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Letting go of our rituals

/ 05:06 AM October 30, 2020

Undas 2020 is turning out to be difficult for Filipinos. With COVID-19 restrictions limiting our observation of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, many of us in this predominantly Christian country are struggling with the idea of forgoing traditional rituals like visiting the cemetery.

Thousands of people have already been recorded making cemetery visits ahead of closures. Another influx is anticipated when cemeteries reopen. Meanwhile, those of us who are not going with the crowd probably have a sense of guilt and unease when thinking of departed loved ones’ unvisited graves during this time of commemoration.

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It’s challenging to stay home, but we have to see it through. If there is anything more important than carrying out our Undas traditions, it’s doing our part to prevent the further spread of the deadly virus.

This is understandably difficult because our yearly rites are the only way we know (so far) to memorialize our departed. Without cemetery visits and graveside prayers, we feel as though we are not honoring their memory or that we are neglecting them. To work around this, we have to realize that while our public traditions are not feasible this year, there are other things we can do to tangibly commemorate our loved ones within our homes.

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One of the most prominent religious bodies in the country, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has already noted that cemetery visits are “not an obligation.” The CBCP suggested that people may just light a candle and say their prayers at home, offer their intentions for the dead via phone calls to parish offices, and attend church services via Facebook and other digital venues.

This last piece of advice is especially worth remembering, because a number of churches have decided to continue holding physical Masses this year. This signals to the faithful that in-person assembly is fine as long as physical distancing and personal protection are observed. But attending religious services online is by far the safer option. Now that this option is available to many of us, we have the opportunity to rethink our plans to physically go to church for Undas.

Letting go of customary practices this year does not mean we are abolishing tradition. This is a unique period where major adjustments are necessary for our safety and that of others. These are not just casual adjustments but crucial ones.

Consider that our country’s coronavirus cases and deaths have still not flattened, and outbreaks are still reported in some parts of the country. The very loose compliance with safety measures (physical distancing, bodily protection, washing hands, avoiding crowded places) and the poor implementation of quarantine rules have hindered any real progress in curbing the virus. Unless all of us observe safety guidelines—properly and consistently—the virus will have a chance to keep spreading.

By now, these reminders might feel old and recycled. In our minds, we have been careful for so long yet nothing has really changed. We’re starting to feel tired or numb. Psychologists call this phenomenon pandemic fatigue or crisis fatigue, which is a natural human reaction to a prolonged calamity. Experts say it’s important to be aware of this reaction as it could cause us to be reckless, dropping our precautions and throwing our previous efforts out the window.

After all these months of staying home and avoiding peopled places, we may now feel that it’s high time to be out in public, especially because Undas was traditionally a reason for us to do so. But this year, with other doable options for us to observe this solemnity, Undas doesn’t change our responsibility to choose the safer route. In fact, holidays like this should remind us to be even more careful when deciding on our activities.

It may not be easy to forgo our rituals this year, but it’s not wrong either to opt for safer practices. Our tradition lives on and our loved ones’ memory is honored in more responsible ways at home. We have to choose this if we hope to have a better, more traditional commemoration by this time next year.

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TAGS: all saints day, all souls day, COVID-19, undas, Undas 2020
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