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Church await government decision on celebrating Masses

The country’s Catholic Church hierarchy eagerly await government’s permission to conduct religious activities in areas covered by the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and the general community quarantine (GCQ) protocols.

“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.

Ongtioco said Church officials had earlier said 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 said they have already opened their churches only for cleaning and preparation works.

“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.

Meanwhile, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo said they will resume Church activities once government issues the guidelines.

The CBCP had already submitted to government proposed guidelines on when holding Masses.

Currently, Masses are 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 the “new normal” when Masses resume.

The CBCP earlier agreed to abide by the soon-to-be-released guidelines when religious services are allowed to resume.

“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.

Protocols include strict social distancing, use of face masks by parishioners, and installation of foot baths.

The bishops also suggested that the faithful continue receiving communion by hand, and no hand holding praying the “Our Father” during Mass.

Church officials however discourage priests from wearing face masks or gloves during Mass.

Liturgical guidelines also dictate drastically reducing the number of choir members so as to manitain physical distancing.

During Offertory, instead of passing around baskets, designated collection boxes can be positioned for the faithful to drop their donations.

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 still prevails.

Parishes are likewise encouraged to train younger Eucharistic ministers to replace older lay ministers who are vulnerable to the infection.

“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.

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