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Being Church in a time of COVID-19

Pastoral Guidelines, March 27, 2020 #1


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our world in catastrophic ways. Globally, we are facing difficult times. The far-reaching effects of this crisis will continue to influence every aspect of our lives in the foreseeable future. Consequently, life as we know it will undeniably change.

Although, the stringent measures put in place by our government and our Church have allowed us to slow the spread of this dreaded virus, the threat that exposure of any kind poses to society’s most vulnerable, begs us all to be more vigilant in our day-to-day care of ourselves and in so doing, of others.

In this most challenging time, we are called upon to stand firm in our faith and belief as practising Catholics. It is no coincidence that this traumatic event began during the season of Lent—the desert time which calls us to greater prayer and reflection, penance, fasting and almsgiving.  It is also a time for: retreats, pilgrimages, sacramentals, formation and catechetical programmes, which are all geared to prepare God’s faithful for a most reverend reflection on the Crucifixion and celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Lent for the Catholic, is meant to be a transformative period and one from which new life in Christ Jesus emerges.

Challenges into Opportunities

To maintain social distancing on such a wide scale that it severely affects the administering of our pastoral functions is proving very difficult and even painful for us as Church. However, in the midst of all the turmoil, we are called upon to find new and innovative ways to engage, preach, teach, evangelise, form, celebrate and live out our faith. Here is where the effective use of technology will play a crucial role.

Effective communication of the facts is key in a time like this to calm the fears, uncertainty and doubt that so readily permeates and undermines our human frailties.

Many parishes already run and maintain their own websites, social media platforms and other measures such as WhatsApp group messaging and making telephone calls to connect with their parishioners. I call upon all persons involved in pastoral leadership to make the best use of these communication media to ensure that real and spiritual connections are established, encouraged and maintained on a consistent basis. Pastoral outreach at this time is imperative to the overall well-being of the individual parishioner and congregation alike. Together we must assist and give the best pastoral care that we can to those who rely on us to guide them in reflecting on and living out their faith now more than ever before.

The Sacraments

All face-to-face Catechetical classes: Infant Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, RCIA and all other religious/pastoral meetings and general gatherings are postponed until further notice. These can only continue using online or electronic media where possible.

Sacrament of the Eucharist —There will be NO parish Masses or distribution of Holy Communion.

Funeral Services — No Funeral Masses will be celebrated. Funeral Services only.  This must be done using the guidelines from the government concerning funerals. There must be no more than five (5) persons in attendance.  Funeral Services must be kept short at approximately thirty (30) minutes. There will be no eulogy. All protocols governing social distancing and proper sanitising must be strictly adhered to.  Precautions to be observed when dealing with the deceased.

Sacrament of Marriage — Cannot be accommodated, until after April 15, 2020, or until further directives are given by the government.  Further guidelines will be given after this date.

Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick — The Archdiocese will find ways to ensure those in need of pastoral care, especially vulnerable groups like the elderly and the sick, will be cared for. Any urgent need for the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick will be fulfilled.  ‘Extraordinary Hospital Chaplains’ will be identified for every vicariate (please find names and contact information in table), preferably from among the younger members of the clergy with no pre-existing medical conditions. These will be fully trained and adequately equipped with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to fulfil their crucial sacramental role of bringing God’s mercy to the sick.

No pastoral visits should be made to people who are self-isolating until the isolation period ends. However, do offer phone support. When anointing the sick, the Oil of the Sick can be applied using a cotton bud which can be burned afterwards (one end for the head and the other for the hands) and the priest extends his hands over the sick person for laying on of hands, without physical contact. This has been confirmed as a valid mode of celebrating the sacraments which involve “laying on of hands”. Visits to people in care homes or hospitals should follow advice from the staff on infection control. (Adopted from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales)

Sacrament of Reconciliation —Cannot be virtualised, must be in person and celebrated according to the norms of Universal canon law and the Ordo Paenitentiae.  An update will be given concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation after April 15, 2020.

The faithful, unable to find a priest for confession may obtain forgiveness of sins through a perfect act of contrition, a sincere request for forgiveness and a sincere determination to have recourse, as soon as possible to sacramental confession.

Collections, Donations and Stewardship — Information on how to donate and make contributions/pledges using online banking will be made available on the Archdiocese’s website –  Republic Bank Acct# 3405 0905 2501. Acct Name: Archbishop Relief Fund.

Stewardship envelopes and all other donations may be delivered to the parish office. Providing all protocols designated by the government concerning movement are observed.  All monies are to be securely stored. Bank deposits should be made within twenty-four (24) hours of collection. Account reconciliations shall be accurately completed daily.

