Archbishop asks for patience as churches reopen
By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Mask wearing, physical distancing and regular sanitising will be implemented as part of the precautions against COVID-19 with the reopening of churches. Not all will be able to attend Masses because of space limitations; and there will be phased access to congregants. Archbishop Jason Gordon appealed for patience from the faithful as things will be “different”.
Public Masses at Catholic churches were suspended March 14. Highpoints in the liturgical calendar including Palm Sunday (April 5), the Triduum (April 9–11) and Easter Sunday were celebrated by Archbishop Gordon with virtual Masses.
Government has been easing the lockdown in phases and places of worship were to reopen Friday, June 12, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced at a June 6 press conference. A subsequent statement however, from the Office of the Prime Minister announced the opening would be June 11. “This will allow for nationwide Church celebrations of Corpus Christi, which comes on the eve of the originally scheduled reopening date”.
The statement reminded believers and devotees to strictly observe guidelines of sanitising, distancing and wearing of masks. Dr Rowley asked places of worship to keep “services to limit exposure to one hour”.
After last Sunday’s Mass to commemorate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity at the Living Water Community chapel, Archbishop Gordon said the church was in “a different stage in the journey”.
He knew people were excited as he to be back in churches for public Masses but added that the “problem” was that not everyone could return at the same time “unless your parish happens to be one where it has always been way below capacity… so we are working on it, be patient with us. It may not go right the first week or the second but we will get it right.”
Archbishop Gordon said he would issue a decree to continue with the “understanding of the Sunday obligation. We will relax it so that any day of the week when you go to Mass is your obligation”.
He added, “not everyone will get into Mass on a Saturday evening or Sunday but throughout the week we will have Masses in our parishes so that everyone can choose a time and come celebrate then.” He urged persons who cannot be physically present in church on Sundays to follow the Mass on television. Archbishop Gordon asked persons at “high risk” for contracting COVID-19 to remain indoors and secluded. “We just have to be very cautious; we are releasing slowly as the government is and we will work with the government to ensure that we keep all protocols and your priest will know what that means”. He called the reopening, a new springtime and opportunity. “I know we want to do this and do it well so be patient with everyone”.
Archbishop Gordon and clergy met on Monday to fine tune the Health Safety and Environment Team (HSE) ‘Guidelines for the Restoration of Public Masses in the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain’. Hospitality and the pastoral response to the vulnerable was part of the discussions.
In this regard, special services and persons receiving communion at home will be encouraged. Due to the space limitations a system to have an organised way of managing attendance at Masses was being worked out.