The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo expects it will eventually have to suspend the sharing of a common cup during Holy Communion due to the new coronavirus outbreak.
The diocese released updated coronavirus guidelines Tuesday, saying that while it’s currently in Stage 1 of its guidelines, “it appears” to be “transitioning” toward Stage 2. Stage 2 includes distributing Communion bread in a way that hands do not touch and no longer using a common cup for Communion wine.
“That’s probably where we’re headed,” said diocese Interim Communications Director Gregory Tucker when contacted.
Communion practices have come under scrutiny throughout the U.S. given the country’s outbreak of the coronavirus in recent weeks. The virus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, is spread via respiratory droplets produced when infected people cough, sneeze or talk, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several dioceses, including the Episcopal Dioceses of Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, already advised their congregations to stop using the shared Communion cup last week.
While the Buffalo Diocese appears close to following them, its guidelines note the risk of transmitting the coronavirus via a common Communion cup is low. It cites a longstanding CDC report that found the risk of transmitting infectious diseases through a common Communion cup is “very low” and that safeguards like wiping the interior and exterior rim with a cloth will diminish the risk.
The Buffalo Diocese guidelines say it’s headed toward Stage 2 given the increasing number of coronavirus cases in New York state. Although there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in Western New York, there have been 173 throughout New York, the second most of any state in the U.S. However, there have been no deaths in the state thus far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
In addition to Communion changes, Stage 2 also includes banning giving physical signs of peace during Mass and advising the elderly and those with weakened immune systems to not attend Mass or any large church gatherings at all.
For the time being the Buffalo Diocese says it’s still in Stage 1, which advises those with cold or flu-like symptoms to not drink from the shared Communion cup. Other Stage 1 measures include regularly cleaning off church surfaces like door handles and asking parishioners to sanitize their hands as they come into church.
The guidelines note several Step 1 measures should be done during the regular flu season anyway.
Stage 3 would include suspending public Mass and all parish gatherings. The bishop has
has the authority in Canon Law to waive the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
“Specific and detailed guidance will be produced, should we come to this stage,” the Buffalo Diocese guidelines say. “At the time of writing this is not needed.”