Excitement as Catholics in Ghana Celebrate First Public Mass after Lockdown

Parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua Parish at 3-Town Denu in the Keta-Akatsi Diocese seated at Mass on June 7 after three months of restrictions.
Credit: Cephas Afornu

The reopening of churches in Ghana after three months of suspension of public worship was marked with excitement as worshippers took part in Eucharistic celebrations in their respective parishes and prayer centers, albeit low attendance.

In Accra Archdiocese, not all parishes held public Mass on Sunday, June 7. Some parishes preferred to reschedule their official reopening to June 14 and to later dates. Parishes that had arranged for up to four Masses to cater for smaller numbers of congregants ended up holding only one Mass due to the unexpected low attendance.

At St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church at Three-Town Denu in the country’s Volta region, members of the faithful attended Mass and followed all the safety directives including the wearing of face mask and Social distancing after Bishop of Keta-Akatsi, Gabriel Edoe Kumordji gave a green light to public Masses in the diocese.

Welcoming the faithful, Fr. Michael Gardemor who ministers at the Parish prayed that parishioners continue to hold fast to faith in the unusual time, saying, “I give you credit for turning up on this first day to show your zeal and passion you have for God.”

He added, “It is amazing to see parishioners waiting patiently in a queue to be taken through the designed formalities such as temperature check, registration, washing of hands before having their turn to enter the church to be offered a seat.”

On his part, Fr. James Mikado, the Parish Priest of the parish took note of the day’s event, Trinity Sunday, calling on the faithful “to let the love that held the Blessed Trinity enable them move forward as one people for the progress of the church of God in the parish.”

He expressed his appreciation for the fact that the pattern of worship had changed and called for psychological adjustment.

“Unlike former days of worship, where one will sing and dance to express the joy of serving a living God, one need to be extremely conscious of oneself, being careful of not touching the neighbour or any material around,” the Fr. James observed.

The Chairman of the Parish Advisory Board, Cephas Afornu told ACI Africa correspondent that he found some aspects of the new normal in the church, amid COVID-19 restrictions, strange.

“The absence of handshake and hugging during the sign of peace coupled with the use of face masks throughout the Mass makes it difficult to easily identify a friend,” said Mr. Afornu.

“There was inner fear as to whether one was safe as far as the social environment was concerned because social distancing needs to be improved,” he said, noting that people need to discipline themselves by keeping the face mask constantly over their nose and mouth.

Following the lifting of the ban on public worship in Ghana, with a directive to have only 100 people attending Mass at any given time, amid other directives that were issued by the government, Catholic Bishops in the West African nation went ahead to offer liturgical guidelines for their respective jurisdictions.

Some Bishops decided not to resume public Mass until a time when all safety protocols given by the government were in place.

With the maximum number of congregants placed at a paltry 100, questions have risen about the number of Masses a Priest can preside over in a single day, especially in Parishes with thousands of people.

Responding to the query, Ghanaian Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu of Ghana’s Konongo-Mampong Diocese quoted the Canon Law section that permits a Priest to preside over one Mass per day and two on Sunday “except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.”

“If there is a shortage of Priests, the Local Ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation,” Bishop Osei-Bonsu said in reference to the Catholic Church regulations.

He added, “In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic with its limitation of 100 people per Mass, the bishop may grant permission for three Masses to be celebrated on Sunday or on Holy Days of obligation.”

Other options, he said, could include celebrating Vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

“A Sunday Vigil Mass is held on Saturday, but is the same as a Sunday Mass.  For one Priest, then, the maximum number of Masses that he can celebrate with the Vigil Mass will be four; one on Saturday evening and three on Sunday,” the Ghanaian Bishop explained.  

“But how many parishes have the luxury of three priests? What about if a parish has 2,000 people and not 1,000?” the Bishop posed, and explained, “It may not be possible to cater for all the members of a parish in terms of Mass attendance with the limitation of 100 people per Mass.” 

To abide by the government regulations concerning public Mass, the Bishop urged the parish leadership to be creative.

“We should realize that these are not normal times and so we have to look for other means to cater for the spiritual needs of our people,” he said and added, “We may, for example, want to consider online Masses for those who cannot attend Mass.”

Noting the challenge of Internet accessibility in some households, Bishop Osei-Bonsu urged those who cannot attend Mass both physically and online to say prayers at home.

“If we are not able to attend Mass physically or online, we can still say our prayers at home. We should be able to put up with some inconveniences in these unusual times for a while. We should also remember that in the early Church, Christians did not always have the luxury of a daily Mass,” he said.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that an appeal made by the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) in March to support the vulnerable members of society in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic has continued to receive positive responses.

Receiving a donation by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul on Saturday, June 6, Bishop Alfred Agyenta of Ghana’s Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocese said support towards the Bishops’ appeal was coming from locals as well as from outside the country.

“The Church had received a positive response within the Dioceses and outside the country, to reach out to the poor; what we are witnessing is how the Church within itself can mobilize,” said Bishop Agyenta while receiving a donation of clothing and food that was worth GHC 20,000.00 (US$4,000.00).

The Society of St. Vincent De Paul in Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocese located within the Upper East Region is a voluntary organization of lay people whose main objective is to support the poor and vulnerable through charity work.

The gesture by the Society was in response to an appeal by Bishop Agyenta to support the poor, the needy and vulnerable people in his jurisdiction.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]