Covid-19 has changed the world in which we live and the way we do things. These changes will last for a long time. The way we used to gather and worship God together has been affected too.
For over three months, sacramentally, people felt starved since they only followed online Masses without receiving communion and without congregating in the same physical space as they used to. Knowing that the virus can be spread by droplets from one’s mouth affecting person to person encounter, sneezing, coughing and contact with contaminated surfaces, new guidelines have been put in place. These guidelines are drawn by the Health Authorities. The overall goal is that of protecting one’s neighbour and self.
Wearing of masks
Getting back to worship should go beyond one’s comfort, desires or preferences. This isanoccasionofshowingtothosenearus that they are beloved children of God and we love and care for them. Wearing of masks is for all: clergy and laity inclusive.
Social distancing dictates that there must be at least a six feet distance between people. A Church that used to accommodate 700 people now finds itself only accommodating 350. This invites each parish to allow people to
book places online; or use other facilities on the Church compound, for example, other halls.
Some Churches have gone ahead to ask the elderly Christians who are the most vulnerable to remain at home, while, a new way of taking communion to them is studied.More empty pews should be allowed between a row and the ones that follow to give distance.
As I mentioned, one of the ways in which the virus stays for longer hours is hard contaminated surfaces. Sharing the same hymnals for songs becomes a risk. You never know who has touched these hymnals before you. Parishes are encouraged to project the songs and/or order of the Mass on the wall or screen for the faithful to follow. This should be a reason as to why Parish Bulletins should be avoided. Other means such as social media, websites, projectors should be used to communicate with the faithful.
This virus moves farther and fast.
One of the ways of protecting the faithful is by suspending singing till further notice. For example; in Mount Vernon in Washington State, one sick choir member infected 52 others, of whom two died. It took a swift action by the members of the choir, including voluntary isolation, along with contact tracing by County health department, to contain the spread and prevent what could have been a much larger outbreak in that community.
No holy Water
At the entrance of many Churches, there is mostly a container for Holy Water which the faithful dip their fingers into so as to mark themselves with the sign of the Cross. This is risky
at this time of the pandemic. It is one of the surfaces that could harbor the virus.
No receiving of holy communion on the tongue
Some of the faithful show reverence to the Lord by preferring to receive Communion on the tongue rather than on their hands. This is a measure to avoid touching the droplets from the mouth of a faithful and unintentionally depositing it on the mouth of another person.
New way of offertory collection
Parishes are encouraged to be creative so that they create a place for members to drop their offering into a container that will allow them to follow safety standards. Offering plates should not be passed from person to person.
No exchange of peace
The way of exchanging the peace of Christ should be by waving to each other without physically touching the other person. The Churches are called upon to rethink how to deploy greeters or ushers in order to maintain safe distancing. Church doors should be propped open to limit the number of times they are touched by others.
Every church is expected to be prepared to clean and disinfect thoroughly all spaces used by people after every use. This includes, but is not limited to, door handles, light switches, pews/seats, tables, countertops and any other surface that is touched by adults or children throughout the building. Hand sanitizers and wipes should be readily available in all areas that are open for use like, sanctuaries, restrooms, hallways, church offices, etc.
All in all, as the faithful keep physically, spiritually healthy and safe, these guidelines must be received and implemented with the spirit of “love for God and love for neighbors.”
BY FR. RUFFINO EZAMA MCCJ
Fr. Ruffino is a Comboni missionary priest working in Cincinnati Ohio in United States of America. He notes the guidelines from the Health authority as churches prepare to open up in the US (August 2020)