The Coronavirus outbreak has not spared even the holiest of sacraments.
From draining holy water fonts to banning all physical contact during the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of Peace to even altering how the Body of Christ is served, churches the world over are getting creative when it comes to protecting their congregants and controlling the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.
Of course, it's common for priests and lay ministers to wash their hands before and after Mass during flu season, and to have hand sanitizer available for those distributing Communion.
But with at least 245 confirmed cases and 14 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the US, many religious leaders across the nation are getting more creative with their preventative measures.
Dangerous Problems, Creative Solutions
While the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has decided to skip the Sign of Peace altogether during its masses, the Rev. Kevin Dillon of Long Island's St. Boniface Martyr Church recommended fist-bumping instead. “Rather than shaking hands or maybe giving someone a kiss that we know, you might want to do a nod or a smile or maybe what millennials do – a fist bump – or what the CDC recommends: an elbow bump."
Seattle’s Archbishop Paul D. Etienne has urged Catholics who are feeling sick to avoid mass altogether. In Italy, the current epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, the Vatican canceled Sunday mass after Pope Francis (who tested negative) had to cancel plans due to a cold. Even the catacombs have been closed temporarily.
For Catholics in particular, all this couldn't come at a worse time.
Smack in the middle of the observance of Lent, many would normally mark Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday by kneeling and kissing the cross. Except bishops in the Philippines have already advised parishioners to genuflect and bow to the cross instead.
The New Creation Church in Singapore, meanwhile, has decided to provide its 33,000 members complementary temperature checks with state-of-the-art thermal scanners, encouraging congregants to give online or drop donations in an offering box rather than in communal "offering bags" during service. The world's largest Pentecostal church in Seoul has already streamed its services online, eager to avoid the fate of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the 'religious sect' responsible for a large chunk of the cases in Korea.
Mormons are also taking heavy precautions. The LDS Church is famous for its emphasis on savings and proper planning - not only of money, but of stockpiles of food and supplies as well. And those who’ve saved cans of food, toilet paper, soap, and other essentials, are finding their preparedness is paying off when many are cautiously anticipating being housebound for days or weeks at a time.
Ending Soon, or Just Beginning?
And if you're feeling this is all too heavy-handed, and are wondering why so many precautions are necessary, fear not.
Christian pastor Shawn Bolz has heard salvation is just around the corner. He claims Gold told him so.
"We're going to see it come to an end," Bolz told Fox News. "It's not going to be the pandemic that people are afraid of. I just felt like the tide is turning shortly -- whether it's two weeks or two months -- God cares about this. He's answering prayer and I saw two vaccines coming. I think one will come from Israel and another from an Asian nation, and they're going to hit pretty quickly."
Not so fast, however. Another pastor, Rick Wiles, told his followers that coronavirus is punishment from God that could kill “hundreds of millions of people”, punishment for a sinful planet “transgendering little children” and having “forced abortions.”
While the jury's out on whether God's going to provide a cure soon or wipe all the sinners out, in the meantime, it's probably best to keep washing your hands.
What do you think? If you’re a believer, do you think this is punishment from God? Or is it an outbreak that global governments were simply unprepared for?
How are you keeping safe during the coronavirus outbreak?