TORONTO -- Anglican churches in Toronto are changing liturgical practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the gathering of large congregations for Easter ceremonies.

Effective immediately, the Diocese of Toronto is suspending the sharing of communal cups at celebrations. It is also advising people to alter the Exchange of the Peace by sharing words and smiles only, as opposed to handshakes or hugs. In churches where holy water is used, the basin will be emptied after every service.

"Our normal liturgical customs are important to us, and we hope to reinstate them as soon as we are advised that the risk of transmission has been better contained," the Bishop of Toronto Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil said in a letter to the clergy and members.

At St. Matthias Bellwoods in downtown Toronto, Reverend Canon Joyce Barnett said they have made sure hand sanitizer is readily available for congregants and have asked their cleaning staff to thoroughly clean all common surfaces.

"We have seen in other parts of the world that churches are places of transmission," Rev. Barnett said. "People come from all over the place and gather in groups and so why not put guidelines in place early so that we're ready."

Meanwhile, the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto said it is not changing its practices at its more than 200 parishes ahead of Easter next month.

"We consulted with health officials and we decided at this time, we want to be prudent, but we don't want to panic," Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said. 

In a memo to its members Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Toronto said "Regarding liturgical practices, local health officials have indicated that it is not necessary to alter current practices at this time. Parishes should ensure that those distributing communion wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after the distribution of communion.”

MacCarthy told CTV News Toronto they are consulting with Toronto Public Health several times a week, and referred to the latest communication from the medical officer of health. 

"I continue to be asked if we would consider recommending postponement of events or limiting places where people gather in large numbers," Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health, wrote in a March 2 statement.

"These are significant measures that must be assessed, evaluated and taken only after we balance preventing the spread of infection with the need for people and communities to function."

"At this time, we are not recommending these approaches, but examples such as limiting non-essential public gatherings are public health measures that can be used to further protect our community, if our local situation changes."

MacCarthy recalled the changes made to their practices during the SARS outbreak in 2003. "We're not at that point yet. If we do talk to our colleagues at [public] health and feel we need to elevate the measures, we're certainly prepared to do that."