HONG KONG (SE): As the Diocese of Hong Kong prepared to reopen parishes and Mass centres for public weekday Masses beginning June 1 and Sunday Masses on June 7, preparations were undertaken to accommodate parishioners in line with the capacity restrictions spelled out in government regulations along with necessary preventive measures.
All liturgical celebrations had been suspended in since February 15 due to the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak.
However, as conditions improved, the Hong Kong government announced on May 19 that religious gatherings would be exempt from the eight-person limit in public places on the condition that the congregation would be no more than half the normal capacity of the church and that worshippers will not be allowed to eat or drink except for food and drink used for religious rites.
In the June 1 newsletter of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, the cathedral parish priest, said the resumption of Masses came about after religious leaders negotiated with the government and drew its attention to the spiritual needs of the people.
The Chancery office issued its Pastoral Guidelines on the Resumption of Public Masses on May 22 (Sunday Examiner, May 31) following detailed deliberations with all parish priests on what measures should be taken to follow government requirements. The guidelines require that facemasks be worn prior to entering churches and that, while inside, there be an adequate distance between people.
Under the new guidelines, the sign of peace at Mass should be expressed through bowing heads instead of shaking hands. In addition, Communion is to be received only in the hand; hands should be sanitised both before and after. After Masses, seats should be cleaned and disinfected and the people should leave and avoid socialising.
Father Chan urged parishioners to follow the guidelines and help with the cleaning and sanitising after Mass if possible. The cathedral adjusted its 11:00am Sunday Mass to 11:30am to allow more time for sanitising.
Father Timothy Yan Ho-fung, assistant parish priest of St. Francis Church, Ma On Shan, told the Sunday Examiner at the end of May that the parish would add one English Mass at 4.00pm on Sunday to accommodate more people and would invite more volunteers to help.
The intervals between the three Masses on Sunday morning were also lengthened from half an hour to one hour to allow more time for sanitising, temperature checking and allocation of seats.
Father Yan said the parish chapel can only accommodate 300 to 400 people so it was usually full for Sunday Mass. As a result, it was necessary to allocate space in the parish hall for Massgoers who would be brought there once the chapel is full.
He said there would be separate entry and exit doors with clear signs to facilitate efficient temperature checking. He believed additional adjustments would be made after Sunday Masses resume on June 7 as the parish learns from experience.
Father Paul Tam Wing-ming, parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi parish, Shek Kip-Mei, told the Kung Kao Po on May 26 that the biggest difficulty would be limiting the number of people attending Mass and making sure all have their temperatures checked before entering. They will need to line up at the entrance for temperature checks and hand sanitising by around five volunteers.
Father Tam said the chapel can accommodate 1,200 people and normally, only around 400 people came to Mass, which has already met the capacity requirement of the government. So there was no need to increase the number of Masses or find more space to accommodate Massgoers.
Sam So Kwok-wai, president of the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity, said that he believes people would be eager take part in the Sunday Mass on June 7, but many parishes are worried that the number of participants might exceed the limit required by the government. He said he understands that some parishes might not resume Sunday Masses for this reason and would only be open for weekday Masses.
He believes parishes should strengthen formation work to help lay people get involved in parish life again once the pandemic subsides, as people have become used to staying at home.
He also urged people to help each other during the pandemic by sharing their extra virus-prevention materials such as face masks and hand sanitisers with those in need at the church.