Clergy have been advised not to place the wafer directly on to worshippers' tongues during Holly Communion amid the coronavirus crisis.

The stark warning was issued by Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, during what he described as the current time of "plague and anxiety."

The Bishop warned churchgoers to avoid physical contact, and also called for limits on portions of consecrated wine and holy bread handed out in church.

He said Holy Communion, the consecrated piece of wafer or bread given to worshippers representing the body of Christ, should now be received by hand rather than directly on the tongue.

Clergymen were also told to use hand sanitiser, and not offer the chalice of Holy Communion.

Instead, the person presiding over the ceremony will receive a 'very small quantity of wine' as well as consecrated bread.

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The advice was shared in an email sent to members of the licensed clergy across East and West Sussex "following legal and medical advice."

The emails also states that the anointing of the sick can only happen after medical instruction.

The Bishop also warned that holy water vessels should not be refilled for devotional use until the restrictions are lifted.

Dr Warner said: "The situation regarding the spread of the Coronavirus in the UK has worsened.

"As a result, and following legal and medical advice to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury and forwarded to all Bishops, I wish to outline clear guidance on the sharing of the Peace, the administration of Holy Communion, pastoral care and the use of holy water.

"My strong advice to you for the time being and with immediate effect is you ask that there is no physical contact among members of the congregation at the point of the sharing of the Peace.

"You do not offer the chalice at Holy Communion. The priest presiding at Holy Communion will consecrate and receive a very small quantity of wine as well as the consecrated bread.

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"The rest of the congregation will receive Holy Communion in only one kind – namely the consecrated wafer or bread, which should be received in the hand, not on the tongue.

"The priest presiding at Holy Communion, as well as those assisting in the preparation of the altar, should use hand sanitiser before handling any of the vessels or elements for Holy Communion, and after the administration of Holy Communion and the cleansing of the vessels.

"After the service, officiating clergy and any who assist them should avoid physical contact with members of the congregation at the door as they depart the church building.

"No one should use the laying-on of hands in any prayer or liturgical rite in church. The anointing of the sick could only happen after medical instruction has been given and noted down for reference.

"All holy water stoups, or the font, should be emptied and not refilled for devotional use until these restrictions are lifted."

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He added: "These restrictions are provided for in the Church of England by the Sacraments Act of 1547.

"The restrictions should continue until such a time as the dangers associated with Coronavirus subside and you are notified that they can be lifted.

"Please be assured that this advice is offered as a matter of necessity in the face of the spread of Coronavirus.

"It is intended to ensure confidence in the continued access to the sacrament of Holy Communion.

"In the meantime, we hold in our prayers those who have contracted the virus, and their family and friends, as well as those in the medical profession who are urgently seeking a vaccine and caring for those already affected.

"With thanks for our witness to the gospel in this time of plague and anxiety."

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