Q. I have two questions about liturgy during the pandemic. The first is about communion from the cup. Our parish has always offered both the body and blood of Christ to the assembly. Now, for safety reasons, we are considering pouring from the primary chalice into individual glasses for those who want to drink from the cup. Since we can’t share from a common cup at this time, is the better solution?
The second question is about holy water. Right now, the stoups are dry. But I’m wondering if we can put holy water into a battery operated squirt dispenser as we do with hand sanitizer.
A. I admire your creative efforts to ensure that the assembly has access to the communion cup if they choose. Too often, parish leaders will simply take the easy road and remove the cup altogether without any other alternative for the people to share in the blood of Christ.
Recognizing that no solution during these pandemic days is better than our normative liturgical practice, I wouldn’t be so averse to your idea regarding pouring the consecrated wine into individual glasses, as long as the individual glasses were dignified. Plastic cups would never do for me. But smaller wine glasses or goblets could work; something that avoids looking like a shot glass. Again, not ideal, but it is better than completely denying access to the cup. I personally would accept the invitation to share in communion in this way.
Now with the contactless holy water dispenser, there are actually such items already available. If you google “automatic holy water dispenser,” you’ll see several designs. I don’t like any of them. And if I were in charge, I would not put so much energy into trying to find alternative solutions for making holy water accessible. I have several reasons for that.
What is essential?
First, holy water is a sacramental. For us who are baptized, it is a benefit that strengthens us, but it is not essential in the same way as the blood of Christ is to our participation in the grace we receive. So if the choice were between having full fonts as usual or empty fonts, I would just go with empty fonts.
For those who want to make use of this sacramental, I would either provide the usual holy water spigot dispensers that you often find in vestibules and ask people to disinfect anything they touch.
Or, if you really want to be liturgical (and to my mind, less consumeristic in our use of the elements of our tradition), have a liturgy of the word and a blessing of holy water. Invite people either to bring their own containers already filled with water and bless the water communally. Or bless water in the font and invite people to fill their containers from the font. It could be quite beautiful and an opportunity to catechize about holy water and sacramentals and, especially, blessings.
What could we do with the baptismal font?
Second, I’m not as sold on the caution regarding dipping one’s fingers into a large font filled with water. Public swimming pools are still open. If transmission of COVID were possible through water, I’m guessing pools would all be closed.Our liturgy requires our full participation in body, mind, and spirit. Anything we try to do to mitigate that participation—even for very good health reasons—makes our liturgy something completely different. Click To Tweet
If I were in charge, and we had a large baptismal font, I would keep it filled with water (and replace the water weekly as needed). I would keep smaller stoups empty and covered so people don’t touch the stoup. And, assuming that people are gathering at the church even during this time, remind them to observe the standard health cautions and not come to the church if they are feeling sick or show any symptoms.
What does full participation mean during the pandemic?
The bottom line for me is this. Our liturgy requires our full participation in body, mind, and spirit. Anything we try to do to mitigate that participation—even for very good health reasons—makes our liturgy something completely different.
So the rules we set for eucharistic liturgy in pandemic are necessarily different because it’s not really the same eucharistic liturgy in action; it’s something altogether different that tries to fill the gap. But the principles of full, conscious, and active participation should still remain.
In that light, we could be looking more toward the liturgical traditions that we can utilize with full participation even with social restrictions. Unfortunately, I can’t see how the eucharistic liturgy with a fully participating assembly of the people can be one of those. And in some ways, I would rather wait to invite people to participate in the eucharist in person until we can do so with the integrity the liturgy requires.
Read more about other Liturgy preparation ideas here:
- “Come out!”
- Straining forward
- Liturgical adaptations during the pandemic
- The purpose of the parts of the Mass we sing
- A Prayer When One Cannot Receive Communion
- A Litany of Blessing in Time of Grief
- Do we need another televised Mass? Liturgy in the time of coronavirus
- Keeping Sunday holy when we cannot gather for Mass: Liturgy of the Hours