On 13th March, Cardinal Vincent sent the following message to priests and people of the diocese, following the national move to the 'delay' phase and the Church's implementation of stage 2 of the coronavirus guidance.
Following my note to you last Friday, I thought it timely to write to you again.
The appropriate response to the threat of Coronavirus at this time was clearly laid out for us by the official statements yesterday. Two main points struck me: that the right measures are to be introduced at the right time and, secondly that we must have a special concern for the elderly. In these matters we must be guided by official advice, based on the best scientific evidence, and not by personal opinion.
This second point, I am sure, will be well understood and quickly accepted by us all. After all, the elderly are our treasure who enrich our lives and our wisdom. We must do all we can always to nurture and protect them, but especially at this time of extraordinary challenge. Perhaps there is a ministry of the telephone to be deployed here.
There is much discussion at this time about how we are to distribute Holy Communion to the faithful. I want to emphasise again what I said last week. We should do our utmost to encourage people to receive Holy Communion in the hand. This, too, is an ancient tradition of the Church and undoubtedly safer at this time. The scientific facts are clear: that in those who are carrying the virus, it is present in their saliva in over 90% of cases. Please do explain both the richness of one tradition and the considerable risk of the other.
I would add here, that in exercising their rights, the faithful are expected to 'take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others and their own duties towards others' (Canon 223). This applies to the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.
If there are those who still wish to insist on this right, then I suggest that they receive Holy Communion at a distinct time, perhaps after Mass. Then, in giving them Holy Communion you can exercise proper precautions, such as washing your hands after each communicant so as to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. Please undertake this ministry yourself, not delegating it to an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.
If members of the faithful find this unacceptable, then please do encourage them to make a spiritual communion, explaining what is meant by that.
Also, please encourage people to follow the advice about staying at home if they are unwell or carrying symptoms of a cold or flu. Please stress again that attendance at Mass in these circumstances is not required by the teaching of the Church.
My final comment this week is a note of concern for you. Many of us are in the more vulnerable age group. So we should exercise every care in our daily routines, such as remembering to wash our hands regularly, especially on every occasion of returning into the presbytery. Please do look after yourselves, ensuring you get enough rest and eating properly.
We all know that the fight against this virus will be a long haul. Please don’t take too much to heart the anxiety that is felt by many, but rather embrace the reassurance that in this communal effort, we are being guided by the best possible advice.
And please let us pray for each other, and for those who are caring for the sick and those searching hard to develop a treatment and a vaccine for this illness.
With my warmest wishes,
Cardinal Vincent Nichols