Catholic faithful in the Philippines are urged to return to attending Sunday Masses in churches as health experts placed the country into more relaxed health protocols following a decline in COVID-19 cases.
“These circumstances permit and oblige us to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the Church building as its home of the celebration of the liturgy,” read a circular issued by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“We strongly encourage our faithful to return to the Sunday Eucharist with a purified heart, renewed amazement, and increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him and bring him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life full of faith, love and hope,” he added.
The prelate, however, stressed that health protocols should be implemented in parish churches and venues for the liturgical celebrations.
“We make sure that our faithful are convinced that they are safe in our churches and venues for the liturgical celebrations,” said Bishop David in his circular addressed to all bishops and diocesan administrators across the country.
He also reminded Church leaders that the “Act of Spiritual Communion,” a devotional prayer recited during online celebrations of the Mass, “is not a liturgical prayer.”
The bishop said “it should not be prayed aloud when communion is received by the faithful in attendance in our celebrations.”
“The ‘Act of Spiritual Communion’ is intended for those who are following the celebration online. It is better projected on the screen for those following the Mass online,” said Bishop David.
He also urged fellow bishops to ensure that constant catechesis on the necessity of the faithful to return to churches for the Sunday Eucharist “should be explained in our homilies and in our catechesis.”
Bishop David said the needed frequency of celebrations of the Holy Eucharist by live streaming is being evaluated, adding that “greater coordination in the diocese is needed on this issue.”
On March 13, 2020, the CBCP issued a circular saying that, “Depending on the given circumstances, the Local Ordinaries may exercise their prerogative to dispense the faithful from the Sunday and the Holy Days of Obligation” due to the prevalence of the coronavirus disease.
The decision was the result of the government’s strict measures to stem the spread of the virus.
Bishop David noted that the “social distancing” needed to prevent the spread of the virus “had repercussions on the fundamental trait of Christian life.”
“The weekly gathering in the ‘name of the Lord,” which from the very beginning has been perceived by Christians as an indispensable reality and indissolubly linked to their identity, was severely undermined during the most acute phase of the spread of the pandemic,” he said.
The prelate said “the painful and sad experience of the deprivation of our faithful of the sacramental experience has enabled us to discover anew the necessity of the liturgical life of the Church.”
“With gratitude to God, the pandemic has weakened, and our official health experts have placed the country into more relaxed health protocols,” he added.