Attending church plays a key role for many people throughout the area.
It’s a time of fellowship and gathering together with common beliefs sewn into a tapestry of traditions.
And in the Catholic church, those traditions are sacred rites woven throughout the very core of the church.
Especially during Mass, in which parishioners are welcome to share a common cup during communion.
But that practice is being temporarily reevaluated by area parishes in response to concerns of spreading illnesses such as influenza and the COVID-19 virus.
The Toledo Diocese issued a memorandum Thursday reminding religious leaders of the options available, “namely, omitting the invitation to the sign of peace (shaking hands) and temporarily discontinuing the reception of the Precious Blood from the chalice until such time as a health concern has subsided.”
The impact of that memorandum will be shared at Masses in Fostoria, Tiffin and Findlay this weekend.
Jon Hay, pastoral associate for parish leadership at St. Wendelin Catholic Church in Fostoria, said the leadership of the diocese is paying attention.
“We’re paying attention, too, and trusting they’re in touch with the right health officials and the people that know better than we do about what the concerns are. And so we take those things pretty seriously,” he said.
Hay said St. Wendelin will be following the recommendations issued in the memorandum and an announcement will be made at all Masses explaining what that will look like for parishioners.
“We’re also trying to follow the guidance of that document that talks about the sign of peace and refraining from the handshake gesture as part of that,” he said. “And then also, as it mentions in there about the holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer, that’s not really an official part of the directives anyway. And so we’re going to try to discourage folks from doing that and actually being more faithful to the original directives of the Mass.
“And then certainly the largest one is going down to one species at Mass and only offering the Precious Body. That’s going to be the biggest change for folks,” he said, adding these adjustments to Mass are temporary. “We’re hoping it’s not too terribly long.”
The Rev. Mike Zacharias, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, said his church plans to proceed with caution.
“I try to be cautious on these things,” he said. “Usually, we use common sense. I’ve had a lot of flu issues in my priesthood and some serious flu years where we’ve actually suspended the receiving from the cup and not having the sign of peace. But, you know, I’ve figured it’s better to be cautious. Right?”
Beginning immediately, the St. Michael parish will suspend the cup as well as the sign of peace during Masses until the threat of illness dissipates.
“If you’re sick, please don’t go to church. But if you’re there, please be respectful of people.” he said, noting some people are afraid of germs and don’t want to touch or be touched. “Be respectful of those people … we are supposed to be Christians and adults.”
In Tiffin, the Rev. Matthew Rader, pastor, was busy drafting a policy for St. Mary and St. Pius parishes.
“It is derived from the recommendations from the Diocese of Toledo,” Rader said.
In short, the policy asks parishioners to stay home if they are ill.
“Sunday Mass is broadcast on Cable Channel 1021, you are encouraged to make a spiritual communion during the distribution of Holy Communion,” the policy reads.
The policy also encourages parishioners to not hold hands during the Our Father, and the invitation to offer the sign of peace will not be offered.
The cup also will not be offered during communion.
“These measures will be followed until Easter 2020 at which time we will reevaluate the public health concern,” the policy states.
Across town, Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tiffin, however, may not look much different than it has the past several weeks.
“We actually suspended the cup at St. Joseph’s about a month ago because of the flu season,” the Rev. Joseph Szybka, pastor of St. Joseph, said. “We will continue to do that, probably through the next month or so.”
Szybka said he has also already addressed the diocese’s recommendation concerning extending a handshake as a gesture of the sign of peace.
“Actually, this (Friday) morning at the school (Tiffin Calvert) Mass, we already kind of dispensed with that,” Szybka said. “I just invited everyone to pray for peace in their heart rather than an external gesture.”
Szybka said for the most part, it’s just a matter of common sense.
“Eucharistic ministers are supposed to use sanitizer before they distribute Holy Communion. But we always encourage that. And then also just reminding people if they are sick or don’t feel well to stay home, because they are dispensed from coming to Mass if they don’t feel well or aware that they are sick or getting sick.”
Hay said many of the recommendations in the diocesan memo are already commonly practiced at St. Wendelin.
“The Holy Water fonts, we’re very diligent about keeping those fresh and clean and sanitary as best we can, and our main font in the center of the church is actually chlorinated so to keep it from collecting germs,” he said.
He added the Eucharistic ministers who distribute communion all have hand-sanitizer stations, “which they utilize to make sure that their hands are sanitized before touching the elements,” Hay said, adding there are a lot of safeguards already in place to keep that health risk low.
“But, you know, we’re going to do what’s necessary,” Hay said.