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South African Archdiocese Maintains Stance against Singing to Curb COVID-19 Infections

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of South Africa’s Cape Town Archdiocese. Credit: Cape Town Archdiocese

The Catholic Archbishop of South Africa’s Cape Town Archdiocese has urged the people of God under his pastoral care to continue exercising restraint against singing during Holy Mass to curb COVID-19 infections.

Archbishop Stephen Brislin has issued a reminder of Church protocols including the accepted number of participants during Eucharistic celebration and in other Church gatherings following a move by the government to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the country.

In a statement dated Monday, September 13, Archbishop Brislin lauds the government’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions but acknowledges that the move may mean increased infections.

“While we welcome the easing of restrictions, we wish to point out that since people will be more mobile the threat of infections will still be a reality,” the South African Archbishop says.

He adds, “We therefore appeal to all concerned to practice the recommended hygiene measures and social distancing norms already in place.”

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“We particularly request that the crowding of doorways during the entrance and dismissal times of our liturgies be avoided and that where possible people leave the church using different exit points,” Archbishop Brislin says.

He cautions against singing in Church and directs that when necessary, one or two people wearing face masks will be allowed to sing while the rest remain silent.

“We also wish to reinforce the norm that singing be severely curtailed or omitted altogether. Where singing is allowed, it ought to be done by one or two cantors wearing masks,” Archbishop Brislin says.

He adds, “As indicated by the President during his address on September 12, the current variant is airborne and this is where the danger lies.”

On Sunday, September 12, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the easing of COVID-19 lockdown regulations in the country, which were to be implemented from Monday, September 13 as the country moves to adjusted level 2.

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This was in response to what was described as a decline in infections in South Africa, except for the Northern Cape and the Free State Provinces.

President Ramaphosa said efforts were being made to determine the driving forces behind the relatively high infection rate in the two Provinces. 

In the September 13 communique, Archbishop Brislin appreciates the authorities in the country for their input in the fight against the pandemic.

“At the outset, we wish to thank all concerned for the collaboration shown during these difficult times. A special word of thanks needs to go to the COVID-19 officers and those in charge of bookings in Parishes, who do their work with great diligence,” the Archbishop of Cape Town says.

He adds, “We are also grateful for the pastoral zeal and prudent discretion shown by many Priests. Your attention to the wellbeing of the members of the flock entrusted to you and your strategic interventions when there were signs of danger are appreciated. It is this kind of prudent pastoral action that engenders confidence among the laity.”

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In a letter to all members of the Clergy, Lay leaders, women and men Religious, and Institutions in the Archdiocese of Cape Town, Archbishop Brislin confirms that the directive not to occupy more than 30 percent of the sitting capacity will remain in place “until further notice.”

“Churches which are large enough may now cater for a maximum of 250 persons inclusive of the celebrant and the assisting ministers, provided that the number does not exceed thirty percent of the seating capacity,” he directs, and adds that the Archbishop’s dispensation from attending Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is extended until further notice.

The South African Prelate who was appointed Archbishop of Cape Town in December 2009 directs that those who are prevented from attending Holy Mass ought to follow the live-streamed Eucharistic celebration and make their acts spiritual communion as prescribed.

He also recommends that where live-streaming is not possible, the faithful follow the liturgy of the Word up to and including the intercessions and also make their “acts of spiritual communion”.

In-person participation in funerals in the South African Archdiocese will remain at a maximum of fifty persons inclusive of the ministers provided that no more than thirty percent of the seating capacity of the church is used, Archbishop Brislin directs.

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He further says in his September 13 statement, “All gatherings associated with funerals such as night vigils and ‘after tears’ gatherings remain prohibited by law.”

“Also, by law, the occupancy certificate forms issued on 26th July 2021 must be completed, signed by the Parish Priest/Administrator, stamped with the Parish seal and displayed at all entrances to the church. For ease of reference a blank form is included with this notice.”

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Cape Town has appealed to the leadership of Parishes in the Archdiocese to assist with feeding the poor in the country with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

“Food is to be given on a take away basis only,” Archbishop Brislin said, and added, “Feeding the hungry is deemed an essential service and Church premises may be used for that purpose provided all safety protocols are observed … We thank all concerned for the patience shown and for the many sacrifices that have been made thus far.”