Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 06:02 pm MT (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it has “serious concerns” about public health guidance from Howard County, Maryland, which prohibits the reception of Communion as a condition for churches to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.
“For the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship,” said a statement from the archdiocese, released to CNA on Wednesday.
“Since learning of the concerns of Howard County officials, we have shared our guidelines for the distribution of Communion and express our own serious concerns about their recent guidance preventing Catholic churches in Howard County from distributing Communion.”
Howard County’s Executive Order #2020-09, published on May 26, outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses–which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship–to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.
The order provides that “there shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service.”
Since the consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite, the order effectively bans the licit celebration of Mass in the county.
The executive order was reported by CNA May 27.
The archdiocese said it is committed to ensuring churches reopen safely after closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The archdiocese has “developed thorough and carefully thought-out guidelines for resuming public Masses, including detailed guidance on the safe distribution of Communion.”
“These guidelines respect both the sanctity of the Sacrament and the need for abundant caution to protect the health and safety of both those receiving and distributing Communion,” the archdiocese said.
“While we recognize and value the urgent desire to guard the health and safety of local communities that is guiding the decisions of our government leaders, we are committed to engaging in dialogue with them to work together towards a policy going that balances the need for free expression of religious faith and the public’s health and safety interests.”
Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori is well known for his advocacy on religious liberty issues, and was the inaugural and longtime chair of the U.S bishops’ conference ad hoc committee on religious freedom.
Earlier on Wednesday, Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA that “Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department.”
“With this said,” Peterson added, “we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1.”
“Regarding religious services,” Peterson said, “we have allowed for outdoor services. However, public health officials continue to describe the ongoing risks associated with hand-shaking, singing, and consumption of food of any kind thereby continuing the need for restrictions on these types of activities out of an abundance of safety precautions to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community.”
The executive order limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, while allowing outdoor services for up to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks – though the prohibition of food or drink, including Communion, is not limited to indoor celebrations.
The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the reception of Communion before, after, or during Mass.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue–but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.
In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.