Addressing Clerics in the country, the Bishops directed, “In the event that priests are called upon to administer Sacraments such as anointing of the sick who are in danger of death, they must seek medical advice from competent health professionals and ensure that they protect themselves and others by using Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).”
However, they said, “elderly priests and those with underlying medical conditions are not obliged to preside over public Holy Masses, conducting funerals or anointing the sick.”
They added, “old people and all those with underlying medical problems are dispensed from Church attendance and funerals until the situation improves.”
Priests and religious “should consider all gatherings such as the Holy Mass, funeral functions etc. as occasions for conducting public awareness on the seriousness and dangers of COVID-19 so as to help the faithful understand the spirit and importance of Guidelines in Public Health Act and ECM Guidelines in preventing further spread of coronavirus,” the eight Church leaders stated in their two-page letter.
They further directed that priests and religious in the country ensure that “the faithful strictly follow basic rules of hygiene namely, washing hands with soap regularly and thoroughly, avoiding physical greeting and contact, observing social distancing of 4 metres from others; avoiding to touch eyes, nose and mouth; covering mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing; avoiding spitting in public and avoiding attending public gatherings or events.”
Writing under their umbrella body, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), the Prelates also directed that “pastoral activities, which by their nature bring together large numbers of people such as ordinations, confirmations etc. should be suspended or postponed until the situation improves.”
“In the event that an ordination ceremony takes place, the Presidential Decree on restricting congregants to not more than 100 should be strictly followed while observing social distance,” the Bishops clarified.
In March, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika declared the COVID-19 virus a national disaster and ordered that all education institutions in the country be closed. The Head of State also restricted public gatherings to 100 people at most.
Following the President’s directive, Catholic Bishops in the landlocked country went on to issue guidelines for the celebration of the Holy Mass and other liturgical services in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Dubbed ECM guidelines, the Church leaders directed that the Eucharist be received in the hands and not on the tongue, priests receive Holy Communion by intinction where there is concelebration of Mass, and holy water fonts be drained, among other directives.