We have all been conscious of the government restrictions regarding gatherings in our churches, which have been part of the community response to the coronavirus pandemic. We now have the very welcome news that some of these restrictions were eased from midnight on May 12.
In summary, the following will now be permitted in churches:
- Private prayer for up to 10 people (in addition to door attendant)
- Liturgies (such as Morning and Evening Prayer, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and other forms of prayer (such as the Rosary) with up to 10 attendees (in addition to celebrant, ministers, door attendant)
- Weddings with up to 10 attendees (in addition to bride, groom and celebrant)
- Funerals indoors with up to 20 attendees (in addition to celebrant and funeral staff)
- Funerals outdoors with up to 30 attendees (in addition to celebrant and funeral staff)
In all cases, the following requirements apply:
- Distancing of at least 1.5m between attendees
- Signage at the church door specifying the maximum number permitted at any time, allowing 4 square metres/person
- A register of attendees, including name, phone number, date & time of attendance
- A reasonable time between events to allow for cleaning between each service
- Cleaning by wiping with disinfectant: frequently touched surfaces (at least twice/day) and whenever a surface is visibly soiled
I am very mindful that the limit of 10 people in the congregation poses particular challenges for the celebration of Mass, especially on Sundays. I suggest that the parish priest or administrator consult parishioners about this. Where Mass with a limit of 10 seems impractical, the priest might judge that it would be better to continue simply with the present provisions for Mass online. Where Mass with the limit of 10 seems practical, the community would need to find a way to have no more than 10 people in the congregation. Such a celebration might also be live-streamed to those unable to attend in person.
When considering whether to have Masses with the limit of 10 people in the congregation, these are some points to note:
- The canonical limit that a priest celebrate no more than two Masses on weekdays and no more than three Masses on Sundays continues to be relevant.
- It may be helpful to ask parishioners to book in advance. This might be done through the parish office or by a web-based booking service like TryBooking, Eventbrite or Calendly.
- Ensuring the contact register, attendance limits and cleaning regime are fulfilled will require an attendant whenever churches are open; it would be helpful to advertise particular periods of time when the church will be open, with intervals between for cleaning.
- As not every parishioner will be able to be accommodated, it is important that we keep in contact in other ways with those who are not physically present.
As we begin to gather again in our churches, even though in limited ways, I pray for each one of you.
In this Easter season, may the peace of the risen Christ be with you.
God bless you all.