To the People of the Diocese of Los Angeles:
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This message comes with the assurance that Bishop Bruce, Canon McCarthy, and all of us at St. Paul’s Commons pray for you daily, all the more so amid the emerging crisis posed by the threat of the novel coronavirus.
I hope you had the opportunity to read, mark, and inwardly digest Bishop Bruce’s February 26 letter about the common-sense steps we should all take, including frequent hand-washing with soap and water, sneezing into the crook of the arm, avoiding touching our faces, and replacing handshakes and hugs with fist bumps and bows. You will find her letter here .
As we learn more about the threat, I have decided that additional measures are necessary, in keeping with our shared responsibility in Christ to care for one another. According to the experts we have consulted, in the event of an outbreak of the disease in our diocese, we cannot promise people that that the stubborn COVID-19 virus, if deposited on the lip of the chalice, will not be passed to another communicant. For this reason, in the Diocese of Olympia, which has been hard hit already, health officials have already asked churches to stop offering the common cup.
I believe it would be prudent for us to follow suit. By my authority as your diocesan bishop, I hereby inform all our lay and ordained leaders that communion wine may not be offered in our churches, either for sipping or by intinction, until we can be confident that the danger of mass COVID-19 infections has abated.
Intinction is unfortunately not a safe alternative to sipping. As we have all learned in recent days, the virus usually enters the body through the mouth or nose. When a chalice bearer intincts for me, they risk touching my mouth and either passing or acquiring the virus. When I intinct for myself, I may touch the wine and the sides of the chalice
Priests presiding at Holy Eucharist will still need to consecrate a small amount of wine as they perform the rite. We reformed Christians know well that laypeople’s access to the common cup was a hard-won right. But it bears emphasizing that, according to our theology of Holy Eucharist, the work of the sacrament is complete when taken in only one kind. If I have taken the consecrated host, I receive no additional benefit from the consecrated wine.
Again, we will lift this restriction when the crisis has abated. I nevertheless urge the leaders of all our congregations to use this opportunity for teaching and dialog about intinction, whose health risks will outlast the emergency.
A word as well about the host. We ask all those touching communion wafers to wash their hands vigorously with soap and water immediately before their work at the altar begins – not before the service, but just before consecrating or distributing the host. Also, ministers distributing the host should drop it onto the communicant’s palm rather than placing it on their tongue.
Those churches using baked bread should switch to wafers, since the act of breaking up the bread entails considerable contact with ministers’ fingers and hands.
Finally, at some of our services, communicants have a practice of standing in a circle and taking turns serving the elements. For the time being, these communities should appoint Eucharistic ministers to serve the consecrated host in accordance with the other instructions in this letter.
Above all, we want you to be safe. We know that you want your neighbors kneeling or standing at your side to be safe. I understand that most of us, deeply wedded to our shared practice, will not welcome these directives. On behalf our whole diocesan community, I thank each of you for giving of yourselves self-sacrificially for the sake of the whole body of Christ.
Especially in times such as these, when we are worried about ourselves and those we love, we depend on our church families for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal. Notwithstanding these temporary measures, may this continue to be so in all our churches. As we face and overcome this crisis, may a deepening understanding of our obligation to watch over our closest neighbors in the name of Christ make us ever more devoted to God’s glory and the thriving of all God’s people.
Yours in Christ’s love,
The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor
VII Bishop of Los Angeles
P.S.: If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.