Although Tanzania reopened to normalcy like seven months ago, not all churches reopened straight away and online masses are still a thing.
Since the first reported case of coronavirus (Covid-19), health and safety became everyone's priority and this means precautions and new rules in churches are still there.
I have been attending live-streamed masses and did not physically go to a parish church. And when I did visit a Pentecostal church, some practices like shaking of hands were not a must Church norm even before the pandemic.
Last Sunday, however, I visited my Catholic parish for Mass, but little did I know we must observe some Covid-19 health and safety measures.
Pandemic protection restrictions for places of worship have slightly eased in Tanzania and people are coming back but many non-traditional rules make Mass feel somewhat different.
It is millennia-strong ritual and church practice for Catholics to dip their fingers in the holy water cistern at the entrance and make the sign of the cross when entering a chapel.
At my church last Sunday, I noticed worshippers were not even pausing for a second as they filed in through the various entrances. Indeed, and to my surprise, there was no holy water cistern or tub to dip my fingers into.
I asked a fellow worshipper about this and she whispered calmly, “We do not do that anymore.”
“What? Why? But there is no coronavirus in Tanzania!” She responded calmly, “regardless, we still observe some precautionary measures in the Church.”
That is the first thing that differentiates a live-streamed Catholic Sunday Mass from a physical one ...stop, dip your finger in a bowl of holy water and make the sign of the cross, then enter the hallowed precincts. I was looking forward to such practice after ten months since I last entered a Catholic church physically for Sunday Mass.
“I know it feels like some vitals have been taken from us. But there are vaccines now! Things will go back to normal,” said the person next to me, noticing the shock on my face when she had declined to shake hands African-style.
Coronavirus has not only been just a medical, social and economic problem, it had also invaded our faiths.
Certainly, it is neither the same nor easy, showing a sign of peace that no longer entails shaking of hands.
For many like me, however, Mass online does not feel as sacred but then again even being physically in a chapel feels different due to new practices.
Covid-19 safety measures and social distancing put a strain on many Catholic churches. While many worshippers hope things go back to “normal” once a vaccine is widely available, I on the other hand just grew a sceptical bone: What if the old normal and all its practices never comes back? Will we adopt and become used to the new rules, so-called new-normal? The jury on this is still out there as long as Covid-19 rampages.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on January 23, 2021.