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Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg suspends shaking of hands, serving of wine

Churches will empty Holy Water fonts, including the baptismal font.
Bishop Gregory L. Parkes. (Dirk Shadd | Times)
Bishop Gregory L. Parkes. (Dirk Shadd | Times)
Published Mar. 11, 2020
Updated Mar. 12, 2020

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The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg issued new directives Wednesday because of the coronavirus outbreak: Parishioners should refrain from physical contact, so no handshakes during the Sign of Peace. Wine that is blessed or consecrated, which Catholics believe is the blood of Jesus, will not be served. Churches will empty Holy Water fonts, including the baptismal font.

Sacramental bread, known as the Body of Christ, will be offered, but Bishop Gregory Parkes encouraged parishioners to receive it by hand instead of on the tongue.

The St. Petersburg Diocese, which counts about 480,000 Catholics in the Tampa Bay region, also reminded parishioners to stay home from Mass and church activities if they feel sick, know someone who is sick or have a compromised immune system.

“It is an act of charity to prevent the spread of a disease," the Catholic Diocese said in a press statement. "It is not a sin to miss Mass if you are ill, coughing or have other symptoms related to coronavirus or other illnesses.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida has not suspended serving wine, but said in a statement: “The Book of Common Prayer teaches that if one is unwell that it is suitable to receive the Sacrament in one kind only and this represents the fullness of communion, If you are not feeling certain— just receive the consecrated Bread."

The Episcopal Diocese also recommends limiting physical contact and refraining from shaking hands. Parishioners can live stream services from home.

The Catholic Diocese issued guidelines for ministers who visit the sick and homebound to provide communion.

These include refraining from physical contact or lingering, washing hands vigorously before and after giving Holy Communion and postponing visits when the person is not feeling well. The guidance noted that many nursing homes are already closing their doors, so ministers should reach out ahead of time if they are planning a visit.

Holy Week, which starts April 5, is likely to be a busy period for area churches. Usually, Catholics kiss or touch a cross on Good Friday, but the Catholic Diocese said a bow would be a more appropriate gesture this year.

Bishop Parkes will continue to monitor the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is prepared to take additional safety measures if necessary, the Catholic Diocese said.

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