SACBC President on Ways to Limit Mass Attendances to 100
After a day of consultation following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s instruction to restrict public gatherings to 100 in South Africa’s battle to check the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Monday afternoon called on the bishops of the region to grant some Catholics a dispensation from the normal obligations to attend Sunday Mass, and other Catholics to fulfil their Sunday obligations at weekday Masses.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha asked the bishops to grant a dispensation from the normal obligations to attend Sunday Mass and the other celebrations of the Easter season to the aged, young children, the sick and “also, perhaps especially, to those who are fearful at this time”.
“There should be no sense of guilt rather a spirit of understanding,” he added.
The SACBC has no authority to issue instructions to dioceses and parishes unless these have been passed in a meeting of all bishops. Therefore, the statement is a set of proposals for guidance of local bishops who then must issue their own instructions and guidelines.
In a “Statement on Worship – Communal and Personal in the Covid-19 Pandemic”, which is being issued to Church leaders alongside Bishop Sipuka’s statement, SACBC vice-president Bishop Graham Rose of Dundee noted that the Church must “seek to find a way to both exercise our need for worship and prayer and to protect health and life – both are absolutely essential”
To that end, priests should be encouraged to celebrate weekday Masses where the congregations tend to be well below 100 people to fulfil their Sabbath Obligation, Bishop Rose suggested.
For Sunday Masses, numbers might be restricted “by allocating times to different wards or Small Christian Communities, or in another way devised by the priest”.
Add Masses, Eucharistic Services
Where possible, the number of Masses could be increased, or Eucharistic Services or a Services of the Word led by an appropriate minister be offered where increased numbers of Masses are not possible, Bishop Rose suggested.
In the celebration of sacraments, Bishop Sipuka called for “care and prudence in administering, celebrating and attendance to the sacraments of baptism, first holy Communion, confirmation, holy matrimony and holy orders”.
All blessings by placing of hands must be suspended, he said. He also called for “extraordinary safe measures in anointing the sick and visiting them”.
To ensure greater safety in the sacrament of reconciliation, Bishop Sipuka asked the bishops to “consider granting the necessary permission for general absolution for the duration of the pandemic”.
Bishop Sipuka suggested that wedding Masses be attended only by immediate family members, and that ways be found to keep the number of mourners at funerals to below 100. Wakes are to be suspended.
He also proposed postponing ordinations, and all retreats and workshops.
For the Easter celebrations, including Pentecost, Bishop Sipuka called for safe alternatives for rituals such as the washing of the feet and the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.
In his document, Bishop Rose suggested that Stations of the Cross could be conducted privately or in small groups.
In Holy Week, Chrism Mass might be attended by the clergy and religious only, though Bishop Rose noted that some dioceses have numbers of priests exceeding 100.
For Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the bishop proposed two shorter, simpler services be held for each of the above-mentioned.
At those ceremonies, each family in the parish may be represented by only one member, while the family at home accompanies their representative, for example by reading the passion; praying at the same time as the parish ceremony, and so on.
“The priest will have to adapt the ceremonies where appropriate,” Bishop Rose said. For example, the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday “might be done in a short drama/sketch without the actual washing of feet”.
The Easter vigil “should be attended by a small number, perhaps including the Parish Pastoral Council members and the close family of those being initiated into the Church”.
Pray Together at Home
Bishop Rose suggested that “as the Catholic community, we make a commitment to gather daily in our homes and meet spiritually to pray at a particular time, say between 18:30 and 20:30”.
He also stressed that parishes still “have financial commitments that have to be met. Please do not forget to make your regular contributions to the material support of the Church
Addressing the bishops in general, Bishop Sipuka said: “I am appealing to you, my brothers, that we try our best not to expose our people in situations where they can easily catch the virus. Let us all be united in prayer for the end of the pandemic.”