It’s been about 150 days that the world has been beset by negative effects of Covid19 pandemic (more than 500,000 deaths, a quarter of which comes from the United States) on our day-to-day activities: on health, economic, social, spiritual, financial, and psychological aspects of our lives. This pandemic basically shut the doors of places/activities that we have been frequently going to and comfortable with, to wit: shopping malls, beauty salons and spa, schools and universities, sports facilities, travels and tours, family and mass gatherings including going to Church and holding of/attending Holy Masses and other faith-related activities.
Due to this pandemic, Churches throughout the world have been advised to close and enforce the social distancing and wearing masks so as to help curb the spread of the virus. Public mass gatherings and worship-related activities are considered high risk area for Covid 19 transmission. But for Catholics and other faith denominations, worship gatherings such as going to Church and other places of worship (synagogues, mosques, temples, etc) and discipleship among Church members are vital in paying homage to God. Some Catholics would prefer that their respective parish churches be opened to public so as to exercise their right to worship, primarily because they want to hear Mass and receive the Holy Communion. Due to said restrictions, most of those who have been used to visiting the Church or to any place of worship on a daily basis felt that they are being denied of this right.
The Church, however, has the duty to protect their parishioners (youth, seniors and the older clergy as well) from being infected and to help stem the spread of COVID19 virus. Some of them have initially instituted precautionary measures to prevent this virus from spreading in the spirit of compassion, care and charity for everyone. Hence, Churches are still being closed and the conduct of Holy Masses to the public are still being canceled.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its latest pronouncement states that Covid19 virus “is not even close to being over” as there are still new infected cases, noting surges in hospitalizations throughout the world in addition to the more than 10 million cases worldwide. Based on some reports, most people infected with the virus are not spreading it but a few of those infected are capable to infect many. That’s where the danger lies. As such, some US states stepped back from their plans to reopen their economies. In fact, some countries around the world have adopted policies imposing fines or imprisonment for people who flout lockdown regulations. In view of this, industries affected by this pandemic have already made some adjustments to conform with the so-called “new normal” way of doing business. Companies have adopted “new norms” in their operations and in serving their clients and customers.
How about our Churches? Are there policy reforms in place or efforts to reinvent the Church during this pandemic and post pandemic? You see, we still do not know yet what the future holds for us all. While there are countries that appeared to have flattened the curve of this Covid19, currently there are still no drugs or vaccines that have been proven effective for this virus, thus it still continues to infect people. So how can we ease into this new way of life as far as our spirituality is concerned?
For us Catholics, the Holy Mass (especially Sunday Mass) is part and parcel of our religious belief. It’s been four months that we have not been able to visit the Church, resorting to online TV Holy Masses. While there have been benefits to it as we can hear mass on a daily basis and anytime of the day, it feels like there’s still something missing to it.
There have been initial measures laid down by some of our Churches as far as holding Holy Masses are concerned, however, there are still no concrete plans either short or long term so far to date, on how to tackle this health crisis within the 4 corners of the Church walls. How can the Church be able to readily respond to this present challenge, or even after the pandemic, or to similar outbreaks in the future?
What happens if Governments decide to reopen all operations including public mass gatherings? Is the Church prepared for this, especially for parishes with large community, jam-packed with people particularly during Sundays? Do we still go back to the old normal way of conducting the Holy Mass? Will the Church craft creative ways on how to take precautions from Covid 19 during and after the pandemic? How is the social distancing going to be implemented, as well as the wearing of masks? Is there a uniform way of doing it for all the Parish Churches, or should it be on a case to case basis? Just to cite a very minor example. The Holy Water container or stoups placed at the main entrance or the side entrance of the Church? Will they be emptied? Will the people be still allowed to use it? If so, how? How about the receiving of the Holy Communion? What will be the guidelines for Priests and Eucharistic Ministers in administering the Holy Communion? How about the serving of the said Sacrament to the seniors who are staying at home and those who are ill, or those unable to attend the Mass, what will be the new normal duties of these Ministers? How about the collections and donations, shall it be done online or through the “Donations” button/box or page of the Church website? (Note that the money collections/offerings during the mass itself and donations via mail may not also be advisable during this pandemic.) How about other faith related activities such as catechism, religious education, daily reflections, etc? How is the Church going to maintain and take a proactive role in communicating and reaching out to their parishioners in need? Probably, the Church could make use of the internet, technology and the social media that most of the laity have. They can invite volunteers who are knowledgeable on the faith and those who have undergone training to spread God’s word via online as an adjunct to the clergy. Perhaps, this is about time for the Church to encourage daily Bible Readings with parishioners participating online. Perhaps, all Churches should require parishioners to register in their respective parishes so they can be part of the community and make them feel some sense of belongingness and participation.
All of the aforementioned are just some concerns that need to be addressed by our Church leadership and our parish authorities. Going back to our old ways of doing things may no longer be practicable in view of this pandemic. We have to reinvent and re-think our previous faith practices with the end view of preventing people from being exposed to present and future health danger.
What we have been experiencing at the moment is truly a difficult challenge for us all. Our habits and practices of our faith have been put to a test and each of us has own problems as a result of this pandemic: loss of jobs, business meltdown, emotional stress, and others. Pope Francis advised us to cry out to God and lift up our trials to Him because our Lord is close to us in times of distress, suffering and weaknesses. He reminded us that the Lord is standing beside us “in moments of isolation” and that He will “strengthen and sustain us”. Pope Francis also inspired us to be strong physically, spiritually and morally and we can achieve all these through the grace of God. As he said, ”God will always be with us”, no matter what. And this is what Jesus is telling us in one of His teachings for us to have faith in Him, to turn everything to Him without hesitation. God loves us so much and because of that, He will always have a merciful and compassionate heart for us all, regardless.