Churches alter rituals over fears about virus

Bread, yes. Wine, er, maybe not. A nod will do for the Kiss of Peace. And just wave at the minister as you go out the door; no offence taken if you don't shake hands.

Thus are churches adjusting to the world of SARS -- mainly Anglican and Roman Catholic congregations, whose worship liturgies have the most physical contact.

Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, dean of Toronto's St. James' Anglican Cathedral, has decided that for now, only eucharistic bread will be given to worshippers by priests during communion at the cathedral's high altar. Those who want communion wine will have to go to a side chapel.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto has sent a letter to all its priests telling them they can, if they wish, omit both the common cup of wine from the eucharist (communion) liturgy and the Kiss of Peace -- the greeting worshippers exchange during the mass, which, in any event, has morphed over the centuries into a handshake.

Rev. Simon Chin, rector of Vancouver's St. Matthias & St. Luke Anglican Church, will tell his largely Chinese-Canadian congregation this Sunday to dip their bread into the wine -- a practice known as intinction -- rather than sip from the common cup.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome originated in southern China and was brought to Canada by travellers from Hong Kong, but Mr. Chin's congregation is primarily Canadian-born.

Monsignor Samuel Bianco, rector of St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto, said the 7,000 people who come for mass to the cathedral in any given week are told at the beginning of each service that a bow or a wave will do for the Peace. He's also had "Wash Your Hands" posters put up at every communion station, and has instructed his priests and lay eucharist-servers to scrub with antibacterial soap before they enter the body of the cathedral for mass.

Father Bianco said he still follows the custom of standing at the door of the cathedral at the end of a service to shake hands with the faithful as they leave. "The majority are just waving at me," he said. "But if they put out their hand, I put out mine."

Dean Stoute said he's told worshippers at St. James' they can just bow to their neighbours for the Peace rather than shaking hands -- a practice that ironically may be welcomed by reserved Anglicans who resisted the liturgical introduction of the shake-hands Peace 25 years ago. Before that, they could ignore each other in the pews.