Following the recent controversial directive by Ghana’s Minister for Religious Affairs that bread and wine be given to worshipers as they enter their respective places of worship, a Catholic Bishop in the West African nation has said the directive is at variance with “liturgical norms” and offered an explanation.
On June 1, the Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs in Ghana sought to give guidelines ahead of the resumption of public worship on Friday, June 5 announcing, among other directives, “Pre-packaged communion bread and wine should be picked up by members at points of entry to the worship centre.”
“The directive 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,” Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu of Ghana’s Konongo-Mampong Diocese said Saturday, June 6.
“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,” Bishop Osei-Bonsu further said.
He wondered how the directive would be implemented probing, “Will the members hold the ‘prepackaged 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?”
“Some of us cannot comply with this directive,” the Ghanaian Bishop said and added, “I do not know who advised the Minister on this matter before he came out with this directive.”
In his tenth address to the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 31, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared the lifting of the ban on social gatherings including religious gatherings and tasked the Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs to provide specific guidelines for the safe reopening of places of worship.
The directive on “prepackaged bread and wine” elicited debates on social media, with many Catholics expressing their disappointment about the idea they considered alien to the Catholic Church.
Others made references to Robert Cardinal Sarah’s recent comment on bizarre proposals regarding receiving of Holy Communion “whereby consecrated hosts are packaged in plastic bags so the faith can take them away.”
Bishop Osei-Bonsu said that in the Catholic Church traditions, the hosts for communion are put in a ciborium before Mass and are put on the credence table in the sanctuary.
In line with COVID-19 measures and general hygiene, the 72-year-old Prelate said, the Priest must wash or sanitize his hands before putting the hosts in the ciborium while 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 offertory, the immediate former President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) further said, adding that the consecration of the bread and wine happens 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 Ghanaian Prelate who has written many books on Church teachings including the Liturgy explained.
The faithful, he said, are required to wear face masks while they are in church and in going for holy communion.
“It is recommended that as the communicant approaches the priest, they 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,” he said.
The Konongo-Mampong Bishop stressed that every effort should be made to avoid skin to skin contact between the Priest and the communicant saying, “If the priest accidentally touches a communicant’s hand, he should stop and sanitize his own hands before moving on to the next communicant and he must also sanitize his hands after communion.”
He added, “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, that is by dipping the consecrated host in the consecrated wine.”
In the occasion that there are no extra chalices, the principal celebrant will be the only one to partake of the blood of Christ, according to the Ghanaian Bishop.
He said that 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,” Bishop Osei-Bonsu said referencing the prepackaged communion bread and wine directive.
Meanwhile, Catholic teachers in Ghana have expressed their commitment to attend to learners in the country after President Akufo-Addo directed that schools open doors to final year students on Monday, June 15 with a keen adherence to safety measures.
Through their umbrella association, the Association of Catholic Teachers Ghana (ACT), the teachers, however, proposed an introduction of learning in shifts to meet the COVID-19 regulations on physical distancing.
“As the ministry continues to engage and solicit views on the reopening of schools for the rest of the batches of continuing students and new entrants, we wish to suggest, as part of our proposals which shall be made known to those concerned, for a return of the shift system in our basic schools since this will reduce the class sizes so that proper social distancing can be observed in our basic schools,” the Ghanaian Teachers stated in their statement dated June 6.