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Amid coronavirus scare, houses of worship to forgo traditions during services

St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Oct.

St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Oct. 5, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Houses of worship across Long Island said Wednesday they were taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said it would temporarily stop the sign of peace and drinking from the chalice at Masses. The restrictions by the eighth largest diocese in the country with 1.4 million Catholics took effect immediately.

During the sign of peace parishioners traditionally shake hands with those seated around them, and in the cases of relatives or close friends often hug or kiss one another.

“Until further notice, the Sign of Peace will not be given/exchanged in any form during Holy Mass,” diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said in a statement.

Priests and deacons have been instructed to omit the words, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace” during the Mass, he said.

During Holy Communion, parishioners drink from a common chalice that the faithful believe contains wine turned into the blood of Jesus Christ.

 “Until further notice, the Precious Blood of Christ (the Chalice) is not to be distributed to anyone other than clergy (priests/deacons) or to those who for personal health reasons must only receive the Precious Blood,” he said. 

All priests and deacons were informed of the new mandatory regulations on Wednesday, Dolan said. Some parishes had previously decided to forgo the sign of peace during flu season, he said.

 Parishioners who are ill will not be obligated to attend Mass, and those who are sick should stay home, he said.

“Those who are able to attend Mass should frequently wash and sanitize their hands and observe proper health and hygiene practices,” he said. 

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said on Wednesday it was adopting similar measures.

During the sign of peace, the faithful should be instructed to remain in their pews or seats and bow to one another, “thus indicating a respectful acknowledgment of each other while having no physical contact,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said in guidelines distributed to clergy and lay leaders.

He also recommended Episcopal churches not use wine at services, and instead use only consecrated bread during Communion.

The receiving line after services at which clergy and lay leaders greet the faithful “should include conversation but omit physical contact,” Provenzano said.

Some rabbis on Long Island said that while they expected Shabbat services to proceed normally this Friday night and Saturday, they were taking some anti-coronavirus steps.

Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre said the faithful there would be instructed not to touch or kiss the Torah as they traditionally do while it is carried around the temple in a procession as part of services.

 The synagogue also is considering postponing nonessential social events.

Klein said he hoped the synagogue could continue gathering as normal for services, “but I am not optimistic about that.” 

Some Islamic leaders said they expected their main weekly services around 1 p.m. Friday to continue as normal, with some adjustments.

At the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, some people will bring their own small carpets to place on top of the larger permanent carpet in the mosque upon which the faithful kneel during services, said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the mosque.

The mosque also is asking worshippers not to shake hands or touch each other in any way.

At the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Melville, leader Girish Patel said there would be a special presentation for members and visitors at Saturday services — a lecture by the temple's medical team on awareness and precautions to observe to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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