Engaging God’s Faithful as Church

  • Promote the praying of the Holy Rosary as a family, church community at a specific time each day (this can even be done online led by the Parish Priest or Parish Ministry member)
  • Promote the reading and reflection on the Mass readings of the day
  • Encourage participation in the celebration of Holy Mass as a family on weekdays @ 9 a.m. (other recorded times) and 8 a.m. live on Sundays via Trinity TV or livestreaming (YouTube)
  • Encourage participation in the celebration of parish Masses online
  • Collaborate with St Vincent de Paul and Legion of Mary to contact vulnerable persons who may be in need of assistance and make arrangement to assist them with getting medication, groceries and other urgent needs
  • Make the Catholic News available for parishioners
  • Be alert and sensitive to un-catechised Catholics, non-practising Catholics and non-Catholics at this time alike who may look to the Catholic Church for guidance and peace. While not proselytising, we may be able to use this opportunity for humble and respectful explanation of the faith.

Holy Week

By mandate of the Supreme Pontiff, for the year 2020 only, through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in a decree dated, March 19, 2020 states:

Concerning the date of Easter: Easter is the heart of the entire liturgical year and is not simply one feast among others. The Easter Triduum is celebrated over the arc of three days which is preceded by Lent and crowned by Pentecost, therefore, cannot be transferred to another time.

The Chrism Mass: Having evaluated the concrete situation in the different countries, the Bishop has the faculty to postpone it to a later date.  Chrism Mass is hereby postponed within the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.

Indications for the Paschal Triduum: Wherever the civil and ecclesiastical authorities have put restrictions in place, the Sacred Triduum must be celebrated in the following way:

  • Bishops will give indications, which have been agreed with the Episcopal Conference, so that, in the Cathedral and parish churches, though without the physical participation of the faithful, the Bishop and parish priest(s) can celebrate the liturgical mysteries of the Paschal Triduum. The faithful should be informed of the times of the celebration so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes. In this occasion, the means of live (not recorded) televisual or internet broadcasts are helpful. The Episcopal Conference and individual dioceses will see to it that resources are provided to support family and personal prayer.
  • Holy Thursday: In Cathedral and parish churches, where and in the measure that there is a real possibility of doing so, established by the one responsible, the priest(s) of the parish can celebrate the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The faculty to celebrate Mass on this day in a suitable place, without the people, is granted in an exceptional manner to all priests. The washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted. At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose is to be omitted and the Blessed Sacrament is to be kept in the tabernacle. Priests who are unable to celebrate Mass should instead pray Vespers of the day (cf Liturgia Horarum).
  • Good Friday: In Cathedral and parish churches, where and in the measure that there is a real possibility of doing so, established by the one responsible, the Bishop/Parish Priest will celebrate the Passion of the Lord. In the Universal Prayer, the Bishop will see to it that there is a special intention for the sick, the dead, for those who feel lost or dismayed (cf Missale Romanum, pg 314 n 13).
  • Easter Sunday: The Easter Vigil: This is to be celebrated only in Cathedral and parish churches, where and in the measure that there is a real possibility of doing so, established by the one responsible. At “The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil or Lucenarium” the preparation and lighting of the fire is omitted, the Paschal Candle is lit, the procession is omitted and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) follows. The “Liturgy of the Word” then takes place. For the “Baptismal Liturgy” the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” alone is necessary (cf Missale Romanum, pg 371, n 55). The “Liturgy of the Eucharist” then follows. Those who have absolutely no possibility of uniting themselves to the Paschal Vigil celebrated in a church should pray the Office of Readings for Easter Sunday (cf Liturgia Horarum).

Regarding monasteries, seminaries and religious communities once possible, they will continue with Holy Mass once priests are able to come, if coming from outside. All protocols to be observed.  No persons from outside of these communities will be allowed at these Masses.

Expressions of popular piety and processions which enrich the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum can be transferred to other suitable days in the year, for example September 14 and 15, according to the judgement of the Diocesan Bishop. (Decree from Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Discipline of the Sacraments)

The Archdiocese of Port of Spain fully endorses the stringent measures put forth by the government as it recognises that it is for the common good of all. Let us use this time as a formative period in our journey as disciples. This experience can become a transformative one for us if we rely on our faith and trust in God and not give into anxiety and fear.  This is a time to be still, a time to listen and a time to pray and a time to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. To keep our eyes fixed on God and know that God is in the waiting; shaping and moulding us into the people that He wants us to be.

Attached for your ease of reference is a list of names and contact numbers of personnel who have responsibility for various aspects of pastoral care within the Archdiocese.

This is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port of Spain: Pastoral Guidelines [March 27, 2020 #1]: Being Church in a Time of COVID-19.  This document is subject to be updated when necessary as we respond and minister as Church within this present climate of COVID-19.

May Our Lady Health of the Sick and Star of the Sea guide us through these turbulent waters and may St. Joseph Protector of the Church and the Family keep us safe and strong in faith.

Most Rev Charles J Gordon
Archbishop of Port of Spain