COVID19 forced faith communities to restructure their worship service to gather congregants during the pandemic. I find myself wondering what new measures will permanently alter the way worshipers attended services. Will the church add measures to curb the spread of infectious diseases– from common flu to deadly viruses? The possibility looks more likely now than before March 2020.
The critical change will incorporate the health guidelines to worship spaces from government agencies. There may be even a certification process to avoid health hazards in places people gather for religious services.
Health, Humour and Holy Water
You have noticed that there is no holy water in the church fonts following government regulations. How will devotees have access to holy water in the future?
The priest was also part of the humor related posts circulated during the pandemic times. One such picture depicts a priest baptizing with a water pistol with 2 meters of physical distancing.
I found it amusing. When I am requested to celebrate baptism, I want to tell the family to bring freshwater and the container along with them. I intend to bless the freshwater for the occasion. There is an instruction to dispose of the baptism holy water in the sacrarium or on the ground. It’s like “use and dispose of” in a sacred way.
People find it challenging to use the sacramentally blessed holy water for faith purposes. New ways will emerge to make holy water accessible to the devotees.
As people use hand sanitizes, I wonder if the holy water dispenser will be part of the solution in the coming days. Otherwise, worshippers touching holy water and blessing themselves, as they enter and leave the churches, will be a habit lost to the 2020 pandemic.
Laying of the hands, No Touch Blessings and Greetings
The priest’s mandate to touch the devotee’s forehead for a blessing will never be the same. The priest is instructed not to be in physical contact with the infant during baptism – no signing of the cross on the forehead. When a priest touches the hand of the communicant while distributing communion, the minister has to use hand sanitizer before distributing the host to the next devotee. Laying the hands from a distance will exist as the alternative. Blessings will be without proximity to the congregant.
The “elbow and leg” tango greeting came about at the beginning of the pandemic – a lesser-known alternative for shaking of the hands of each other as a customary greeting. It is disbanded. It is tough for those who loved to hug or exchange a kiss as a standard form of greeting. Physical distancing has dampened the spirit of the huggers. I wonder how social exchanges will turn out in the future – sending an emoji on the cellphone?
Freedom in worship places – when you come and where you seat matters
Before the arrival of the 2020 pandemic, a devotee was free to attend church, as and when s/he desires – even sit wherever s/he wanted – and roam in the church to venerated different statues, light votive candles and drop money in the offering boxes. Now, that can change in the future. Already, a devotee cannot kiss or touch a statue in the church.
Does a devotee need to pre-register to attend mass? They may even make a reservation like the airlines – choose a seat in advance. Will there be a premium on seats? What happens if the devotee does not show up? Will the devotee be penalized for not showing up for the Sunday service? By reserving a place, you deny someone else to attend the service in a limited capacity church.
Church volunteers may bombard every devotee with a health and safety-related question to protect the congregation. Will parishioners sign a waiver; if they get infected, they will not sue the institution?
A priest with a mask, protecting from saliva droplets and disinfecting
As church reopened, priests are mandated to wear a mask while distributing holy communion. The communicants are recommended to wear a mask. The protection is because the priest breaks into the two meters distancing zone to distribute holy communion. The priest has to be extra careful not to touch the other person’s palm while giving communion, receiving communion on the tongue is discouraged. If the priest is wearing eyeglasses, he has to take care of the vapor forming on the glasses. When a priest accidentally touches the other person, he has to stop the distribution of communion, disinfect his hands before proceeding with the communion service. Also, communion is distributed in silence. The normal invocation, “The Body of Christ” and “Amen” are forbidden.
Another necessary change is to cover the ciborium containing the host for consecration – the host used for public distribution. The ciborium used to remain open after the offertory till the communion service. Now, ciborium remains closed on the corporal for the entire consecration time. It is being done to protect the unconsecrated host from the saliva droplets of the celebrating priest.
Congregational singing is not allowed. It is said that while singing, one has to force out the voice, and the chances of spreading infection are more. A cantor and music can accompany the service, but caution is advised. Will singing popular hymns along with the congregation and led by the choir change dramatically?
I am still not sure how long the disinfecting worship place will last. Will there be a regulation to disinfect the public places before and after use? Will the hub of holiness be like an infection-free chamber? Surely, if it does, then it will add to the increasing cost of maintenance of the worship space across the globe.
Future of online streaming worship services and church support
Online worship services continue to benefit the devotees. People join to be part of their parish community, even with the low-quality transmission, internet disruptions, and difficulties in navigating the social media apps.
Not everyone is comfortable with the online streaming of masses. People feel the need to be part of worshipping faith communities, a sense of solidarity amid global problems, and bonding with the universal church. The pandemic allowed devotees to appreciate the church as a community. The level of concern to reach out to others, serve, and volunteer increased. There is a new ministry undertaken by dioceses – telephoning parishioners to stay in touch. The pandemic stopped church services, but the running expense didn’t fall to zero. Dioceses had to find new ways to invite people to support the parish and reduce the stipend of priests and layoff clerical staff.
Online streaming services open the church doors for the curious explores of the catholic faith, the fallen-away Catholics, and those who are immobile due to long-term illness. It was a welcome relief, as they can safely be part of the community, giving them time to decide to join, restart attending in a physical location, or continue watching online.
COVID19 has significantly altered the engagement level of the congregation during worship services. Some practices are disturbing to imagine for the devotees. Nonetheless, after decades of denial, politics categorized religious services among essential services. Despite the restrictions to gather in worship places, devotees alter behaviors to accommodate safety regulations. The future will witness research that will follow faith testimonies to prove that spirituality works to better human society, keep it safe, and boosts immunity in the social setting.
Something for you …
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