Diocese of Joliet recently issued a letter to parish leaders regarding concerns over COVID-19. The letter outlines a series of protocols Joliet Diocese priests and lay ministers will be expected to follow in the coming days to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the illness.
The two main orders are to suspend the shaking of hands and other physical contact during the “sign of peace” ritual and not to serve wine — referred to in the letter as “Precious Blood” — with the Communion ritual.
“With coronavirus spreading without clear knowledge of its cause and the implications involved in its spreading,” Diocese Apostolic Administrator Richard Pates said in the letter, “I believe it best to err on the side of caution.”
Besides the two primary commands, the letter also urges all priests and lay ministers to wash their hands before and after Mass and use alcohol-based antibacterial solutions before and after serving communion. It also encourages parishioners and church officials who are feeling ill to stay home.
“I also want to assure the faithful that if they are sick or are experiencing symptoms of sickness, they are not obliged to attend Mass and even that, out of charity, they might not attend,” Pates said.
Pates did not indicate in the letter how long the adjusted protocols are expected to be in place; only that they be enforced, “until such time as prudence dictates that our normal practices be resumed.”
Diocese Media Relations Director Alex Rechenmacher said that there were currently no plans to cancel Masses or other church functions in the Diocese. He also said that individual parishes have some degree of freedom in choosing how strictly they choose to adhere to illness-prevention protocols.
“Generally speaking, each parish is a little bit different with how they administer communion,” Rechenmacher said. “Some are a little bit more aggressive with the hand sanitizer. … A pastor always has the ability to take a step on his own if he feels it prudent.”
Officials from St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Plainfield confirmed that they had no plans to cancel Masses or alter the Mass schedule in any way. Patch reached out to several other Diocese parishes but did not immediately receive a response.
The Diocese of Joliet includes the Catholic communities of Joliet, Plainfield and Bolingbrook, among many others. For a full list of included parishes, please visit the Diocese website.
The following is the letter sent from the Bishop’s office to parish leaders:
Most Reverend Richard E. Pates
Brother Priests and Deacons,
With coronavirus spreading without clear knowledge of its cause and the implications involved in its spreading, I believe it best to err on the side of caution. Beginning with the reception of this letter, I ask that the following be implemented immediately in all parishes and institutions.
These cautions will remain in force until such time as prudence dictates that our normal practices be resumed.
The occasion of this communication affords me the opportunity to remind all ministers of communion to wash their hands thoroughly before Mass; a further precaution suggests using an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing communion.
I also want to assure the faithful that if they are sick or are experiencing symptoms of sickness, they are not obliged to attend Mass and even that, out of charity, they might not attend.
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I am enclosing sample petitions which may be included during the Prayers of the Faithful.
At this time, because of unknown dimensions of this virus and its rapid spreading world-wide, prudence and prayer are called for.
My prayers are with all at this time.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Richard E. Pates
Diocese of Joliet