by Brandon Sanders
These are unusual times as evidenced by the rare intersection of two of my interests, liturgy and medicine. Infection control is not just professionally relevant, but also personally important to me because I have several family members who are immunosuppressed (i.e., they have reduced effectiveness of their immune system).
I want to avoid the divisive and polemic debates that will invariably be incited by a discussion of the relative merits of suspending public masses or Sunday obligation. Instead, I want to focus on what meaningful interventions we can implement in our liturgical life now, and in the future, as we contend with the specter of the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.
Because I am not an infectious disease specialist, I rely on the wisdom and advice of my colleagues who are more knowledgeable about this area of medicine.
Much discussion has focused on good personal hygiene – especially hand washing (see how here) and other common sense interventions such as covering ones mouth with ones elbow or a tissue when coughing or sneezing. But an important and sadly overlooked component to our response is socially distancing.
Social distancing is intentionally minimizing close contact between people by maintaining a 3-6 ft distance between individuals in an effort to reduce transmission of disease from respiratory droplets. This low-tech intervention is an important component to slow the spread of illness and prevent the medical system from becoming overwhelmed. By reducing transmission we “flatten the curve” to ensure that more people have access to appropriate medical care; this is certainly worth reading more about.
I’ve had numerous discussions with clergy, lay leaders, and musicians regarding what social distancing might look like in our liturgies. Here are some thoughts:
- Most churches, sadly, do not suffer from high attendance. If your community has relatively low attendance, you might encourage the faithful to spread out and separate.
- Choir members, servers, and lectors can model the behavior by maintaining the prescribed distance between themselves.
- Perhaps efforts could be made to broadcast liturgies to those for whom attendance may be most dangerous (the elderly and medically compromised as well as their caregivers and housemates).
- If there is suspension of public masses, how might the parish continue its liturgical observance? Physical isolation does not impede us from online praying together, sharing music, reflecting on scripture. We are fortunate to have access to the internet, email, Skype, and social media – let’s use them.
- Staff may want to consider staggered schedules in their daily work, remote work, or spreading out into available space, and thereby “de-densifying.” Essential ministries and meetings may have to be prioritized and held in larger rooms to maintain distance between participants.
Our response to the pandemic can be constructive instead of panicked or complacent. I hope we proactively model interventions that can mitigate the impact of this virus, especially the impact on the most vulnerable in our communities.
We do not have to wait for diocesan directives to implement some of these changes. Here are some useful links.
- Don’t Infect – Please Protect (CDC)
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (CDC)
- Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (WHO)
- Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Advice for the Public (WHO)
While this Lent is certainly memorable, may it also be blessed!
Dr. Brandon Sanders, MD is Assistant Psychiatry Clerkship Director and Assistant Professor at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine.