VATICAN CITY—Italy and the Vatican allowed the first public Masses to be celebrated since March on May 18 as coronavirus restrictions have been eased further, following a sharp confrontation between church and state over limits on worshiping in the era of COVID-19.
Guards in hazmat suits took the temperatures of the faithful entering St. Peters Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated an early morning Mass for a handful of people commemorating the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II.
Across town, the Rev. Jose Maria Galvan snapped on a latex glove and face mask before distributing Communion to the dozen parishioners attending Mass at his SantEugenio parish.
“Before I became a priest, I was a surgeon, so for me, gloves are normal,” he joked afterward. “Im dexterous (with gloves) so the hosts dont get away from me.”
It was all part of Italys next step in emerging from the Wests first coronavirus lockdown, with commercial shops and restaurants reopening and barbers giving long-overdue trims for the first time since March 10.
But with several hundred new infections still being recorded every day, the reopening is hardly a free-for-all, with strict virus-containing measures regulating everything from how you get your coffee to the way you pray.
The government has published 120 pages of detailed norms for the resumption of work, play, worship, and commerce, with some of the most intricate protocols reserved for the resumption of public religious observance.
The fear is that the elderly, who are among the most religiously devout and also the most at-risk for infection, could be exposed to the virus with resumed religious services in the onetime European epicenter of the pandemic.
Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Orthodox, and Siks have their own protocols, with at the very least masks required for the faithful and a one-meter (about three feet) distance kept at all times.
The first protocol was linked with the countrys Catholic bishops, after they issued a blistering public critique of Premier Giuseppe Contes government when it refused to allow public Masses two weeks ago, during the first easing of restrictions.
The bishops complained that their freedom to worship was being trampled on, suggesting they believed the state was violating the terms of the Lateran Treaty, the 1929 accord that regulates the relationship between the Italian state and the Vatican.
Eventually, an accord was reached, but it imposes a series of restrictions on access and even the administration of the sacraments: At SantEugenio, the Sunday 11 a.m. Mass usually exceeds 500 people. Now, only 150 can attend. Everyone must wear a face mask and sit apart.
Theres no holy water or choir, and unused pews for the morning Mass were roped off with tape to keep them sanitized for when bigger crowds come later in the day.
Priests must wear gloves during Communion and “take care to offer the host without coming into contact with the hands of the faithful,” according to the protocol. It goes without saying that the priest doesnt place the Eucharistic host on the tongue of the faithful, as is the Vaticans preferred way.
But Pope Francis has made clear he supports the measures, even if he bristled early on at the lockdown and said live-streamed Masses can never be a substitute for the real thing.
In his Sunday noon prayer, he welcomedRead More – Source