MANILA, Feb 12 (Mabuhay) — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has relaxed the restrictions on religious gatherings in areas placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) beginning Feb. 15, Malacañang announced on Friday.

“Specifically, religious gatherings in GCQ areas shall be allowed up to 50 percent of the seating or venue capacity,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, also acting as IATF-EID spokesperson, said in a press statement.

The easing of restrictions came ahead of the country’s observance of Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17.

At present, a 30-percent and 50-percent seating capacity for religious activities are allowed in areas under GCQ and modified GCQ, respectively.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, co-chairperson of IATF-EID, said Wednesday the existing health and safety protocols will be followed in the observance of Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent.

Instead of the traditional marking of a cross on the forehead, Catholic prelates just sprinkled the blessed ash on the penitents’ heads last year as part of the preventive measures against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Catholic faithful will be allowed this year to burn palms at home and use the ashes to sprinkle on family members on Ash Wednesday, according to the Archdiocese of Manila’s Circular No. 2021-05.

The circular also authorizes parishes that will have difficulty finding old blessed palm branches for this year’s Ash Wednesday to use dried leaves of plants or trees as an alternative.

Traditionally, the palm branches blessed during the previous year’s Palm Sunday mass are donated by parishioners to their parish.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in a Jan. 12 note, directs priest to say the formula, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” once to all the present devotees rather than to each person.

The note also provides that the priest should cleanse his hands, put on a face mask, and distribute ashes to those who come to him, if appropriate, go to those who are standing in their places. (MNS)

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