By Paul Tatu
In the wake of the declaration of Covid-19 as a national disaster by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and taking into account the increasing number of infected people, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) fully supports the call to take serious and drastic measures to prevent the spread of Corona Virus in the country.
This offers an opportunity for us to renew our appreciation of the value of Prayer at Home and in private – this has as we know a particular relevance in Lent where we are encouraged “when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret, will repay you.” (Matt 6: 6) We are encouraged to read our Bibles and to hold Services of the Word; we are able to be in “spiritual communion” with our Lord in the Eucharist and in our Neighbour.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, as the President of the SACBC, has alerted all Bishops to adhere to the call of the government on this pandemic.
The Catholic Church is addressing and dealing with the following concerns in its public worship and liturgical services:
- Reception of the Precious Blood by Concelebrants and the Congregation has been suspended;
- Reception of Holy Communion must only be on the hand, not on the tongue;
- Sign of peace during the Holy Mass has been suspended;
- Holy Water fonts at the entrance of the Church should be drained;
- Safe measures must be upheld in visiting and anointing of the sick.
- All Clergy, including extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, should practice good hygiene by washing their hands both before and after liturgical services
- All faithful are encouraged to wash their hands with soap or use hand sanitizers as frequently as possible.
The Catholic Church has also considered what the State President has issued in terms of limiting the crowd of worshippers to hundred (100). Attendance of Sunday Mass is to be limited to a hundred. Priests are encouraged to celebrate more Masses to smaller groups. Each Bishop will grant a dispensation from the normal obligations to attend Sunday Mass and the other sacramental celebrations to the elderly, the sick and children.
Celebration of Sacraments:
- Care and prudence should be taken in administering, celebrating and attending the Sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders.
- Safer measures are to be taken in administering the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Necessary permission will be granted for general absolution for the duration of the pandemic.
- Extra-ordinary safe measures will be taken in anointing the sick and visiting them.
- Bishops have been encouraged to postpone the celebration of Ordinations of Priests and Deacons.
- Wedding ceremonies must be attended only by immediate family members.
- All blessings by placing of hands must be suspended.
Easter Celebrations (including Pentecost):
- Safe alternatives must be considered for the Triduum Rituals e.g. the washing of the feet, Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, etc.
Funerals and wakes:
- Numbers are to be kept below a hundred for attendance of funerals. All wakes are to be suspended.
Retreats and workshops:
- Retreats and workshops should be suspended.
- Travels related to the work of the SACBC should be limited to the minimum. All Diocesan, Deanery, and Parish large gatherings which involve traveling should be canceled. All travels of parishioners from one parish to another for Easter celebrations is suspended. All unnecessary travel is to be avoided.
Health Facilities and Homes for the elderly, children and other places of care:
- All must follow the guidelines of the Department of Health authorities.
- All Catholic Schools must follow the guidelines of both Departments of Health and Basic Education authorities.
The faithful are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the public education on Covid-19 and to take necessary precautionary measures at all times.
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