Physical distancing will be among the “new normal” when public Masses resume as the country continues to battle the coronavirus crisis.
Religious services “with the people” (cum populo) 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.
An easing of restrictions on Saturday saw malls, small shops and other businesses operate again. Some parish churches in the provinces also opened its doors anew adhering strictly to safety protocols.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Saturday agreed a set of guidelines 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 continue to receive communion in the hand and no holding 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. -CBCP News