Sunday, 3 May 2020

Croatia's Catholics Return to Mass After 44 Days of Isolation

May 3, 2020 — Instead of holy water, the Catholic faithful at Zagreb's Our Lady of Lourdes Church used hand sanitizer.

"It is great to be here again," said Ana, a doctor, smiling as she entered according to Jutarnji List.

It's Saturday morning, ten minutes before 7 and 44 days since the last mass which the faithful were allowed to attend.

What will it all look like? Will it be crowded? Will the believers stick to the directions? Will there be a handshake in peace, communion at the mouth? Will there be social distancing, discipline? And will the priest put a mask on his mouth when he shares Communion?

There were 33 attendees at the mass, even though the church can accommodate a significantly larger number of believers. Some expected the turnout to be somewhat higher after 44 days of exile. But the epidemic and ban on public gatherings and listening to holy masses online on various social networks and platforms have done enough to break some habits.

"We broke the ice," two retirees said after the mass. "Many may not have been clear enough about how this would work, but it was all very organized and laid-back. Disciplined."

And, at least as far as this parish community is concerned, so it was. Instead of being blessed with water, the believers crossed themselves with their hands, which had been washed with disinfectant just before.

In this church, led by the Franciscans of Split, there were three tables in front of the entrance, with a disinfectant, and signs glued to the columns, on which the instructions to the faithful are very clearly given. 

For those who do not know, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes can accommodate at least 300 believers. Probably more. The church itself has about 70 benches that are arranged in three rows.

But this Saturday morning, the space is properly tidy. Every other bench is surrounded by a string, so every believer gets their own bench. Two meters of space.

Some wore protective masks over the mouth during mass, some wore gloves and others nothing. Also, there were no prayer cards or songbooks on the benches.

Before Mass began, priests offered confession, using the Spiritual Book Room as a confessional. The door was open, with directions greeting anyone who entered.

Even before confession, a disinfectant must be applied to hands, combining the medical and spiritual. Masks must be donned. If you don't have one, they are laid on a chair in the confessional itself. The priest is three meters away from the kneeling pole. There is no long spiritual discussion about sins. Only penance, a prayer of remorse, and forgiveness.

"Leave the room door open when exiting the confessional," the instructions at the confessional's exit say.

Mass itself had no sermons. Believers did not extend a hand for peace, and the priest gave instructions on how to behave. Before communion itself, he moved away shortly from the altar, disinfected his own hands, and put a mask around his mouth.

- First, communion goes the middle order. You go to the right, receive Communion on your hands and return to your benches on the left. Then goes the left row, then the right. Keep a distance,” he said.

And the people, probably used to the instructions they received from the national Civil Protection Directorate, listened. They even exited the church on the right side of the stairs. Disciplined.

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