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“Just come”… In-person Masses again after lengthy closure

Photo courtesy: St Francis of Assisi RC parish, Sangre Grande

By Lara Pickford Gordon

“Be neighbourly, consider each other.” This was the simple request from Archbishop Jason Gordon with the resumption of public Masses from September 6.

“Don’t rush and fill out the calendar and leave no space for anybody else. Let us be disciplined so that if we come this week, maybe next week we don’t,” he said at the end of last Sunday’s Mass, Living Water Community Chapel. The numbers who can attend will be small, so he said they had to be spread as much as possible.

He understood everyone wanted to attend Mass on Sunday but reminded the special dispensation for weekday Masses in lieu of Sunday was still in effect. “You are covered, it is okay.”

Archbishop Gordon said he too was excited for the resumption of face-to-face Masses after more than 130 days. Places of worship were among the public spaces closed April 29, to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the reopening at a media briefing in Tobago, Friday September 3.

Responding to rumours that only vaccinated persons would be allowed to attend Masses, Archbishop Gordon stressed, “there is no rule that unvaccinated people will be treated differently in church than anyone else”. He added that there was no directive from himself, the Church or the Archdiocesan Health, Safety and Environment Committee.

“People are welcome to come, we are not going to ask if you are unvaccinated or not. Just come. The only restriction will be our ministers have to be vaccinated because they are a point of contact with far too many people.” The purpose is to keep everyone as safe as possible.

He announced that information will be disseminated on the Mass registration process online. Archbishop Gordon said the new web portal will be revealed. “We listened to you; we think we solved all the challenges.” Persons are to register for Mass HERE

A virtual training session took place September 3 on the new registration system “custom built” for the Archdiocese with Nathan Low Foon, Junior Head, Information and Communications Technology at the Chancery and parish secretaries, administration, clergy and parishioners who assisted with the online process.

New features allow for persons registering to create an account, so their name and the church where they registered will remain as a setting. They do not have to keep re-entering the same information “every single week.”

While the Calendly required an email address, consideration was given for persons who do not have emails or contacted the parish directly to sign-up.

The administrator for the platform can register persons “manually”; a phone contact must still be given, in the event of contact tracing.

Key points for reopening of churches

The Archdiocese of Port of Spain Health, Safety and Environment Team proposal for the reopening of churches issued September 5 for the week beginning September  6, 2021. The full document can be viewed at www.catholictt.org

Covid-19 transmission prevention: All attendees for Holy Mass are required to observe Covid-19 guidelines including: stay at home if ill or if anyone in the immediate household is unwell with flu-like symptoms; Persons aged eight years and older wear face masks, practise hand hygiene. Anyone with temperatures above 37.5°C or higher will not be allowed entry.

The law: Emergency Powers (No.2) Regulations 2021, the legal requirements of the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)] (No.18). Church leaders must identify the pre-Covid-19 or ordinary (seating) capacity where Holy Mass is hosted and calculate 25 per cent of this figure to generate the total number of persons currently allowed, subject to the 6-foot physical distancing. If ordinary capacity was 300, 75 will be the maximum number allowed. Included within the number are the ordinary worshippers, choir members, hospitality team and ministers serving on the altar.

The policy of the Archdiocese: Following expert advice, the Catholic Church mandates ordained ministers, commissioned ministers, and laity (including hospitality team members, choirs, and lectors) must be fully vaccinated as their varied roles necessitate movement throughout the building with multiple points of contact. Vaccination of these key members adds a layer of physical protection which benefits all parties. 

Pre-registration: It is advised that registration for Mass attendance (see catholictt.org) be made available in the days before the scheduled Mass. Alternatively, worshippers can call ahead to the parish secretary to book their place.

Attendance record: Pre-registration for Holy Mass allows the host to prepare an initial list of named attendees. At each Mass, there must be a physical record of ALL actual attendees with documentation of name and contact details e.g., postal address, e-mail address, telephone number.

Distribution of Holy Communion: The Body of Christ will be distributed and must only be placed into the hand of the communicant. Reception of Holy Eucharist onto the tongue is strictly prohibited. Once standing opposite the minister, the communicant extends both arms forward at the level of his/her chest, elbows straight, left palm open over the right palm, facing upwards.

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