There will be no mass weddings and mass confirmations in Albay from October 1, 2021 until May 15, 2022, as Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi suspended the holding of these events during the period.
Baylon said the months-long suspension is meant to help stem COVID-19 infections and also to keep the sacraments from being exploited by politicians.
October 1 is the start of the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections, which will be held on May 9, 2022.
“The celebration of the mass confirmations in all the parishes is temporarily suspended from October 1, 2021, until May 15, 2022,” Baylon said in Diocesan Circular No. 22, Series of 2021, addressed to the clergy, and religious and lay people in the diocese.
“The decision was the result of two considerations: the safety of the confirmands especially now that we have Delta variant cases in the province and to help the lay faithful understand the true value and meaning of this sacrament, that is, receiving the Holy Spirit as God’s Gift, instead of availing of the sacrament simply because of the ‘gifts’ from politician sponsors,” he added.
He reminded pastors that they are “authorized to confirm only those preparing for weddings and those who are receiving adult baptism.”
“Only the Bishop and those designated by him (Vicars General and Vicars Forane) are allowed to preside over mass confirmation,” Baylon said.
As to mass weddings, Baylon said: “While we usually encourage unmarried couples who are living together already for several years to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony, I am temporarily suspending the celebration of mass weddings from October 1, 2021 until May 15, 2022. Again, this is to avoid mass gatherings that may lead to the transmission of the virus.”
The bishop also cited another consideration in suspending the mass administration of the two sacraments.
“This is also to discourage politicians who may possibly use these occasions for their political interests,” the prelate said.
Baylon said that the diocese has been supportive of government programs to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“As the local church in Legazpi, we continue to think of ways to ensure the safety especially of our lay faithful,” he said.
Ahead of Holy Week in February 2021, the Vatican had urged the world’s Catholic bishops “to make prudent decisions” as they prepared for the second Holy Week during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anointing of the sick, masses for wakes
Baylon met the board of consultors and the diocesan COVID-19 committees to craft guidelines regarding the administration of sacraments during the pandemic.
He said he has allowed priests to offer a “simple prayer for the sick” without being in the same area as the ill person who wish to receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Baylon said that priests have continued to administer this sacrament even during the pandemic, and there have been occasions when some of them got infected with COVID-19 which they got from the patients who later tested positive for the deadly virus. He said this is meant to protect the patients as well.
“And so, to protect both the minister and the sick from possible exposure to the virus, I am permitting the priests in the meantime not to anoint the sick but instead offer this simple prayer for the sick without being physically present either at home or at the hospital,” he said.
Baylon also reiterated that masses for wakes are still not allowed in the diocese during the pandemic.
“I reiterate our diocesan policy that wake masses are not allowed during this pandemic. The claim that we lose our faithful to non-Catholic groups coming to the wake is not reason enough to justify a priest celebrating the wake masses because we allow funeral masses. Besides, a priest may visit the wake anytime to offer a private prayer or a ‘responso,’ nothing else,” the prelate said.
He said vigils are also “strongly discouraged” to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Five provinces in Bicol – Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon, and Masbate are now classified under alert level 4 following the spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant.