My dear People of God
It was with much sadness that I had to order the suspension of Masses on 14th February, particularly because the celebration of the Eucharist is the Summit of our faith. More than anyone, as the Archbishop, it is my desire to make the Eucharist available to everyone. However, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore, I have to act responsibly not just for the sake of our Catholics but the community at large. To this end, we have been working hard to put in place the precautionary measures in our parishes so that we can resume the Masses.
When I made the announcement to lift the suspension last Thursday, it was in the context of a stabilised situation. However, the situation has become so serious that WHO has just declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The worsening regional threat and recent big cluster arising from SAFRA Jurong have caused much anxiety among the community at large. There is a rising number of infections.
Outbreak control measures are in full swing. The authorities are putting up more stringent measures to include social distancing and assembly of crowds. All social activities involving seniors by government agencies have been suspended. We are not helping the situation if we resume Masses at this time, simply because of the sheer numbers of Catholics packing in each service, and their fluidity in moving from one parish to another, and attending different services. Furthermore, a large percentage of our parishioners belong to a vulnerable group – seniors with lower immunity.
As responsible Catholics, we should be mindful that we do not do anything that might further burden the already strained healthcare system. Hence, to protect the larger population, I have decided to rescind the order to resume Masses until the situation is much improved and more stabilised.
I know many of you who desire to participate in the Mass and receive the Eucharist will be greatly disappointed. There are as many who are for the ongoing suspension as there are those for its resumption.
After weighing all the views and bringing them to prayer, I have discerned that we should not proceed at this point in time. Our Catholic Medical Guild (CMG), which is helping us monitor the situation on the ground and is constantly in consultation with the government, will do the necessary reviews. The CMG will make its recommendations to me when it is time to resume Masses. I know it is a decision that will not please all, but as the Head of the Catholic Church in Singapore, I have to decide for the common good. Should anything untoward happen, it would be too late to regret. We should not insist on having the Eucharist at the expense of the safety of the larger community.
Hence, I appeal to all Catholics to be magnanimous, charitable and generous, especially during this season of Lent, for the greater good of our people in Singapore. When others see us as being socially responsible, they will appreciate our faith even more because they see us putting Christian charity into action. This is how we show ourselves to be good Catholics.
I invite you to make the greatest sacrifice of all, which is to deprive ourselves of the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Instead, you will use this time to yearn for our Lord in the Eucharist even more through participation in the on-line Masses, prayer services and praying the scriptures. It is an occasion for us to be conscious that we should never take the freedom to practise our faith or the Eucharist for granted. We must not think that just because we are without the Eucharist for the time being, our faith would be compromised. The early Christians and those Christians still under persecution in some countries today also did not have the privilege of the Eucharist to accompany them in their faith journey. But they were still able to keep their faith alive, and grow from strength to strength by reading, praying and sharing the Word of God.
Instead of lamenting the prohibition of the use of traditional ways to provide our people their spiritual needs, we must see this crisis as a grace of God to challenge the Church to rethink how we can continue to sustain the faith and evangelise our people by leveraging modern technology and other resources available to us. Parishes can be more proactive and creative by offering on-line Masses, on-line catechesis, on-line Spiritual reflections and talks, and encourage the formation of small bible-sharing groups. We encourage our Catechists and children to continue to nurture their faith through on-line catechesis. This would be a great opportunity to strengthen our neighbourhood communities and church organisations.
Thank you for your understanding and for putting the interests of the larger community before our own. Let us support each other in our faith and continue to pray for the elimination of this virus from the world. Please keep me and our priests in your prayers as well.
Your devoted Shepherd,
Most Rev. William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore
12 March 2020