The churches in Maharashtra are all set for a graded opening after the Government of Maharashtra permitted the opening of places of worship from Monday, November 16, 2020. Religious places across Maharashtra were shut since March this year after the central government imposed a complete lockdown in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Keeping in mind the experience of Churches in other States which opened earlier we thought it best to have a graded opening. Hence from tomorrow (16 November), we can open our Churches only for visits to the Blessed Sacrament and for personal prayer: two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening; I suggest 10 am to 12 noon and 4 pm to 7 pm. Because of particular local circumstances, you may change the timings,” wrote Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, in a letter to the Parish Priests and Priest Incharge of the churches in Maharashtra.
The letter also outlined some standard operating procedures (SOP) which confirmed to the SOPs laid down by the Maharashtra government. “Three cardinal points have to be observed: the wearing of masks; social distancing; provision for the sanitizing of hands. I also remind you: the holy water stoops should be empty; no touching of statues is permitted; and hymn books are to be kept aside,” stated Cardinal Oswald’s letter.
Choir or singing groups are not allowed and only recorded devotional music can be played as per Maharashtra government SOP. Some churches have requested persons above 65 yrs, children below 10 yrs, pregnant women and those with co-morbidities to not enter the church premises.
In a meeting on 18th November, The Archdiocese of Bombay decided that the Eucharistic celebrations will resume from Sunday, 29th November – the 1st Sunday of Advent. Holy Communion can be given outside the Church, possibly in a separate hall if available or on the way out after the mass. The archdiocese maintained the position on the choir and the hymn books but allowed a cantor with accompaniment. The Daily mass could be celebrated with the liturgy of Sunday.
Funerals and weddings can also be celebrated with the Eucharist in Church while strictly maintaining the government prescribed number of 50 for weddings and 20 for funerals. Funeral in church of a person who may have succumbed to COVID-19, the family should be instructed to inform the police in advance.
The decision on the Christmas mass, confessions for Christmas, etc, will be decided in the first or second week of December.
Most of the Churches are in various stages of opening as they have been training the ushers to handle the crowds and barricading the statues. Holy water sprinkling is not allowed and holy water fonts will be kept empty.