Dear Msgri. /Frs., Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

There is no doubt that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still very much with us. Day by day, we continue to receive news of increase in the number of infected persons and deaths from complications arising from infections with the virus. However, as government and the people continue in their efforts to curtail the spread of the virus, it has become necessary to move on with our lives while trying our best to remain safe and healthy.

As Catholics, we maintain that celebration of the Sacraments and other acts of worship are not just important for our overall well-being as Catholic Christians, they are also an integral part of our lives that we cannot do without. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything, even our liturgical worship. We have been forced to participate in Masses via the television and on the internet. However, visual worship cannot substitute worship in physical presence.

We have been in dialogue with other Christians on the one hand and with government on the other hand. From these engagements, we have indications that the restrictions imposed in the wake of COVID-19 would be lifted soon. It has therefore become necessary that we give the following Guidelines as we implement a gradual restoration of public Mass in our Archdiocese:

  1. Requirements of Churches and Places of Worship.
    a. Church premises and environment must be clean at all times
    b. Parishes should ensure well ventilated spaces for worship at all times.
    c. Hand washing facilities i.e. running water and soap at the entry point and strategic places within the church premises.
    d. Hand Sanitizers must be provided at major entrances to Church premises.
    e. Proper refuse bins should be put in place within church premises and the surrounding so that people can properly dispose tissue paper/face mask.
    f. Parishes should have designated points for entry and exit clearly designated.
    g. Trained personnel are to check body temperature at entry points.
    h. Hygiene personnel to disinfect chairs, door handles and surface arears in the church at regular intervals.
    i. Arrangement/demarcation of pews to accommodate physical distancing of 2meters/6 feet in front, beside and behind worshippers.
    j. We have advocated that the size of the Church and the compliance with the 2meters distancing in front, beside and behind each worshipper should determine the number of worshippers to be present at each Mass. However, we await government announcement to determine the number that would be gathered at any single celebration.
  2. Procedures and Protocols
    a. Anyone coming into the church premises must wear a face mask.
    b. Anyone coming into the church premises must submit to body temperature check.
    c. After the temperature check at the gate, parishioners should sanitize their hands before entering the church premises
    d. Attendance at Mass should be strictly under the direction and supervision of the Parish Priest who must ensure that there is a record of Parishioners that attend each Mass. This he can ensure either through the use of the Parish Database in determining those who attend or through decisions on who comes from the Small Christian Communities. Or else, leaders of Associations of Lay faithful may be directed to form their members into groups to determine those that would attend which of the Masses on different Sundays. Parishes should use whichever procedure suits their situations as long as they ensure that they keep to the numbers and keep a list of names and information on those at each Mass.
    e. Public Masses are to be celebrated on SUNDAYS ONLY for now and between 7am and 3pm in order to ensure that people do not break the curfew. Priests are strongly encouraged to maximize this period to make more Masses available for the faithful.
    f. The following categories of persons who are generally recognized as being more vulnerable to infection are dispensed from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass. They are therefore STRONGLY ADVISED TO STAY AT HOME:
    i. The elderly, above 70 years,
    ii. Children below 10 years
    iii. Nursing mothers
    iv. Those who feel sick
    v. Those who don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to gather in a crowd even with the precautions we have put in place.
  3. Particular Liturgical Practices and Actions
    a. Only Priests should celebrate Mass without wearing masks. Other liturgical ministers on the Sanctuary should wear face masks.
    b. Where processions are to be made, the shortest possible route is to be used and they should be with the ministers in a single file with the required physical distance maintained.
    c. The number of Ministers on the sanctuary should be reduced to the barest minimum. A lector and two Mass servers at most is recommended.
    d. There should be minimal contact between the ministers on the sanctuary; their sitting positions should be arranged bearing the required physical distance in mind.
    e. Proper hygiene should be observed in the use of the microphone. Where possible, more microphones should be used by each minister.
    f. ALL offertory collections (1st, 2nd and Thanksgiving) should be taken up only and ONLY AFTER Holy Communion. This is to ensure that the faithful whose hands have been sanitized would have received Holy Communion on their palms before touching money again with their hands.
    g. For offertory collections, offertory baskets or collection bags with a long handle should be used, with physical distance always maintained. Alternatively, parishioners may go to the front of the sanctuary to give their offerings while maintaining physical distance.
    h. There would be no offertory procession. The gifts for the Eucharist should be left on the Credence Table from where Altar Servers would bring them to the Priest for preparation.
    i. The Sign of Peace is to be omitted.
    j. The Extra-ordinary ministers of the Holy Communion should sanitize their hands before consecration.
    k. Whenever there is a Concelebration, provision should be made for an additional chalice separate from the one from which the Chief Celebrant receives the sacred specie. Other priests would receive communion by intinction such that only the last of the concelebrants receive directly from the chalice.
    l. The Ciborium containing the small hosts for the distribution of Holy Communion should remain covered during consecration. The same thing should be done when there is more than one chalice for consecration.
    m. Those to receive communion are to come forward to the foot of the Sanctuary while maintaining physical distance.
    n. Holy Communion should be received directly on the palm of the hand; no hand gloves.
    o. Holy Communion should be given without the words since face masks will not be worn.
    p. Thanksgivings should be earlier arranged with the Parish Priest, with due consideration for the required physical distancing.
    q. Liturgical ministers other than priests may not use liturgical vestments. However, they should be dressed in regular clothes proper and befitting of liturgical worship.
    r. The use of the Holy Water font remains suspended
    Live-streamed Liturgies: we encourage parishes to continue the live streaming of Masses in order to provide for those mentioned in 2f above.

