Question by Am Richard, Ho Diocese:
From the directives given by the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs in the re-opening of churches, hosts for Holy Communion are to be provided at the entrance of the church. But it is obvious that Holy Communion is blessed and distributed to the faithful at a particular time during Mass. Will the implementation of this directive not go against the Catholic Church’s liturgical practices and doctrines?

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

In his tenth address to the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic on 31 May 2020, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, mentioned the lifting of the ban on social gatherings including religious gatherings. He added that the Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs would, on the next day, 1 June 2020 outline, in detail, the specific guidelines for the safe reopening of churches and mosques.

One of the measures mentioned by the Minister in his Guidelines is what the questioner is referring to, namely, no. XXIV which reads: “Pre-packaged communion bread and wine should be picked up by members at the point of entry”. I do not know who advised the Minister on this matter before he came out with this directive.

How is this directive meant to be practicalized? Will the members hold the “pre-packaged communion bread and wine” in their hands in church until such a time that prayers are said over them, after which they will consume the consecrated bread and drink the consecrated wine? Are they going to be holding these elements all the way through the service until it is time for communion? How will they be consecrated? Where will they put them when they are taking money from their purses or wallets for collection?

This directive from the Minister goes against the liturgical practices of most Christian Churches, especially those of the mainline Churches. It certainly goes against the liturgical norms of the Catholic Church which demand that the bread and wine be on the altar for the consecration.

People cannot be holding them in the pews to be consecrated! I would like to tell the Minister in no uncertain terms that some of us cannot comply with this directive.
I am sure that the Minister gave this directive on grounds of health, but we can achieve the same aim without going against our liturgical norms and traditions. In these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of safety measures have been put in place by the various churches to check the spread of the Coronavirus.

If I may use the Catholic Church as an example, the hosts for communion are put in a container (ciborium) before Mass and are put on the credence table in the sanctuary. The priest must wash or sanitize his hands before putting the hosts in the ciborium. The wine is likewise put on the credence table like the hosts before Mass. Both the bread and the wine are brought to the altar from the credence table at the Preparation of the Gifts. They are consecrated during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer and distributed to the faithful at communion time. The priest must sanitize his hands before he distributes communion. In these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, only the consecrated bread (the Body of Christ) will be given to the lay faithful. The chalice will not be given to them.

The faithful are required to wear face masks while they are in church. In going for holy communion, it is recommended that as the communicant approaches the priest, he pulls down the face mask, stretches his hand to receive Communion in the palm of the hand, puts it on the tongue, and then pulls the face mask up. Every effort should be made to avoid skin to skin contact between the priest and the communicant. If the priest accidentally touches a communicant’s hand, he should stop and sanitize his own hands before moving on to the next communicant. He must also sanitize his hands after communion.

The chalice must not be shared. In the case of a concelebrated Mass, extra chalices should be made available for the concelebrants who will communicate by intinction, i.e. by dipping the consecrated host in the consecrated wine. If there are no extra chalices, the principal celebrant will be the only one to partake of the blood of Christ. It is recommended that people who attend Mass sanitize or wash their hands when they leave the church, as they may have touched all kinds of surfaces in church, including the pews.

With all these measures in place, the health of those who attend Mass will be safeguarded, and so there will be no need to carry out the directive of the Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs that “Pre-packaged communion bread and wine should be picked up by members at the point of entry”.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).

Authored by Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu

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