– Fr Leonard Dollentas
It all started with a different way of imposing the ashes last Ash Wednesday: the sprinkling of the ashes on one’s head instead of the customary marking of the faithful’s forehead with them. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recommended this option to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
Today, as coronavirus cases in the Philippines rise, the CBCP recommended further adjustments to some traditional church practices: “As we begin the season of Lent, we are reminded of the constant call for renewal in our Christian life by self-control (fasting and abstinence), generosity and charity (almsgiving) and prayer,” CBCP president Archbishop Romulo Valles stated as he explained the circular letter addressed to Philippine bishops and diocesan administrators.
He continued: “I am urging the faithful to take extra precaution to help prevent the spread of the virus. I continue to encourage them to take communion by hand, not to hold hands during the singing of the Ama Namin (Our Father), and to refrain from shaking hands or kissing during the exchange of peace. The water fonts in church entrances will also be kept empty for now.”
Following the hygiene protocol requested by the Department of Health, the Philippine Church officials also reminded the faithful of proper handwashing and avoidance of body contact. It is now a must for all churches to place hand sanitizers at the church doors for churchgoers. Holy water fonts should be emptied, the faithful are further reminded to refrain from kissing and touching sacred images and statues. The same rule applies as well during the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, instead of kissing or touching the cross, the faithful are requested to genuflect or make a profound bow as they venerate the Cross. Confessions are still to be done in the Confessionals after a protective cloth has been installed at the confession grill.
Meanwhile, while some areas within the Philippians are now placed under lockdown from March 15 to April 14, the bishops in a number of Dioceses within the country have agreed at a unified response to the pandemic by suspending Masses and other church activities. The bishops called on the faithful to use social media and other means of communication as means to access the daily and Sunday Masses. Churches have announced on Saturday that masses will be held via live streaming on Facebook starting on Sunday, March 15.
To make the live streaming mass participation more meaningful the bishops issued some guidelines to the faithful: (1) The faithful joining the Mass should prepare a table in their house with appropriate cover, candles and a crucifix and chairs. (2) The gadget to be used in live streaming should preferably be, at least bigger than the cellphone and should be placed on the table. (3) Use appropriate attire and not just house dress or pajamas when joining the live streaming. (4) The Mass is not an ordinary YouTube show: it is the highest form of prayer. Hence, distractions like cellphones, food or noise should be removed when joining the Mass online. (5) As communion will not be possible online, participants in the online Mass are encouraged to say the Spiritual Communion.