Having been deprived the joy of attending public Mass since the past two and half months owing to the compulsory lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Lagos are very anxious to resume their communal worship to their creator. While acknowledging that praying at home for such a long period of time was inevitable owing to the need to contain the virus, they insist, however, that staying away from Mass for such a long period of time was abnormal and had deprived them of the inestimable spiritual nourishment that comes with attending Mass on regular basis.
Virtually all those who spoke to us described the past two and half months as the most difficult period for them as Catholics having been denied the opportunity to effectively participate in the Easter and other major liturgical celebrations of the Church that fell between the period of the lockdown. They also expressed great joy at the prospect of being able to resume public worship once again on Sunday June 21, 2020 following the official relaxation of the lockdown restrictions of worship centres last Thursday by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State. It would be recalled that the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, having been engaging the federal government on the need to open worship centers.
Their effort was rewarded last Monday following the announcement by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustaph that the lockdown on worship centres had been relaxed conditionally across the country, with the governors expected to have the final say on how it would be effected in their various states. Earlier, and in anticipation of government’s announcement, the proactive leadership of the Archdiocese of Lagos through the Archbishop, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins had issued several guidelines to be adhered to by priests and the lay faithful at the various parishes and Mass Centres. And while most people had anticipated that the worship centres may be opened ahead of Friday June 5th and Sunday 7th, the Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs announced that they will remain closed for health reasons.
In a swift reaction, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins described the decision as unacceptable since most markets and other commercial activities have already been opened up for businesses. He said: “I wonder why it would seem that there is a conclusion that it is when people gather to worship that coronavirus can be spread while the spread of the virus is suspended when they cluster and huddle together in markets, motor parks and banks” Also explaining the age-long tradition of the Church as regards public worship, he said, “Gathering together to worship is our heritage and practice arising from the Holy Bible.
It was in the gathering of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came down upon them (Acts.2:1); the early Christians gathered together in private homes for prayers and the breaking of the Bread (Acts 2:46) until the numbers became too large to handle in private homes and it became necessary to have Church buildings.” While acknowledging that the COVID-19 Pandemic is real, and will be with us for some time and requiring more testing to reveal more infected persons, he insisted that, “Churches as institutions are better able to exert control of situations and maintain discipline among their faithful than most other institutions.” As Sunday June 21, the date for the eventual opening of Churches in Lagos State draws near, one hopes that the relevant authorities would put in place adequate measures that would enforce high sense of personal hygiene and physical distancing in the Churches across the state.
This is more so as government has insisted, amongst several other conditions that, “Churches and mosques in the state should not accommodate more than 40 per cent of their capacity, limited to a maximum of 500 regardless of the size.” From all indications, priests and other liturgical functionaries in Lagos must begin to prepare in earnest for the herculean task ahead. Their schedules, no doubt, will be staggered in order to accommodate large numbers of enthusiastic Catholics in the various parishes and Mass Centres across the Archdiocese of Lagos.