Towards Resuming Church Activities From 21 June
Dear brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Tokyo:
After the declaration of state of emergency was lifted last 25 May, we have seen public schools in Tokyo and Chiba reopened, and small gatherings allowed to take place after taking precautionary measures against COVID-19 infections.
Despite the suspension of “public masses” from the day after Ash Wednesday, I would like to thank everyone for your perseverance and cooperation for the sake of protecting all life, even amidst spiritual thirst. As we continue to coexist with the coronavirus, we must search for new practices in our Church life. For this, I ask for your further understanding and cooperation.
CHURCH ACTIVITIES WILL RESUME IN STAGES FROM 21 JUNE.
It has been pointed out that there are waves of infections, and that there is a possibility for infections to spread once again. This would require a careful and flexible response. Therefore, we will provide measures in four stages according to the situation as shown in the attachment.
WE ARE CURRENTLY IN “STAGE 4” AND WILL SHIFT TO “STAGE 3” STARTING 21 JUNE.
Kindly see the attached document for the conditions pertaining to each stage. However, since this is a basic guideline whose application may vary depending on the situation of the area or the parish, please respond to the actual situation appropriately and with flexibility.
Please take note that the following two points are “minimum necessary conditions” for “Stage 3”:
- In order to keep a distance of 1.5 to 2 meters from each other while inside the Church, we have to limit the number of people who can enter the Church. If this is not possible, gathering inside the Church for liturgical celebrations will not be allowed.
- I would like to apologize to the elderly and those who have chronic illness, that in giving priority to protecting life, I would like to ask you to please pray at home during this Stage 3 period.
In case it would be difficult to gain cooperation with such conditions and with the requests listed below, we may have no choice but to give up resuming Church activities in the parish for the time being. This is a necessary action to protect each other’s lives. I would really appreciate your understanding and cooperation.
The following section summarizes the main conditions for Stage 3. The third section of this document is a compilation of all four stages. Two other items for reference will follow.
MAIN CONDITIONS FOR CHURCH ACTIVITIES (STAGE 3)
FOR THE TIME BEING AFTER 21 JUNE
In order to keep a distance of 1.5 to 2 meters from each other while inside the Church, we have to limit the number of people who can enter the Church. If this is not possible, gathering inside the Church for liturgical celebrations will not be allowed.
Kindly follow the instructions of your parish priest on the specific ways to ensure social distancing inside the Church. Please observe the limit in the number of people allowed to enter. Also, please refrain from going out in search of another Church where the Holy Mass is celebrated. Just follow the instructions in the Church where you belong to or in the community where you are part of.
I would like to apologize to the elderly and those who have chronic illness, that in giving priority to protecting life, I would like to ask you to please stay at home during this Stage 3 period.
- Conventionally, “elderly” has been defined as those who are 65 years old (前期高齢者early elderly) or older. Presently in Stage 3, especially for those who are 75 years old and older, even those without serious illness, kindly pray at home for the time being. Very soon it will be hot, so please take measures and be careful not to get heat stroke.
- For those who are over 65 years old, kindly consider the risks involved before making a decision.
Please take note that all the faithful of the Tokyo Archdiocese are dispensed from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
As we had been doing since the beginning from 31st January, let us continue to take proper precautionary measures against COVID-19 such as hand disinfection, providing sufficient ventilation, with everyone wearing face masks for the time being.
For the moment, please refrain from “singing all together” at Holy Mass and at gatherings. It is however possible to have an organist playing the hymns and a cantor singing alone from a distance.
In the meantime, there will be no offertory procession at the Holy Mass. Also, please refrain from communion by mouth (tongue) for the time being.
- Activities other than the Holy Mass such as meetings of up to about 20 persons may be held if the precautionary measures described in 3 above are observed, while maintaining distance from each other and keeping the gathering as short as possible.
Note: Priests who are over 75 years old celebrating the Holy Mass, have been advised not to take part in the distribution of Holy Communion in order to avoid the possibility of infection. We will ask some parishioners to serve as “extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.” I hope you understand the extraordinary liturgical measures to prevent the transmission of coronavirus to our parishioners as well as to our priests.
Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, SVD Archbishop of Tokyo
ATTACHMENT: FOUR STAGES OF CHURCH ACTIVITIES (June 2020)
STAGE 1：REGULAR MASS (PUBLIC MASS) AND ACTIVITIES
Regular mass and activities held just as usual as before COVID-19 occurred.
STAGE 2：PUBLIC MASS AND ACTIVITIES AFTER TAKING PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES AGAINST COVID-19
- Measures: cough etiquette, thorough hand-washing, placing of alcohol hand sanitizers at entrances to facilities, keeping doors of facilities (including Churches) open, refraining from use of holy water fonts/vessels, proper ventilation.
- Holy Mass: limit number of people if deemed necessary, no offertory (bread and wine) procession, no physical contact during the greetings of peace, communion by hand, persons who are not feeling well refrain from attending mass, allow wearing of face masks (parishioners, servers, priests), dispensation from obligation to attend Sunday mass for persons who are worried about their physical condition.
- Sacraments: to be celebrated after taking precautionary measures (Baptism, Matrimony, Confession, Anointing of the Sick).
Activities: avoid the Three C’s (Closed spaces, Crowded places, Close-contact setting), keep it as short as possible.
