Tourists take a selfie in front of the southern stone facade of the ruins of St. Paul's Church, a 17th-century Portuguese complex in Santo Antonio in Macau in this picture taken on February 2, 2018. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Church officials in Macau have relaxed restrictions imposed on liturgy as the former Portuguese colony reported no sign of community transmission of coronavirus, with no local infections being registered for several weeks.
Macau Diocese, which covers the entire island region, resumed weekday Masses on March 7 but public Sunday Masses remain suspended. Communion distribution resumed on March 22. Catholics can receive Communion outside their parish churches after viewing online Sunday Masses in their homes.
Weekday Masses "will continue to be open to the public as usual," said an official circular signed by diocesan chancellor Father Cyril Jerome Law.
The March 20 circular also announced liturgical arrangements for forthcoming Sundays and Holy Week, which leads to the feast of Easter.
It said Communion would be distributed after the live broadcast of Holy Week liturgies on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
"Each parish will arrange the time and venue for the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), especially for the faithful who are preparing to receive Holy Communion on Sundays," the circular said.
Macau, now a special administrative region of China, had reported only 24 Covid-19 cases and no deaths as of March 25, nearly three months after the deadly disease was first reported in China's Wuhan city.
Bishop Stephen Lee Macau has dispensed Catholics from Sunday obligations. He also decreed that "the faithful are dispensed from this year's Easter duty to make confession and receive Communion (Code of Canon Law 920)," the circular said.
However, Catholics are "strongly advised to watch the live broadcast of liturgies and to take advantage of the special arrangements" to have "confession and receive Holy Communion whenever possible."
The circular also asked people to strictly follow infection prevention guidelines and instructions of parish staff. They are also to take protective measures such as wearing masks, checking body temperature, using sanitizers and having separate seating.
Wendy Chao, a Catholic, told UCA News that local people cooperate and obey government instructions "strictly and with a sense of urgency."
Macau's 623,000 people are "a relatively small local population," allowing the administration to have quick communication. It also helps the administration to arrange masks and cleaning supplies, she said.
Macau, the world's most densely populated region with 21,000 people for each square kilometer, reported its first case on Jan. 22. All infections were reported either from foreign nationals or residents who arrived from outside.
Luis Leong, another local Catholic, said Macau Diocese has used well-established guidelines during the outbreak and closed churches after the epidemic worsened.
Leong supported the diocesan decision to distribute the Eucharist after online Masses. "This is a balance between helping Catholics enjoy the benefits of the Eucharist and maintaining measures against the spread of the epidemic."
He said he had not received the Eucharist for more than a month. "Personally, I think without Mass and Communion, there will be more evil and disaster in the world."