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Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria parishes alter Mass celebrations
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Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria parishes alter Mass celebrations

In an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus, local Catholic parishes and schools have established guidelines to limit contact between congregants during Mass, per instructions from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

Parishes and schools have been advised to suspend the use of the cup during communion, as it is often shared directly among parishioners. 

Priests also have been advised to place the bread in the hands of parishioners, instead of directly into the mouth, although priests may choose to continue administering it traditionally. 

Parishes are encouraged to instruct congregants to refrain from shaking hands during the sign of the peace and from holding hands during prayer.

Only holy water attached to a filtration system is recommended for use. 

Gisela Rendon, parish secretary at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Santa Maria, said the parish has been increasing cleanliness efforts and has changed its Mass practices in accordance with the archdiocese guidelines. 

“We’ve been getting updates over the past week and have been sanitizing door knobs and other facilities,” Rendon said. "But these are the main recommendations we’ve been getting from the archdiocese, specifically for Masses." 

At St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church in Santa Maria, the Rev. Aidan Peter Rossiter said the congregation has been understanding of the changes made to Mass to prevent the spread of illness.

The parish dealt with similar guidelines during the SARS outbreak a few years ago and understand the importance of keeping everyone healthy, he said.

"People are very accepting," Rossiter said. "They understand that we have to be good Catholics, to take care of each other." 

Along with applying archdiocese guidelines for Masses, Rossiter said the parish is re-evaluating its community programs to determine if they should be temporarily suspended. 

"We are looking at them carefully. We are taking this very seriously but calmly," Rossiter said.

As part of its recommendations for social distancing, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has recommended that religious institutions consider options for limiting contact by livestreaming services rather than holding them in-person.

Rossiter said St. Louis de Montfort already livestreams its Masses online. 

Archdiocese guidelines are also being applied to local Catholic schools, including St. Joseph High School and St. Louis de Montfort School.

Both principals said students and staff are not holding or shaking hands during Mass and extra hygiene practices are being encouraged at the schools. 

While communion guidelines have been established mainly to prevent the spread of germs, some parish attendees are upset by the restrictions it puts on their worship, such as St. Mary parishioner Carmen Fonseca.

Fonseca said she is very spiritual, and that she believes she should drink from the cup regardless of whether sickness is going around. 

"I believe when I drink the blood of Christ, I don't think I will get infected. I see this as an obstacle ... as a spiritual war," she said.

Karolyn and Jim Harmon, also parishioners at St. Mary, said the communion regulations have meant that Jim no longer can bring communion to elderly members of the congregation who are at Marian Regional Medical Center with health problems.

Jim and Karolyn said since these parishioners can't be at Mass, receiving communion at the hospital is helpful to them.

"That's part of their comfort, to receive communion, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Karolyn said. 

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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