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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has suggested bishops around the country use guidelines prepared by the Thomistic Institute for restarting public Masses after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over. Right away, the guidelines allow for reception of the Eucharist on the tongue.

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, in his position as the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship, sent a memorandum to all bishops on April 30.

“Determining local solutions will require prudential judgment, as well as respect for sound liturgical practice and above all respect for the matter and form of the sacraments,” Blair wrote according to the National Catholic Reporter, which obtained a copy of the memorandum.

“We can also anticipate that people will disagree on some points,” he admitted.

The Thomistic Institute is part of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. However, the guidelines were prepared not only by theologians, but also by medical experts, including Timothy P. Flanigan of Brown University, and Aaron Kheriaty of the University of California, Irvine.

The lengthy guidelines, which provide meticulously detailed steps for a “Phased Restoration of Public Masses,” were last updated on April 28.

The Thomistic Institute proposed three phases, beginning with “strict limits on public gatherings and strict physical distancing.” In that case, no more than 10 faithful would be present for Mass.

This phase would be followed by Masses with “moderate limits on public gatherings and moderate physical distancing,” which would allow for 50 faithful, perhaps more, depending on the size of the church building.

Moderate “social distancing” is defined as contact with another person closer than six feet, especially if that contact would last for more than 15 minutes. “Being within [six] feet of another person for brief moments and exchanges is permitted in this phase.”

In the final phase, there would be no longer any limits to crowd sizes, even though people who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, would be encouraged to practice regular social distancing. Churches “should designate special seating for at-risk persons where physical distancing can be practiced,” the guidelines emphasized.

According to the Thomistic Institute, receiving Holy Communion directly on the tongue is possible “without unreasonable risk.”

“Opinions on this point are varied within the medical and scientific community: some believe Communion on the tongue involves an elevated and, in the light of all the circumstances, an unreasonable risk; others disagree,” the document pointed out. “If Communion on the tongue is provided, one could consider using hand sanitizer after each communicant who receives on the tongue.”

The guidelines specifically referred to Redemptionis Sacramentum, an Instruction published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004. According to the document, “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.”

Three options for distributing Holy Communion were discussed in detail by the Thomistic Institute. “Option 1 provides for Mass without any distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful. Option 2 provides for Holy Communion immediately at the end of Mass, with additional precautions (our recommended option). Option 3 provides for Holy Communion during Mass, with more modest precautions.”

The Thomistic Institute went on to explain the benefits of the second option.

“This is our recommended option, because it respects the symbolic and liturgical integrity of the Mass (which should be celebrated without mask or gloves), avoids any practices in the Mass that could become sources of future liturgical abuse, gives a greater freedom to the faithful to determine whether or not they will come forward for Holy Communion (some may be nervous about doing so), and also provides for additional precautions to reduce risk,” the guidelines stated.

They added, “It also will permit the priest to remove his chasuble for the distribution of Holy Communion, given that it is difficult to launder if anyone should sneeze or cough on him.”

Drive-in Masses were presented as an option especially for smaller churches, and during the early phase of the restart of public Masses in the United States. As long as people stay in their cars, the congregation would not be considered a large public gathering.

In addition to guidelines for the celebration of Holy Mass, the Thomistic Institute issued guidelines concerning Confession and anointing of the sick.

“Indeed, in some cases, access to the sacraments may be necessary for the salvation of those suffering from COVID-19,” the document on Confession began.

The Thomistic Institute emphasized the Church’s teaching that Confession has to take place in person and cannot be done over the phone or online.

Even in difficult situations, where the priest might have to hear a Confession on a front porch, in order to maintain social distancing, he has to “take great care to ensure that the conversation with the penitent remains absolutely confidential.”

While many state governments are allowing religious gatherings even amid the coronavirus pandemic, several bishops have already announced they are going to keep public Masses banned for the time being, possibly until an “effective vaccine” has been found.