ROME — As Italy ends its COVID-related state of emergency and eases health and vaccination restrictions, Italian bishops have also changed their own policies for liturgical celebrations.
Among other things, the new rules, issued on March 25 by the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) ahead of the end of Italy’s state of emergency on April 1, remove strict distancing requirements during Masses and appear to allow the faithful to receive Communion again with the tongue, although this is discouraged.
Across Italy in general, public safety and sanitation guidelines, which have tightened and loosened since the start of the pandemic two years ago, have finally eased more permanently, as around 90% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated. .
Since April 1, the so-called “Super Green Pass” proving that vaccination plus two booster shots is no longer necessary for eating out in restaurants and bars, or for taking public transport, but proof of vaccination is always required for indoor events and activities. until April 30. From now on, people over 50 can also work without having to have the Super Green Pass.
The special FFP2 mask is still mandatory for public transport and other closed-door events, and vaccine requirements for healthcare and sanitation workers, as well as those working in education, are extended beyond April 30 deadline.
In the aftermath, the IEC, in its own new rules, announced that under Italy’s general rules, masks will still be required to attend indoor Mass until April 30, when the mandate general will be lifted.
Social distancing of at least 3 feet is no longer required inside churches, but worshipers are encouraged to avoid crowds at entrances or exits when entering or leaving liturgical celebrations.
Holy water fountains are still empty and Mass goers are still encouraged to use hand sanitiser when entering churches. Likewise, the peace sign is still hung in the form of a handshake or a kiss on the cheek, but a small gesture like a smile or a wave is encouraged.
Regarding communion, celebrants must continue to wear a mask and sanitize their hands before distributing the Eucharist. The new rules did not explicitly state that receiving Communion on the tongue was permitted, but said distribution should be done “preferably in the hand”, implying that the ban on receiving on the tongue has been lifted.
A spokesperson for the IEC did not immediately respond to Noderequest of clarification.
At least some doors and windows should be open during celebrations to allow fresh air circulation, and those with flu symptoms or who think they may have contracted COVID-19 are discouraged from attending mass.
Processions, a popular summer activity in many parishes, are now permitted again.
For Holy Week and Easter, the Italian bishops encouraged the faithful to attend services in person, rather than watching online, and offered specific guidelines in addition to the new rules.
Among the specific points included are requests for the faithful to touch only their own palm branch on Palm Sunday, and no one else, and for priests who choose to include the rite of the washing of feet in the Mass of Holy Thursday to wear a mask and disinfect your hands after each foot wash. The rite had been suspended during the pandemic.
The Good Friday celebration of the Lord’s Passion will take place as usual, but the act of kissing the cross is still prohibited. It was also requested that a special prayer “for those who suffer because of war” be added to the intentions of this liturgy.
Papal events for Holy Week and Easter are also more or less returning to normal, except for general rules such as mask-wearing and hand hygiene.
Pope Francis will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica and preside over a Chrism Mass – at which holy oils used in the Church’s sacraments are blessed – on Thursday morning.
The Vatican has not disclosed where the pope will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. In the past, he celebrated the liturgy in prisons, centers for the disabled and reception centers for migrants, but for the past two years the rite has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, in the absence of a public Mass, Francis celebrated the liturgy in the private apartment of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom he had fired months earlier over allegations of embezzlement.
Becciu is also currently on trial for embezzlement and abuse of power in a major London property deal that went wrong, costing the Vatican millions. His second hearing, during which he will testify about his relationship with Cecilia Morogna, a fellow Sardinian and security consultant hired to help the Vatican negotiate hostage-takings, is set for April 7.
Pope Francis will again preside over the Via Crucis prayer at the Colosseum after leading the Good Friday service earlier in the evening. The Via Crucis has been canceled for the past two years due to COVID-19, celebrated in St. Peter’s Square instead, but this year it has been returned to the Colosseum as usual.
Francis will then celebrate the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and preside over Mass on Easter morning.
It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis will preside over each of his Holy Week and Easter engagements, or whether he will step down and ask a cardinal to celebrate in his place due to intense and persistent pain in his knee.
Pope Francis was unable to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at the start of Lent and had to cancel a planned visit to Florence for a high-level conference on the Mediterranean due to what the Vatican described as “pain acute in the knee”.
The pope was seen visibly limping during his recent visit to Malta on April 2-3 and told reporters on his flight back to Rome that his knee problems had made his health “a bit temperamental” and caused some problems with walking and moving in general. However, he said the problem is “getting better”.
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