PASTORAL DIRECTIVES FOR COVID19
March 12th, 2020
Dear Priests, Deacons, and Postulants,
Over the last few months, the ACA&A has been dealing with the COVID19 outbreak in our Missionary Diocese of East and Southeast Asia. Because of our close contact with many priests and pastors at the epicenter of this outbreak, we know that the mortality rate has been much higher than officially claimed, as has been confirmed by the situation over the last week in Italy. This is a serious infection, made even more deadly by the conveniences of globalization and the deceit and manipulation of politicians.
Up until now, God has mercifully spared our parishioners from the worst effects of the virus. Our primary mode of defense has been through the suspension of large gatherings and the administration of the Holy Eucharist in only one element - the Holy Body. In our East Asian practice, Mass is celebrated by the priest in his home chapel with his family in attendance, and the freshly consecrated Eucharist is then distributed to the faithful in groups no larger than three, with appropriate confession, prayers, and thanksgiving.
There has been much showmanship recently from some quarters about either not changing or increasing Eucharistic practice, or, claiming that people cannot become sick at church. While we do not believe that the Holy Eucharist can sicken anyone who is properly prepared, we must also remember that the Eucharist has not saved the Church from death by plague in times past, and that Eastern innovations, such as the communion spoon, were invented in times of plague to try to minimize the touching that was communicating sickness in Constantinople (properly done, communion via spoon can be accomplished without the mouth coming into contact with anything). This new pandemic is an airborne pathogen. It does not require contamination of the Holy Eucharist in order to sicken someone at church. It has been proven that people merely breathing the same air as an asymptomatic viral carrier in an enclosed space, such as a car, bus or room, can spread the virus over a distance of 4 meters. Therefore, showy declarations of liturgical bravado do not serve the glory of God, and could not only lead to greater infections but also shake the faith of the weaker brothers. We rely on God for health and safety, and we also employ God-given wisdom and caution to avoid putting ourselves in harm’s way.
Therefore, do not only fastidiously wash hands and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces in church, such as handrails, pews, doorknobs, etc., but also avoid touching, passing the peace, blessing by laying on of hands, and all the other practices that increase bodily contact. Social distancing is key to slowing the spread of this illness. It must be stressed that the two most infectious spreaders of the disease in the United States have been Episcopal priests, in Washington, D.C. and Dallas, TX, who have spread their sickness extensively in their congregations through touch and shared air. Just because one is a priest does not mean that one does not spread disease, and just because one is a properly prepared and devout believer does not mean that one will avoid infection at church.
We do not know how long this pandemic will last, and we do not know what will happen as churches, schools, businesses and social services start to deteriorate under the strain. We must prepare ourselves for the worst, ask God’s mercy upon us as we work, and put our lives and our futures in His hands. We do not know how we will be called to serve over these next weeks and months. What we do know is that living or dying, we do it for the Lord, and that He is our ultimate hope for all of eternity. He was willing to die for us to procure our salvation, and we must be willing to die for Him so that we faithfully discharge the duties whereby He has charged us.
Let us all pray for one another in our respective places and ministries, asking the Lord to give us bravery and fervor, laying down our lives for others and serving one another in purity and love. Many spiritually needy people will be confronted by their own mortality and fear during this pandemic, and we must be faithfully present to witness to them as they face the reality of the next life and their relationship with God! Perhaps, if God is merciful, this horrible situation will present an opportunity to turn this nation back to God and to restore many people’s faith in the Almighty.
May God give us strength and bravery!
In Christ, Our Lord and Master,