Letter from Bishop Bill concerning COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The advent  of what  is  now  known  as COVID-19  (novel  coronavirus)  has been the  cause of much anxiety for many. The media coverage, while  helpful  in  promoting  public awareness, has understandably added to levels of anxiety in the broader community.

Public health authorities are actively monitoring the spread of COVID-19 related illnesses across Australia, and their latest advice is that the virus spreads through:

  • close contact with an infectious person
  • contact with droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces (like  doorknobs  or tables)  that  have cough or  sneeze droplets from  an infected  person, and then touching your mouth or face.

Based on the generally available advice from  public authorities, there may be little need for any changes to the usual liturgical practices in our parishes.

Given  the  heightened  anxiety,  however,  and  with  a  desire  to ensure  a  level  of comfort for those attending  public celebrations of the  Church's  liturgy,  I direct that our  parishes  adopt the following precautions, effectively immediately and until otherwise advised:

  1. Individuals should consider their own health, including any potential to infect others with an infectious disease, before attending a public liturgical celebration
  2. Holy water stoops are to be emptied of holy water, though holy water should still be available for parishioners to take home
  3. When exchanging the sign of peace, members of the assembly are to avoid shaking hands, though it is possible to offer the sign of peace by simply saying "Peace be with you", and smiling, offering a wave, or nodding
  4. Holy Communion from the Chalice is to be restricted to the celebrant(s) for the time being
  5. Because of the increased infection risk, Holy Communion is not to be given on the tongue until further notice, with those attached to this pious practice being asked to adjust their practice for the sake of fellow  parishioners
  6. Parishes are asked to make alcohol-based gels or other hand rubs available near the entrances to church building, and also to provide disposable tissues and appropriate means of disposal
  7. Parishioners are to be reminded that  if they are too unwell to attend  Sunday  Mass, they can honour the Sunday obligation by participating in a time of prayer within their home, reading the Scriptures, or watching Mass on television.
  8. Those assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion are to observe good hand hygiene in preparing to  distribute Communion at Mass, including the possibility of washing their hands in the sacristy using hot water, soap and clean towels.
  9. Care is to be taken when Communion Ministers use alcohol-based gels or other hand rubs  before  distributing Communion, as some people have been known to react negatively to the components in such products, particularly when the hands are not completely dry.

These arrangements will  remain  in  place  until  the  risk from  COVID-19  is  mitigated,  and appropriate advice  is received from public health authorities. Parishes will be advised when it is possible to return to our normal liturgical practices.

The NSW Department of Health advises the best way to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to:

  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or with an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover your  nose and  mouth  when  coughing  and  sneezing  with  a  tissue or a  flexed elbow
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Practice cough  etiquette  (keep  away from  other  people,  cover  coughs  and  sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and clean your hands.

We could do worse than to follow the 'common sense' advice being provided by public health authorities, both individually and as parish communities.

I thank you for your support in implementing these temporary measures which  may offer comfort to those who are experiencing any anxiety at this time, and will hopefully assist in supporting the general welfare of our Catholic and wider community.

Yours in Christ,

Most Rev Bill Wright

Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle 

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.