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Boston archdiocese makes temporary Mass changes amid coronavirus concerns

A parishioner touched the holy water at a Franklin church in 2014. One of the new directives, issued because of coronavirus concerns, calls for draining and cleaning such fonts on a regular basis
A parishioner touched the holy water at a Franklin church in 2014. One of the new directives, issued because of coronavirus concerns, calls for draining and cleaning such fonts on a regular basisDina Rudick/Globe Staff

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is instituting changes to the Mass liturgy in response to concerns about the coronavirus.

The changes include the suspension of the distribution of the Precious Blood during the Eucharist, draining and cleaning Holy Water fonts on a regular basis, and exchanging the sign of peace without physical contact, the archdiocese said Friday afternoon in a notice to parishes.

The changes will take effect Saturday and remain in place “until determined otherwise by the Archbishop,” the notice said.

The Precious Blood is the liturgical term for the wine parishioners sip during the Eucharist. They also normally receive a wafer. Parishioners with celiac disease, a condition that bars sufferers from eating gluten, will still be able to receive the wine during the period of suspension.

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“The distribution of the Precious Blood for the faithful is suspended, save for those who must receive from the cup due to severe cases of celiac disease,” the notice said. “The faith of the Church teaches that Christ, whole and entire, is received even under only one species.”

Exchanging the sign of peace is often done with a handshake, which will be jettisoned, at least for the time being.

“The exchange of the sign of peace is to be offered without any physical contact,” the notice said. “If the priest celebrant chooses to extend the invitation for the sign of peace, the faithful, instead of a handshake, may bow to the persons nearby.”

The archdiocese said in a statement Thursday, “As is the case with most of the world, we are monitoring all available information and guidance about COVID-19 (the 2019 Novel Coronavirus) to determine how it impacts the many activities conducted within and by the Archdiocese of Boston. In seeking how to respond properly, we will focus at all times on the health, safety and well-being of our faith community.”

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The announcement from the archdiocese came the same day that the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory said it would begin testing patients for the new coronavirus.

“This change is good news for Massachusetts as testing at the State Public Health Laboratory will speed up obtaining test results for Persons Under Investigation and expedite ongoing testing of any confirmed case in recovery,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement.

Previously, any patient in Massachusetts who met the federal criteria for diagnostic testing for the new coronavirus had their samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta because the CDC had distributed faulty test kits to labs across the country.

Under new rules from the Food and Drug Administration, labs can now use a modified version of the testing kits. According to the state Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory has an adequate supply of test kits from the CDC, and the anticipated turnaround of test results from the state lab will take up to a day, depending on testing volume.

Deanna Pan of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.