aped to the doors of Holy Savior Church in Lockport, Louisiana, is news parishioners have for a good while longed to receive. The doors are now open for public Mass! Save for private personal prayers, the church had been closed to any persons congregating. This followed directives Governor John Bel Edwards announced early March, as measures to contain the spread of the corona virus in this state. On March 17th, 2020, the Houma-Thibodaux’s Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, like other prelates with concern to safeguard the health of their faithful, dispensed them from the obligation towards 0020 attending Sunday Mass. He cancelled any celebrations of Mass with the people (“public Mass”); a decision that was informed both from medical advice, and by the federal instruction to observe social distancing.
The instruction suggested staying home in efforts to limit the transmission of the virus. As the priests continued saying Mass in private, he encouraged them to livestream or record the celebration, and share it with the faithful on the different social media platforms. In spite of the unprecedented circumstances which caused much uncertainty to church-goers, the bishop rallied their fears. He said in a statement: “…in this time of the [COVID-19] pandemic, God is not going anywhere; and neither are your priests; and neither is [the] Church. We are here for you in this time of uncertainty.” If anything, this was the hope the people needed! It was the strength that would keep them going till early in May, when the governor eased restrictions and allowed outdoor religious celebrations to take place.
Resulting from the announcement, the state fire marshal issued guidelines to be followed during the liturgies. After a very successful weekend where tens of people rushed out of their houses to participate in outdoor celebrations of Mass, Governor Edwards went on to also permit indoor gatherings.
Churches reopened mid-May, requiring however a maximum of not more than twenty-five percent of the sitting capacity. That would allow a six-foot edge between households; front, back, left and right; with some pews remaining empty. Besides, each person is required to wear a mask covering one’s nose and mouth.
Beside these guidelines taped on the doors, the diocese released particular liturgy procedures as further safety measures for the faithful to follow. Among these is the requirement to have Hosts consecrated, covered and placed on a separate corporal, a distance away from the one that the priest fractions and consumes. Immediately before distributing Communion, the priest (and extraordinary minister of Eucharist, if needed) must sanitize his hands. It is strongly encouraged that the people, as well, sanitize their hands when entering the church, and avoid touching their faces and surfaces. It is also recommended that the communicants receive the Body of Jesus in their hands.
If, however, the faithful really wishes to receive it on the tongue, the priest or extraordinary ministry for Holy Communion may comply with their demand. But, every after giving it to someone receiving on the tongue, they must sanitize their hands. This takes care of any risk of getting the virus from the recipient’s breath and transmitting it to the next person. In the same way, the ones distributing Communion must ensure they avoid touching the hands of the recipient.
Suspended during Mass, is the norm for the physical offering of the sign of peace to one another. For its alternative, the people may verbally express the tiding of ‘peace’ to those close by, without shaking hands. Now, for the Cajun people in this area, this is not only a struggle, the whole directive of social distancing stabs at the very heart of their ways―a people who love to hug and kiss, to show their virtually fraternal culture. What with their French-Acadian and Roman Catholic extraction, where family is not just in word, but also touch, this is a cross! More so it is a big cross for the elderly, the sick, those caring for the sick, and those who are immuno-deficient, who the bishop has encouraged to stay home, due to their vulnerability in this pandemic.
To ensure that all the faithful desirous of going to Mass are catered for, the percentage of those attending Mass has been increased to fifty. However, with the six-foot radius, the actual number remains virtually the same.
The diocese recommends that persons call the parish and reserve their attendance ahead of the Mass. Many churches have opted for the ‘first-come first-serve’ basis, while others have added a number of Masses to what they had. What is also allowed is to let persons into satellite venues, such as church halls, to have concurrent Masses if there are enough priests, or to set up a livestream screen so they can follow the main Mass, and receive Holy Communion at the proper time.
Staying in one’s vehicle and streaming the Mass, is also another alternative that the celebrant may allow in his discretion.
By Fr. Jean-Marie Nsambu
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