POSTSCRIPT / February 23, 2020 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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The Church adjusts to COVID-19 risks

THE DEADLY coronavirus (COVID-19) stalking the face of the earth is so pervasive that it is even changing, although not substantially, some Church practices as we know them in this dominantly Catholic country.

Bishop Virgilio David of Caloocan, for instance, tells us that in lieu of telling the priest in a confessional box our sins, to minimize possible viral contamination, we could write them down and hand the paper over after saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

(A few times in the past, before the coronavirus reared its head in these parts, I had also tried kneeling in front of a priest to confess as in a conversation. It felt good, and not because I was able to beat the others waiting for their turn outside the confessional.)

On written confessions, Bishop David said: “Whether in or outside the confessional box, both priest and penitent are advised to wear protective masks. Ideally, the penitent brings his/her own mask. Parishes should be ready to provide for those unable to bring their own.

“After reading their confession, the minister may ask the penitents some questions, give some admonition, recommend acts of penance and give absolution verbally. The priest gives them back their notes for proper disposal afterward.”

On receiving communion, David said that Catholics can still accept the host on their tongue or by hand, but that in both instances, people just have to be instructed properly.

As for Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26), to avoid physical contact, prelates are considering sprinkling dry ash on the penitents’ head instead of daubing ash with holy water on the forehead. The rite reminds them that they are but dust and to dust they shall return.

David noted also that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has endorsed “no touching, no kissing” of the cross for veneration on Good Friday. If we know Catholic Filipinos, we expect most of them to ignore this advice.

In exchanging signs of peace at Mass, we probably can just smile and nod at each other without having to shake hands as some people do. And maybe we do not have to hold hands when praying the Our Father.

Up north, meanwhile, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas urged the faithful to refrain from clapping or applauding inside the Church, whether within the liturgy or after the Mass.

Villegas asked if clapping during or after the homily has become an antidote for boredom, which he said may emerge “from a misunderstood sense of worship and prayer.” He said priests must prepare brief and inspiring homilies.

He advised celebrants to refrain in their post-communion message from naming persons who had done something for the Church.

He also reminded priests not to clap after the Mass, a practice that surprised me when I first observed it in some churches in the US. But one good thing about our rites, especially the Mass, is that wherever one goes in the world, it is substantially the same.

 Would Mama Mary have clapped at Calvary?

WE SHARE below some excerpts from the statement of Archbishop Villegas:

Ash Wednesday which opens the season of Lent gives us a good occasion to reflect on the value and importance of sobriety, silence, and self-restraint in the pursuit of holiness of life.

In particular, let us review the practice of applauding in the church whether within the liturgy or after its celebration.

The often-quoted instruction is that Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.

In that spirit, clapping is used to signify joy and alertness; contributing to an atmosphere of gratitude and friendship and promoting active participation from the congregation.

When we clap at an ordination Mass after the calling of the candidate, the applause is a sign of consent with the calling that has just been done. The clapping is not for the ordinand but for the Lord who calls. This is not the case with many of our applauses in the church.

Let us attend to these emerging practices which, if not nipped early, can rob us of the true meaning of Christian liturgy and worship.

1. Refrain from using applause to keep our parishioners alert and awake during the homily. A well prepared, brief, inspired and inspiring homily has a longer lifespan than intermittent clapping as you preach.

2. If you need to give a post-communion message, do not name particular persons or groups whom you wish to appreciate for their work or donation made to the Church. You must do this appreciation outside the Mass, by sending a greeting card, sending a text message or even visiting them in person. Be God-centered and to Him alone be the glory.

3. Do not clap for me after Mass when I visit your parish or chapel. You and I are both guests in the House of God. We are only waiters at the Table of the Master. The Eucharist is a happy feast AND a memorial of Calvary. Who would have clapped at Calvary? Would the Blessed Mother and John the Beloved have clapped? The breaking of the Bread is a commemoration of the violent death that the Lord went through. Who claps while others are in pain? It is pain with love; yes, but it still pain.

The season of Lent has a somber purple color. It has a sober and calm aura. The altar decors are restrained. The musical instruments are subdued. We fast from pleasure and restrain our appetite.

Let us add more abstinence to this sober season. Let us abstain from applause in Church.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 23, 2020)

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