One looks back at the last months since March 2020 with amazement. The world unimaginably changed virtually overnight! We are now emerging from months of isolation in lock down and entering into a new phase of opening up businesses, public places and, in our case, churches.
Back to Church
Coronavirus is still a clear and present danger – the infection rate is still alarming, there is no cure and we know that coronavirus is not going away in the near future. The fall-out from the pandemic has been devastating in a myriad of unforeseen ways – the global health catastrophe, crashing economies and the effect of this duel monster on the lives of all, especially those who had so very little to start with.
This drama now continues as the human race braces itself to fight back. We are learning how to live in this changed and dangerous world with courage, strength, and most of all, faith. We are learning how to change the way we do things so that we can return to work and go out in public in the safest possible way without becoming infected and without harming others. We are learning to be more aware of others realising that our actions affect others – both positively and negatively. And we are also learning how to create a safe way to go back to church.
The government has promulgated the regulations (in Government Gazette Vol 659 No 43365, dated 28 May 2020).
THE ARCHDIOCESE OF CAPE TOWN
Our parish operates under the guidelines of the Archdiocese of Cape Town. All our actions comply with the guidelines defined by the Archbishop and those in turn operate within the laws promulgated by the government. As the Archbishop changes and lifts restrictions so we will respond at the parish level making the relevant changes to our protocols and ways of operating.
The Archbishop published a letter (dated 3 June 2020) to all Parishioners (click here to read the letter) where he laid out his plan for the re-opening of churches in our Archdiocese. This plan was made after much prayer and consultation with medical professionals, national and provincial officials and the clergy of the Archdiocese. It is a cautious plan recognising that we are still in an extremely dangerous phase (possibly the most critical) of the pandemic. The risk of infection in public spaces is high and each infection adds to the pressure of our health care systems.
The Archbishop’s plan applies to all parishes. We are one diocese, one People of God, all faced with the same dangers, so in solidarity we will adopt the phased approach together helping and supporting each other.
We are grateful to the Archbishop for his wise, caring, balanced, sympathetic and Christ-like leadership. We pray that our Loving Father protects him and keeps him safe and that the Holy Spirit guides his thinking and judgement as he is faced each day with new decisions and continuously changing circumstances in these unprecedented times.
THE ARCHDIOCESE PLAN OF GRADUAL OPENING PHASES
The Archbishop lays out a clear phased path forward to the ultimate re-opening of churches. The progress from one phase to the next is determined by the readiness and the effectiveness of the behavioural modelling.
Each phase is designed to help us prepare, learn and perfect our processes in order to create and assure a completely safe worship environment for all.
- Phase 1 – Private prayer: 20 minutes for no more than 5 people over a limited period in a day.
- Phase 2 – Public worship with limited number of 6 people. This is specifically aimed at parishes that are already live-streaming. The purpose of this phase is to prepare parishes, recognise pitfalls, but also at using social media to model behaviour with the 6 people attending Mass. This will be done by invitation and will also be among the lowest risk parishioners at Our Lady of the Visitation.
- Phase 3 – Public worship incrementally increasing to a maximum number of 50 people with strict adherence to all protocols and compliance with regulations. The system will be modelled with the 6 attendees so that when we reach the time for allowing 50 people, we will have a good grasp of the protocol. Mistakes cannot be made with 50 people!
PRINCIPLES OF BACK TO CHURCH
There are three uncompromising principles that guide our thinking and decision making when planning our return to Mass.
OUR FAITH AND CHRISTIAN VALUES
The first is our faith and Christian values. In all we do and in all we are, God comes first. Everything we do in our church is driven by our love of our heavenly Father, our belief in Him and our love for one another. Parish life is centered on Him. In Him alone we trust and it is Him who we turn to when faced with situations or decisions. We pray before and after each meeting. We thank our loving Father for His daily blessings and we ask for His protection. We may not understand why there is such great suffering in the world, but we join our suffering to Christ’s and know that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, suffering can and should be redemptive.
THE COMMON GOOD
The second principle is that our decisions must be for the common good. The protocols that have been developed are designed to protect the safety of everyone. We have sought to make the protocols completely safe, uncompromisingly so, with zero room for error. But we implement the protocols with gentleness and kindness. The rules are made out of love for one another and are implemented with a loving hand and a light touch.
SANCTITY OF THE CHURCH AND MASS
In all this, our final over-riding principle is the sanctity of the Church and the sacred liturgy of the Mass. God is present in the Church and during the Mass, of heaven touches earth. See the below box with an excerpt from Eucharistic Prayer I. We all know the prayers but perhaps the words are sometimes too familiar and we forget their impact. In Mass, when we listen carefully the words, poetry and imagery describes the sublime sacredness of Mass. We are in the presence of the Holy Trinity, of Our Blessed Mother Mary, and accompanied by all the angels and saints. We ask that our gifts, our sacrifice be borne by the hands of God’s holy angel to the altar of the divine majesty. Close your eyes and imagine this!
This reminds us that when we are implementing the protocols for Covid, we need to pay the deepest respect to what is going on in the Mass, on the altar and among the congregants.
These are terms everyone has heard and probably even grown quite weary of hearing.
Behaviour Modelling is very important because it helps us focus on creating new habits, new ways of doing things. Much of our behaviour is automatic. We have habits and don’t have to think much about it. Now we are forced by circumstances to unlearn old ways and learn new ones. For example, we don’t think about how we take communion, but now we have to change that, and receive communion in a different and much more careful way. Human beings are adaptive and we have already adopted many of the new habits with ease and flexibility.
In our parish we have defined and documented our protocols for BACK TO CHURCH (within the Archdiocese guidelines). The protocols cover WHAT to do, HOW to do it, WHO is responsible and TO WHOM it applies.
You can download the BACK TO CHURCH LEAFLET where you can read the details (see button below). This leaflet is given to all people before they come to church. You can also contact the Parish Office to request a copy.
Download BACK TO CHURCH LEAFLET here.