COVID-19: Masses to resume in Catholic churches in Singapore

This photograph taken on February 14, 2017, shows people waiting outside the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

[UPDATE: Resumption of Masses from 14 March.]

SINGAPORE — Catholic Masses are set to resume on 14 and 15 March, when all churches have put in the necessary precautionary measures.

In a Facebook post on Thursday (5 March), the Roman Catholic Archdiocese said that the resumption of Masses is subject to prevailing guidelines and advisories from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Weekday masses may also be resumed on 16 March, it added.

The Archdiocese also said that those who do not wish to take the risk “are exempt from attending Mass to fulfil the Sunday Obligation”. Instead, the obligation can be fulfilled by participating in the “online Mass or spending time in prayer, reading and reflecting on the recommended scripture readings for the day”.

Some three weeks ago on 14 February, the Archdiocese had announced the “indefinite suspension of public Masses, both weekday and weekend” from Saturday (15 February), 12pm.

It did so in light of the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases here.

In a pastoral letter published on Facebook on Friday evening (14 February), Archbishop William Goh said that “the cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy”.

Catholics have an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. “They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio,” he said.

Live-streaming of the Sunday Mass from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was then made available on Sundays at 5.30pm.

Here is Archbishop William Goh’s letter in full:

“My dear People of God,

Over the past weeks, we have provided medical and public health advisories to minimize the risk of a cluster outbreak of the COVID-19 among our congregations and priests.

We have even considered mandating compulsory taking of temperature. Yet, we are also aware that temperature-taking is not a fool-proof screening tool as persons who are asymptomatic can also be carriers of the infection. Thus, implementing temperature screening may not entirely help prevent the spread of this infection even though it does mitigate the possibility of its transmission. As Catholics, we need to be responsible in playing our part to contain the spread of this virus by avoiding large gatherings of people.

Hence, given the current escalating situation which is proving to be difficult to contain, all public Masses, both on weekdays and weekends will be suspended indefinitely with effect on Saturday, 15 February, 12pm until there is greater clarity on the way forward. Likewise, all other public events with large numbers of people attending, such as formation sessions, retreats and seminars should be suspended.

Nevertheless, the cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy. They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio. Please check the archdiocesan website for the time of the online broadcast. (https://www.catholic.sg) Following the broadcast of the Mass will help you to receive the Lord spiritually. You can also gather as a family for the Liturgy of the Word by spending time in prayer, reading the Word of God of the Sunday Liturgy and interceding for the world that this Covid-19 virus will be contained and eradicated. Even if you cannot gather together as a family to worship, you should individually spend at least half an hour in quiet time to pray and especially read the Word of God.

For weddings and funerals these are considered private services which means only invited guests can attend. Arrangements will have to be made with the parish priest. All precautionary measures must be taken as per the advice of the Catholic Medical Guild (CMG).

For those who need the sacraments urgently, e.g. Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, please make an appointment with the priests in your parish. Ministers of the sacraments must also take proper precautions when ministering to parishioners.

Finally, please continue to follow the safeguards and precautions that the CMG have issued periodically (https://coronavirus.catholic.sg)

Thank you for your patience and understanding. Let us continue to pray for each other, especially those who have succumbed to this illness; and that the Lord will free us from this Covid-19 so that we can continue to worship freely and build up the community in love and service. Pray also for those in the frontlines – the doctors and the nurses – who are putting their own well-being in the service of the sick; that the Lord will protect them and their loved ones from harm.

Yours devotedly in the Lord
Most Rev William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore”

Ministers met with church leaders

Separately, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong and Minister for Culture, Community & Youth Grace Fu met with church leaders on Friday night (14 February) to update them on the situation, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press statement.

They also provided guidance on precautionary measures that churches can take to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

The MOH added it advises that worship services may continue, but with appropriate precautionary measures.

“As churches are places where large numbers of congregants come together to worship, it is important to put in place precautionary measures and emphasise personal hygiene practices to reduce the risk of transmission,” said the ministry.

The MOH said that the ministers noted that many churches have already instituted measures to protect their congregations, including advisories to members, temperature screening, reducing mingling, as well as suspending or deferring non-essential programmes.

“Other measures that can be adopted include increasing the frequency of cleaning of commonly used areas, minimising sharing of common items where possible, and maintaining good ventilation of event venues,” it added.

The ministry advised members of the public, including congregants and church workers, to consult a doctor immediately and not go to church if they feel unwell.

“The most effective method to prevent transmission remains through good personal hygiene of regular handwashing with soap and water, and to avoid touching our face unnecessarily,” it added.

Bring own mats to mosque

Meanwhile, speaking to the Straits Times before the Friday prayer session (14 February) at the newly-rebuilt Angullia Mosque in Serangoon Road, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that Muslims attending prayers at mosques are encouraged to take their own mats.

They should also avoid shaking hands – a customary greeting for Muslims in Singapore – in order to minimise contact.

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