It’s unprecedented in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church: the faithful are turning online as the country enters the third week of Lent.
After Ash Wednesday last February 26, the next major Lenten rite is Palm Sunday, April 5, that ushers Holy Week. Holy Week lasts until April 11, followed by Easter Sunday on April 12.
Many churches have already cancelled Palm Sunday masses. Between now and Easter Sunday, a little more than three weeks, Catholics here and in many countries will now experience what it has not seen in more than 2,000 years: digital devotion.
“The crisis gives us the opportunity to unite ourselves with one another in the bond of spiritual communion through digital technology,” the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a circular over the weekend.
“Every diocese must therefore provide for the celebration of the Eucharist, other liturgical services and spiritual activities, transmitted live through the Internet, television, or radio,” Romulo G. Valles, archbishop of Davao and CBCP president, said in a circular to all bishops.
The celebration of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Week liturgical celebrations should continue even in the absence of a congregation through digital means and multimedia, including radio and TV “in spite of the fact that our faithful cannot be physically present in the Eucharistic celebration,” he said.
The archdiocese and three dioceses in Metro Manila have already decided that daily masses will be broadcast live on their Facebook pages.
In an online Mass from the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati City last Saturday, March 14, bishops in Manila, Cubao, Caloocan, Pasig, Novaliches, and Parañaque announced public masses will cease well beyond Holy Week until the coronavirus outbreak has waned.
The CBCP recommended the cancellation or postponement of recollections, pilgrimages, conferences, processions and other activities that gather people together in big numbers.
It urged bishops not to “take lightly” the recommendation of the Department of Health to avoid large gatherings whenever possible. “This is still the proven and effective measure to prevent and lessen the transmission of the virus,” it said, noting that dioceses have the prerogative to dispense the faithful from the Sunday and the Holy Days of Obligation.
“Such a dispensation, however, does not excuse us from our duty to provide the faithful with spiritual nourishment especially in times of crisis,” Valles said.
In the absence of digital technology, he reminded the faithful that “a mere desire to be part of the Eucharistic celebration, with the given circumstances, already unites us spiritually to the Body of Christ.”
Churches will remain open “so that those who need to pray and seek prayerful moments may find solace and strength in these trying moments,” Valles said. Parishes will sound together church bells at noon and 8 p.m. and pray the Oratio Imperata, Latin for Obligatory Prayer said publicly when a grave need or calamity occurs.
Priests will be available for individual confession and pastoral care of the sick while wearing face masks when offering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
The faithful are no longer obligated to go to mass in the Archdiocese of Davao and in the dioceses of San Pablo, Legazpi, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Boac, Novaliches, and Bulacan.
Churches will remain open while the daily Mass will be broadcast live on social media. Dioceses will now make masses available on radio, television, and the Internet.
Masses are online nationwide, from the Immaculate Conception School of Theology in Vigan City to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Quezon City; and Quiapo Church; to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu to the San Nicolas de Tolentino Cathedral Parish in Surigao City – and many parishes in between.