(Photo courtesy of Patrickroque01 via Wikipedia)

While the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has yet to lift the ban on religious gatherings as part of the government’s anti-COVID-19 efforts, the Catholic Church has begun laying down a “new normal” way of holding masses once they are already allowed.

In a press statement, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said once public masses are allowed to resume, the Church will enforce physical distancing and other basic safety measures.

This will include, among others, the requirement to use face masks and installation of footbaths at church entrances.

“When the time comes and we are able to gather and celebrate the Eucharist, we will approach this next phase, in the context of the pandemic, with prudence, patience, and loving and charitable mindset,” the statement quoted Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP President, saying.

The religious services with the people or cum populo have been banned as quarantine controls started in mid of March and some worshippers have been calling for the reopening of churches especially in categorized low-risk areas.

As easing of restrictions started on Saturday, malls, small shops, and other businesses operate again even some parish churches in the provinces also opened its doors anew adhering strictly to safety protocols, CBCP stated.

The episcopal conference also suggested that churchgoers will continue to receive communion through hand and there will be no holding hands when reciting the ‘Our Father’ during mass.

Church officials have discouraged priests from wearing face masks or gloves during the celebration of the Eucharist and advised them that they should remain more than a meter from the congregation during the mass.

The guidelines also stated the reduction of choir members who will sing during the mass in order to keep physical distancing.

“Instead, he should remain more than 1 meter from the congregation during the Mass. In such circumstances, there is no substantial risk of infection,” the guidelines stated.

“It may even be advisable to have only a cantor who will lead the assembly in the singing,” Valles said.

During the offertory, instead of passing baskets from person to person in each of the pews, there can be designated boxes or collection points where the churchgoers can place their contributions.

The episcopal conference also suggested that the elderly, children, and the sick be dispensed from the obligation to attend the mass while the threat of the virus is still widespread.

Since many of the lay ministers of communion are elderly and considered as vulnerable to the infection, parishes are urged to train younger eucharistic ministers, according to the statement.

“Parishes should also distribute Holy Communion outside of the Mass for the sick and those who are taking serious caution not to be contaminated by the virus and therefore avoid gatherings of people even in Church,” Valles said.