WelCom June 2020:
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops have welcomed the Government’s announcement that churches can open with a congregation limit of 100 people.
The resumption of Masses was allowed from noon Friday 29 May 2020.
In a letter to priests and parish leaders, Tuesday 26 May 2020, the bishops acknowledged that safety must remain a paramount concern as churches re-open.
‘Throughout this pandemic, the safety of you and parishioners has been important to us. We understand that many churches may not be able to resume services if parish leadership needs more time to prepare. We are supportive of parishes making decisions fit for the safety of their church community.
‘For services to resume, all health and safety requirements as declared by the Ministry of Health must be adhered to strictly. The maximum number permitted at a Mass or a liturgical celebration will be determined by the ability to space people. In other words, it may not be possible to have 100 people in a small church.’
The bishops said not all parishioners would be able to attend Mass because of the restrictions on numbers.
‘Others will not attend due to health reasons, concerns or fears. For these reasons, the dispensation of attendance at Sunday Mass continues,’ said the bishops.
The bishops noted that Mass restrictions under pandemic would remain in place. These are as follows:
- At the Sign of Peace, people should avoid shaking hands or other contact with one another, and instead smile, nod or bow to one another.
- Holy Communion is not to be distributed from the chalice.
- Communion is only to be distributed in the hand, not on the tongue.
- Holy water is to be removed from vessels at the church door.
Previous to the government announcement, the bishops had written to the Prime Minister on Friday 22 May urging the Cabinet to raise the limit on numbers allowed at religious services to at least 100.
The bishops’ strongly-worded letter followed the issuing of two sets of guidelines earlier on Friday 22 May by the NZ Police and the Ministry of Health, which appeared to be at variance. The NZ Police had issued guidelines saying religious services were allowed under Covid-19 Alert Level 2 as long as people sat in multiple groups of 10, while the Ministry of Health issued a statement repeating that no more than 10 people could attend such a service.
In their letter to priests and parish leaders the bishops acknowledged ‘the wonderful work of diocesan offices and parishes during this lockdown. We have spoken of our delight at the creative way you and parishioners have gathered digitally or supported one another from afar. We now share in your joy at being able to gather again in celebration of the Eucharist.’
In a pastoral letter to parishioners, the bishops said the Catholic community could rejoice in returning to some semblance of normality.
‘The sacrifices we have made as a nation have averted what we have seen overseas. As we emerge from our “closed room” and return to our churches and community engagement we take this opportunity to thank those who protected and supported our sick, vulnerable and, indeed, all of us throughout the lockdown. We thank all those in our faith communities who have worked tirelessly to connect with parishioners offering spiritual support.’