PLEASANT HILL (KPIX 5) — All across the Bay Area on Sunday morning, people gathered at churches and places of worship. But amidst fear of the coronavirus, some of the usual traditions have been put aside.
At Christ the King Catholic Church in Pleasant Hill, the Masses went off on their regular schedule, but coronavirus helped remind people what the true meaning of “communion” really is.
Christ the King is normally a very tight-knit congregation, but Sunday’s Mass was a hands-off affair. The holy water font was gone, replaced by containers of sanitizer. The Lord’s Prayer was said without holding hands and the sign of peace was given with a wave instead of a handshake.
“We’re so used to being very demonstrative and hugging,” said parishioner Pam DeBernardi. “This is very hard for me, not to touch anybody.”
Hosts, the communion bread, were placed in the palm of the hand rather than on the tongue and workers used hand sanitizer before and after administering communion. The church pastor, Fr. Paulson Mundanmani, called for the precautions but says he also knows the importance of the human touch.
“Small things are very important, even just holding hands together during ‘Our Father.’ People feel they belong to a community,” Fr. Paulson said. “But if you ask me, can we live without it? Absolutely.”
“It makes you think, doesn’t it?” said church goer Joe McGhee. “I don’t think sometimes, but I did this morning.”
And that’s the point: to get people to take the virus seriously. After Mass, Fr. Paulson exited the church without greeting people. He says with the shortage of priests, if he got sick, there would be no one left to celebrate Mass. In fact, as the outbreak widens, he even worries that this year’s Easter service could be in doubt.
“We’re not there, but I’m very skeptical,” he said. “It could happen that there may be hardly any people for Masses at that time. It’s possible.”
Fr. Paulson says there have been cases of disease outbreaks in the past, but this is the first time in his 30 years as a priest that he thinks churches may actually begin shutting down. Still, he is a man of God and believes people’s faith can get them through this crisis. But just the same, he’s also willing to rely on the old adage that the Lord helps those who help themselves.
In addition to the small changes, there are larger ones as well. The parish announced it has cancelled its St. Patrick’s Day fundraising dinner, an annual event that has gone on for decades.