STAGE 3：PUBLIC MASS AND ACTIVITIES WITH CONDITIONS
- Holy Mass: limit number of people, proper ventilation, hand disinfection, no singing, with short homily, no offertory procession (including collection of monetary offerings), no physical contact during the greetings of peace, communion by hand, all wear face masks (parishioners, servers, priests), consider shortening the time for celebration (if possible, celebrate mass more than once), non-participation of parishioners with chronic illness and the elderly depending on the situation, dispensation from obligation to attend Sunday mass for all the faithful of Tokyo Archdiocese
- Baptism – to be celebrated in a “special mass for baptism” for a small number of people.
- Matrimony － basically to be postponed (but may also be celebrated after taking precautionary measures).
- Confession － to be celebrated after taking precautionary measures and keeping a distance.
- Anointing of the Sick － to be celebrated after taking sufficient precautionary measures.
- Funerals: to be held after discussing with the bereaved family and taking sufficient precautionary measures.
- Activities: allowed for small-scale activities, avoiding the Three C’s (Closed spaces, Crowded places, Close-contact setting), keeping it short.
STAGE 4：SUSPENSION OF PUBLIC MASS AND ACTIVITIES
- Holy Mass: no public mass (“non-public” mass may be celebrated), dispensation from obligation to attend Sunday mass for all the faithful of Tokyo Archdiocese
- Baptism – to be postponed
- Matrimony － to be postponed
- Confession － to be postponed
- Anointing of the Sick － to be celebrated after taking sufficient precautionary measures
- Funerals: to be held after discussing with the bereaved family and taking sufficient precautionary measures possible to proceed with cremation first and have the funeral mass at a later date
- Activities: all activities suspended
Reference 1: Reason why the elderly people are requested to pray at home for the time being
With the emergency declaration lifted, the Church is also preparing to bring back gradually the regular liturgical celebration of public masses which have been suspended since Lent.
On its initial stage, we are requesting that the so-called elderly people, as well as those with serious illness, refrain from participating in the Holy Mass.
We have received feedbacks like “I am healthy so it is okay for me to go to Church.” However, we appeal especially to the elderly for the time being due to the following reason.
The basis for such a decision is that, among several options available, we choose the one closest to achieving the principle “to protect all life.” As an institution in our society, we must also consider our responsibility to fulfill our task for the common good.
On COVID-19 according to the Expert’s Meeting of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW)
“It has been reported that about 80% of those infected present only mild symptoms, which will heal in many cases. On the other hand, the severity of the novel coronavirus disease is reported to have higher mortality rate compared to seasonal influenza. The risk of developing severe symptoms are particularly high among the elderly and patients with underlying diseases.”
Regarding the routes of transmission according to the Expert’s Meeting of the MHLW
“The routes of transmission are generally through droplets and contacts. Under certain circumstances, such as when talking to many people at a short distance in confined spaces, there is the risk of spreading the infection even without coughing or sneezing.”
- The Basic Policies by the Government of Japan also points out the following:
The mortality rate and pneumonia rate due to COVID-19 infections are considered to be significantly higher than those of seasonal influenza. It has been reported that the risk of developing severe symptoms are particularly high among the elderly and patients with chronic illness, and that it is important to take measures concerning infection control within medical institutions and nursing homes. According to the report on China, the percentage of deaths by age is 6% among those aged 60 and above. However, it indicates that the percentage for those under the age of 30 is 0.2%.
In addition, according to the report on Japan (published on April 30, 2020), the majority of cases are persons over 20 years old, with a fatality rate of 7.7%, and mortality rate of 2.5%. However, it has been reported that the fatality rate and mortality rate among persons over 60 years old and among men are higher.”
Taking into account the information from public institutions and the opinion of medical experts as described above, we have decided that despite the resumption of public masses, it will be good for the elderly and those with chronic illness to please wait a while for the first few weeks to avoid the risk of being infected as well us unknowingly infecting others.
This situation will not last forever. While carefully examining the level of infections in the whole community and considering the responses made by the government, we will gradually advance to the next stage until all people can participate. For the meantime, I ask for your understanding and patient endurance of our situation.
I would really appreciate your understanding and cooperation as we start on a small scale first, and gradually increase the number of people who may participate in Church activities.
Reference 2 : Summary of precautionary measures concerning COVID-19
- As a general hygienic measure, let us not forget the cough etiquette, and let us wash our hands regularly. Alcohol hand sanitizers are to be made available near entrances of the church and parish hall.
- In order to prevent infection through contact with the doorknob, especially for entrances not having automatic doors, it is recommended to keep the door open from an appropriate time before the mass until the time the mass starts, and keep the door open once again after the mass ends until an appropriate time when the congregation had departed.
- Refrain from using the holy water fonts/vessels at church entrances in order to prevent infection through contact.
- All the faithful, especially the priests and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, must wash their hands thoroughly before the Holy Mass.
- For the time being, kindly refrain from bringing the bread and wine/water in offertory procession during the Holy Mass. Prepare the hosts and wine/water before the mass, and place them near the altar.
- Collection of mass offerings/donations will not be made during the Holy Mass, but rather should be made at any time in another appropriate place.
- In order to avoid close physical contact, refrain from shaking hands and hugging during the greetings of peace at Holy Mass.