– Marco Carvalho
To live by faith, but with great caution. The new coronavirus outbreak is forcing both priests and faithful to relearn how they exercise their beliefs and how they experience the Catholic rituals. About half a hundred faithful attended, on Monday, to the first Portuguese language Mass celebrated in Macau’s Cathedral after more than a month, but the profusion of masks and the adoption of sanitary and social distance procedures clearly show that life is still far from normalcy. Difficult times require exceptional measures.
They are just over fifty, distributed in an irregular pattern, sparsely filling the huge nave of the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady, Macau’s Cathedral. They sit dispirited, their faces covered almost to the eyes by masks that do not hide their anxiety, nor contain the discreet joy of someone that was forced by an invisible enemy to renounce, for an entire month, to the most sacred aspects of his faith.
After more than a month of closure, the local churches opened their doors once again on Monday and the circumstance brought a small and sparse flood to the most important Catholic temple in the Special Administrative Region: “I am sure that you noticed. Did you notice that there were many people, more than those who usually come to the Cathedral on Mondays? We were all thirst for God and for the Church”, Father Andrzej Blazkiewics.
With a ubiquitous celestial blue mask hissing over his lips, the Polish priest was given the responsibility ability to conduct the first Portuguese-language Mass openly celebrated in Macau in more than a month. With no new Covid-19 cases reported for almost 40 days, the Government is promoting a slow return to normality and the oldest Diocese on the Far East is cautiously following the same steps. Churches reopened earlier in the week, but their doors are not wide open. On the contrary, on Monday, the entrance to the six o’clock Mass was made through a timid gap on one of the side doors. Masks and other protective equipment insinuate themselves with the force of a dogma: without a mask, no one is allowed to enter the house of the Lord.
But caution far outweighs the imperative use of mask. Armed with an electronic thermometer, a Filipino official measure and records the body temperature of those who enter the Church. He grabs what appears to be a bottle of alcohol hydrolate. Unaware, a faithful stretches his hands: “It’s for the shoes, sir,” the good man retorts. The hydroalcoholic gel is right beside him, a smaller container laying on a small table.
Masses said in the middle of the week are shorter and less intense, but this one – the first that the Portuguese-speaking faithful can attend in a presential manner in more than a month – is finished in one breath and can hardly satisfy the hunger for the Eucharist that, Father Blazkiewics claims, Macau was beginning to feel: “The thirst and hunger for the Eucharist, the thirst and hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ that we have received here today is very significant and it is essential in our lives. The Eucharist is also about being together in a community”, the Polish priest told O CLARIM. “What we have experienced here today was an act of profound grace. We are grateful for this moment, a moment that ends up being one of overcoming difficulties, of overcoming the threats that the disease and the virus have created”, he concludes.
A teacher at the University of Saint Joseph, Margarida Conde does not often have the time to attend Mass during the week, but she insisted on being on the Cathedral on Monday: “The reason why I was here today was precisely because it was the first Eucharist. It was the first time the Cathedral opens its doors after those periods of closure. I am a Catholic, I am a religious person and I have my very own convictions. And I believe that the Church is the most suitable space for those who have faith to be able to explore their spiritual dimension”, she maintains.
“Greet one another with a kiss of love”, Father Andrzej Blazkiewics orders in perfect Portuguese. Sitting one per bench, the faithful look for one another in the wide nave of Macau’s Cathedral and greet each other with a respectful bow or a slight nod. The same cordiality is seen in the most awaited moment of this particular Mass: after more than a month, the Body and Blood of Christ are once again administered, but there are no lines, no crowds, no unnecessary contact, no unintended touching.
The faithful take turns to receive the Holy Communion, kneel more than one meter apart from each other and it is the priest who circulates among them, the consecrated host delicately raised: “As a priest, I need to exercise more caution. Bearing in mind that I had to administer the Eucharist to other people, I paid particular attention to the issue of washing my hands, not only symbolically, as is customary at Mass. One has to be aware of the risks we take when we touch the others and when we touch objects. I had to prepare myself to offer the Holly Communion to the faithful”, assumes Father Blazkiewics assume.
The possibility of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ once again filled the biggest spiritual gap with which the epidemic outbreak of the new coronavirus confronted Francisca Reino: “I missed the Holy Communion. I believe that when we are administered the Holy Communion we are receiving Christ in our home. His absence is something that makes us poorer. When we receive the communion, we are one with Christ”, she argues. “On the other hand, the Christian experience is strengthened by contagion: I am happier when I pray among the others than when I pray by myself. A prayer might have an individual facet and intention, but the Church is a community: it is the people that give meaning to the Church. When a prayer is done in community, the presence of God is greater”, Francisca Reino sustains.
Caution and alertness continue to guide the way the Diocese conducts liturgical work in the local parishes and the way Catholics in Macau live their faith, but the reopening, albeit partial, of the Churches is seen by many as a sign of hope: “ We missed the Church, very, very much, although the Internet transmissions were very helpful. The Diocese did what needed to be done and we have all benefitted with those measures, but I am happy to be able to receive communion once again, to be able to attend mass in a Church once again“, Charlot Noruega summarizes.