Other Sacraments and Pastoral Activities

  1. Penance/Reconciliation
    As restrictions are further lifted, the Sacrament of Penance should be scheduled, taking into account the number of individuals permitted to gather. Confessions are not to be heard in small spaces (e.g., traditional confessionals, reconciliation rooms, etc.). A big space which allows for required physical distancing, privacy and above all the maintenance of the dignity of the Sacrament is to be adopted for use. Those mentioned in 2f above may come to the church or parish office outside the scheduled times for confessions.

Priests are allowed to hear confessions under the following conditions:
 Priest and penitent wear face mask
 Both maintain physical distance.
 The sacredness of the sacrament is not to be compromised.

  1. Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying
    Priests are encouraged to continue to pastorally care for the sick, the elderly and those who cannot attend mass. Care for the Sick and Elderly which includes Communion, Anointing of the Sick, and Penance, may be celebrated for those in need at the discretion of the priest. In such situations, priests should ensure the following:
     that both Priest and recipient wear face masks
     they observe the required physical distancing while administering the Sacrament of Anointing of the sick.
     Anointing will be done using a piece of cotton wool.
     Use of hand sanitizer before and after the sacrament
  2. Baptism
    When restrictions have been relaxed further, the Sacrament of Baptism may once again be administered, taking into account the number of individuals permitted to gather while observing the required physical distance. Baptism may be celebrated given the following conditions:
     Those to be baptized do not exceed a maximum number of 10 candidates, each accompanied by both parents and one sponsor only.
     Anointing should be carried out using cotton wool, a fresh cotton wool should be used to anoint each candidate; the priests sanitizes his hands immediately afterwards.
     The Rite of Laying of Hands should be carried out without physical contact.
     The Rite of Ephatha may be carried out without physical contact.
  3. Marriage
    On the condition of further easing of restrictions, the Sacrament of Marriage may be administered taking into account the number of individuals permitted for gathering, while observing physical distance except for the couple for whom physical nearness is inevitable.
  4. Funerals
    Funerals may take place in compliance with the number of individuals permitted to gather while observing physical distance. In this case, the following conditions should be observed:
     Rite of Reception at the Entrance of the Church: the number of family members should be limited to a maximum of 5 members while maintaining the expected physical distance.
     At the graveside: the number of people at the interment should not exceed, the maximum number of persons required at social/religious gathering. Physical distance and standard hygiene practices should be strictly adhered to.
    My dear brothers and sisters, these are indeed unusual times for the whole world and the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to adopt modifications in our way of worship. These Guidelines have been provided in accordance with recommended safety precautions in order to keep us safe as we begin the celebration of public Masses again. We strongly encourage all Priests, Religious and the Lay Faithful of our Archdiocese to carefully study and implement these Guidelines. We must all keep in mind our obligation to protect ourselves and the faithful entrusted to our care as well as all our loved ones. We shall monitor the situation of things as they develop and review these Guidelines according to the developments and as needs arise. May God keep us safe and command this virus to depart from our world.

Finally, we cannot over-emphasise the fact that these modifications are temporary and their use is strictly for this period alone. We must not get so used to them that we begin to see them as normal. Therefore, if there are so-called new normal situations, they do not pertain to the core of the teachings and rites of celebrating the liturgy even if they have been modified for the moment. Physical presence at Mass, reception of Holy Communion as prescribed as well as other practices remain the ordinary ways and the present practices are extra-ordinary. May the Lord strengthen our faith and keep our feet on the path of life eternal.

+Alfred Adewale MARTINS
Archbishop, Metropolitan See of Lagos