Painting by Joanna Tan. “The red tablecloth represents the blood of Christ poured out for me on the cross, symbolised by the chopsticks. The bowl depicts my total self-emptying in the assurance that Jesus loves me completely – both the half in the shadow and the half in His light – and that He will fill me with peace and grace. The spoon reminds me to pass on what I have received in service of God and others.”

Dispensation of Friday abstinence

The first and second days of the Lunar New Year in 2021 fall on Friday, Feb 12 and Saturday, Feb 13 respectively, and the 15th day on Friday, 26 Feb. Therefore, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (CBCMSB) has granted a dispensation from abstinence to all the faithful celebrating the Lunar New Year in any way on the three consecutive Fridays of Feb 12, 19 and 26. However, all are asked to observe the regular fast and abstinence for Ash Wednesday on Feb 17.

Abstinence is the avoidance of meat from mammals and birds, without reducing the quantity of food that is normally eaten. All Catholics aged 14 and above are required to abstain from meat on Fridays.

Fasting is eating a considerably smaller portion than usual i.e two half meals and one full meal, with no snacks in between. Only Catholics aged 18-60 are required to fast. Those on special diets for health reasons are also excused from fasting.

Blessing of oranges

To minimise contact with multiple persons during this time of Covid-19, the traditional Blessing of oranges during Lunar New Year Masses will take place as follows:

  1. The faithful may be asked to bring their own oranges.
  2. Should oranges be provided by the parish, volunteers may place the fruit on designated seats in the pews before Mass: volunteers must disinfect their hands when distributing the oranges in this way. No oranges are to be distributed during Mass.
  3. During the Blessing of the oranges, the priest presiding at Mass prays the prayer of Blessing from the sanctuary while the faithful remain in their pews and hold up their oranges to be blessed.

No imposition of ashes on forehead

Similarly, as a precaution against Covid-19, the foreheads of the faithful will not be marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday. Instead, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has published a Note on Jan 12, 2021 prescribing the distribution of ashes as follows:

  1. The priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water in silence.
  2. Addressing the congregation in general, he says – only once – the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
  3. The priest then sanitises his hands, puts on a mask, and without saying anything, sprinkles the ashes on

the heads of those who come to him, for example, the Extraordinary Ministers of Communion (EMCs) who are assisting in the distribution of the ashes.

  1. The EMCs will do the same for the faithful who come to them.

The Holy Trinity by Miguel Cabrera (18th century). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“One God” to “God” in all prayers

The Opening Prayer or Collect at Mass and many Catholic prayers outside of Mass often end with the words “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

The word “one” will now be omitted, such that all prayers will now conclude with the words, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

This follows the response of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (CBCMSB) on Jan 10, 2021 to a letter written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to the CBCMSB in May last year.

Cardinal Sarah’s letter indicated that omitting the word “one” before “God” in the Collect would be more faithful to the original Latin text which reflects God as a communion of persons in the Holy Trinity rather than God as a one, single person. To the uninitiated, the current wording might also be misinterpreted as referring to Jesus Christ as the “one God” instead of Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who in His role as a divine mediator, intercedes on our behalf to the Father (the First Person), and whose prayers are made in the unity of the Holy Spirit (the Third Person).

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