Catholic Church tightens rules for church services

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The Roman Catholic bishops in Austria have adopted stricter rules for the celebration of public services. For example, it is now mandatory to wear a mouth and nose protector during the entire service.

Children under six years of age and persons who cannot wear an MNS for health reasons are exempted. In addition, there is still no mask obligation during outdoor services.

Also new is the provision that during open-air services, seats must be provided for everyone to maintain the intended distance.

Masks are not compulsory for all
“If it is not possible to wear a mouth and nose protector during the celebration for the performance of liturgical services (priest, lector, cantor, etc.), they are exempted from wearing it for the absolutely necessary period of time, but must keep a larger safety distance to compensate for this, or comply with the following specifications for actions in ritual performance”, is another exception.

Since frequent putting on and taking off of the mouth and nose protector is problematic, the person who leads the service – usually the priest – will usually not wear a mask. The service of altar boys and girls is possible with a minimum distance and mask.


Choir singing desired
Because the coronavirus situation requires a reduction in vocals, the new framework contains a detailed specification for this requirement. For example, at Mass the Gloria, the Kehrvers, the Call to the Gospel, the Sanctus and possibly a song suitable for the day are to be sung together. Songs and chants should be accompanied by instruments, additional instrumental music is recommended.

Choir singing with possibly reduced instrumentation or solo singing are possible and desired under observance of all safety measures. “Singers shall keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters and wear MNS, which they may take off for singing”. During open-air church services, the singing of the faithful and the cantors shall be accompanied by wind instruments. “A hygiene concept is required for choral activities (rehearsals and services) in the church area”, it is stated.

Still no peace greeting
As before, it is still not allowed to shake hands in the service to greet peace. Baskets for the collection should not be passed on, but placed e.g. at the entrance and exit. Hand communion is still “strongly recommended”, but oral communion is not excluded.

There are detailed rules around the reception of communion. For example, the hosts must be covered during the mass until the communion is given. Shortly before handing out the hosts, the priest must put on the mouth-and-nose protection and thoroughly wash or disinfect the hands during the credence in the altar room. This also applies to the other communion ministers. “For hygienic reasons, they receive communion only after the communion of the congregation,” is a new rule.

Concrete rules for communion
During communion the faithful must keep a minimum distance of one meter. The words “The Body of Christ – Amen” shall be omitted immediately upon receipt of communion by the faithful. However, the priest may speak these words after the “Behold the Lamb of God … Lord, I am not worthy”, to which all answer with “Amen”.

“With Holy Communion in their hands, the faithful step at least two meters to the side to receive Communion in peace and dignity, which is possible with a slight lifting of the MNS,” it continues.

Prevention concepts for baptisms and marriages
For baptisms and marriages, as well as for first communion and confirmations, prevention concepts must be drawn up and a prevention officer appointed in each case. The Bishops’ Conference provides the dioceses and parishes responsible for these concepts with appropriate assistance.

The concretizations for baptism contained in the framework regulations concern some details of the celebration. For example, the water of baptism must be specially prepared and blessed; there are more detailed guidelines for the sign of the cross at the beginning of the celebration, the anointing of the child and other rites.

Confirmation on weekdays
For the celebration of First Communion the same rules apply as for the Eucharist, with the following exception: “For the reception of Communion, the children may take the MNS.

One innovation concerns Confirmation, which usually always takes place in the context of a mass and often on Sunday: On the other hand, “due to the special situation, Confirmation on weekdays within a celebration of the Word of God should be seriously considered”. The musical arrangement should also be kept correspondingly concise. Furthermore, there are detailed rules for administering the sacrament, in which the confirmand is called Chrisam on his forehead. However, the peace greeting is performed without the reaching of the hand.

Distance remains central
The most important rule for all public services is a minimum distance of one meter to all persons with whom one does not live in the same household. This rule is not an aggravation for the Roman Catholic Church, it is valid throughout Austria since the resumption of public services after the lockdown in mid-May. The obligation to maintain a minimum distance does not apply “if this requires the performance of religious acts”, such as the administration of sacraments.

The general rules also include that the holy water basins in the churches are emptied and cleaned. Disinfectant dispensers are to be provided in a clearly visible place at the church entrance. Surfaces or objects (e.g. door handles, but also books, benches, ambo) that are touched repeatedly must be cleaned and disinfected frequently. A welcome service from the parish should ensure that large gatherings of people before and after the services are prevented before and after the entrances and exits and provide all necessary information. The churches must be “ventilated in the best possible way” before and after the services.

Rules apply from Friday
The corresponding framework regulations were published on Monday and are valid throughout Austria from Friday, October 9. The reason for the amendment of the framework regulations is the current Corona situation and the measures agreed upon in this context between the churches and religious communities with the Ministry of Culture.

These have already been in force in the Catholic dioceses since September 21 and include, for example, compulsory wearing of masks during church services in closed rooms. The new framework regulation concretizes the protective measures already taken and makes them binding throughout Austria.

— Hector Pascua, Source, Ordinariat, erzdioezese-wien.at with reports from religion.0rf.at. Picture: stockilyapp.com

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