Catholic Churches have yet to hold public Masses as prelates await the government’s decision on the conduct of religious activities in areas under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and the general community quarantine (GCQ).
“We are still waiting for the advice of the government. [Presidential Spokesman] Harry Roque said that the CBCP [Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines] is asked to present a program for the resumption of Masses,” said Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco in a statement last week.
Ongtioco also reiterated the statement of other Church officials that they will implement precautionary measures once the faithful are allowed again to attend eucharistic celebrations.
“On our part, it has been very clear. We will observe physical distancing. And if we have to add more Masses then we will,” he added.
Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon, meanwhile, said the Churches under the diocese have opened but only for cleaning and preparation purposes.
“We have no Masses. We are just about to finalize things. We have only opened up the Churches for cleanup and preparations,” he said in a separate statement.
On the other hand, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo said they will resume Church activities once there are better guidelines.
On Monday, the CBCP said it has submitted to the government proposed guidelines on the holding of Masses.
During the quarantine period, Masses are being held online or livestreamed from Churches.
Religious gatherings are restricted to a maximum of five and 10 persons, under the MECQ and the GCQ, respectively.
Physical distancing will be among the “new normal” when Masses resume in churches as the country continues to battle the coronavirus crisis.
Religious services “with the people” have been banned since the start of the lockdown in mid-March and some worshipers have been calling for the reopening of churches especially in low-risk areas.
The CBCP on May 16 agreed to a set of guidelines that will be released when parishes will be allowed to hold religious services with people in attendance.
“When the time comes and we are able to gather and celebrate the Eucharist, we will approach this next phase, in the context of the pandemic, with prudence, patience and loving and charitable mindset,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP president.
The list includes strict new measures on social distancing, use of face masks by worshippers, and installation of foot baths.
The bishops also suggested that the faithful will continue to receive communion through the hand, and there will be no holding of hands when reciting the “Our Father” during Mass.
But Church officials discouraged priests from wearing face masks or gloves during the celebration of the Eucharist.
“Instead, he should remain more than 1 meter from the congregation during the Mass. In such circumstances, there is no substantial risk of infection,” the guidelines stated.
The liturgical guidelines also pushed the reduction of choir members who will sing during the Mass in order to keep physical distancing.
“It may even be advisable to have only a cantor who will lead the assembly in the singing,” Valles said.
During the offertory, instead of passing baskets from person to person in each of the pews, there can be designated boxes or collection points where the faithful can place their contributions.
The episcopal conference also suggested that the elderly, children and the sick be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass while the threat of the virus is still widespread.
And since many of the lay ministers of communion are elderly and vulnerable to the infection, parishes are urged to train younger eucharistic ministers.
“Parishes should also distribute Holy Communion outside of the Mass for the sick and those who are taking serious caution not to be contaminated by the virus and therefore avoid gatherings of people even in Church,” Valles said.
PNA and CBCP News