ROME — While the Spanish government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions, the country’s bishops released guidelines to prepare for a gradual return of the faithful to church while respecting norms that prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement released April 29, the executive committee of the Spanish bishops’ conference said it hoped the plan will “recover the normality of church life after weeks of not expressing our faith as a community in churches and parishes.”

However, the bishops said that throughout the process, the faithful continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, and they suggested that “people at risk, the elderly and the sick, consider staying home and following the celebrations through the media.”

“We are all called to live together responsibly in order to avoid the spread of the disease as much as possible and to help the poor and those who suffer most from the consequences of this pandemic,” the bishops said.

As of April 30, the death toll in Spain has surpassed 24,200 with nearly 236,900 infected since the pandemic began to spread in the country. Although the nationwide lockdown has been extended until May 9, authorities believe Spain reached its peak in early April as the number of infections and deaths continue to drop.

The Spanish bishops’ conference said the new measures will be in effect starting May 11.

The guidelines will be applied in three phases. The first phase will allow Catholics to attend Mass in their parishes. However, the number of people present cannot exceed one-third of the church building’s capacity, so “preference should be given to families” grieving the loss of loved ones.

The second phase will increase the number of those allowed to attend church services to half the church’s capacity while maintaining appropriate distance regulations.

Finally, the third phase will resume “ordinary pastoral life that takes into account the necessary measures until there is a medical solution to the illness.”

The plan includes guidelines to ensure that social distancing and hygienic regulations are observed during liturgies.

Priests, as well as eucharistic ministers, must properly disinfect their hands before the celebration of Mass and again before distributing Communion.

Also, “the individual dialogue of Communion (‘The Body of Christ.’ ‘Amen’), will be pronounced collectively after the response ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…’ while the distribution of the Eucharist will be made in silence,” the guidelines stated.

The sacrament of reconciliation, the bishops said, must take place in a large area that ensures “maintaining social distance while assuring confidentiality. Both the faithful and the confessor must wear masks.”

The bishops included guidelines for all sacraments including baptism, confirmation, marriage and the anointing of the sick.

It also stated that funeral Masses will follow the same regulations for Sunday Mass. “Although it may be difficult in those painful moments, we insist on avoiding affectionate gestures that involve personal contact and on the importance of maintaining a safe distance.”