The Roman Catholic Bishops of Alberta will allow churches to resume in-person masses in June, as long as they adhere to strict regulations.
Although places of worship were permitted by the province to resume physical gatherings on May 14, Catholic churches have yet to reopen.
Archbishop Richard Smith from the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton said it’s been more than two months since parishioners could gather in person.
“Thanks be to God, we’ve been able to be together remotely, united in heart and faith to participate in livestreamed mass,” he said.
“It is simply not the same as being physically present in church together to receive the sacrament.”
Monday, June 1 is the earliest potential date for masses to resume across the province.
Smith explained masses could resume starting on a weekday instead of on Sunday to allow churches an opportunity to try things out with fewer people.
“I want to emphasize that this announcement does not mean a return to normal, far from it. This will be a very gradual return under stringent conditions that we’re simply not accustomed to,” Smith said.
The guidelines were developed by a task force of Alberta priests and medical experts:
- total number of participants allowed at mass is 50 (including the priest, ministers and volunteers)
- sanitize hands when entering and leaving the church
- seating will be physically distant (2m in all directions)
- must answer health and travel related questions upon arrival
- must provide name and contact information
- staff and volunteers must wear masks
- parishioners must wear masks when receiving communion
Smith noted this will mean fewer than 50 parishioners attending each mass, though more may want to attend.
“We need to ensure fair and equitable access to mass for all parishioners. With such a small allowable number for any given mass, we cannot expect to just show up and be able to get a seat. Parishes will work out a system of fair access.”
He also urged Catholics not to attend other parishes in search of mass.
Smith also elaborated on the personal protective equipment requirements for parishioners.
“If you come to mass, you’ll need to bring a mask too. As long as physical distancing is ensured, you won’t need to wear it all through mass, but you will be required to wear it as you approach for Holy Communion.”
That said, communion will also be different as masses resume.
“We shall not distribute the Precious Blood. The sharing of the chalice is not prudent in these pandemic circumstances.”
Holy Communion will only be received in the hand and not on the tongue.
Choirs will remain silent until a future date.
“There will not be any singing at mass during this first stage of resumption. We know by now that the virus is carried by droplets in our breath. Singing can carry these further than normal speech.”
Smith noted the June 1 reopening date is not mandatory and said it may take additional time for individual parishes to accommodate all of the necessary changes.
“If any parish is unable to meet these conditions fully, they are not permitted to resume the public celebration of mass.”
He also urged younger volunteers to step forward to help, noting the elderly may be concerned about attending churches given the pandemic is still ongoing.
“Persons over the age of 65 are encouraged not to come to mass,” he said.
“Many people will wonder if they should come to mass, or not, as long as the virus is still with us. What I can say is this: the dispensation from the Sunday mass obligation remains in place. So if you are nervous about coming to church, you’re in no way obliged to do so.”
Smith said anyone feeling unwell should not attend church.
Livestreaming will continue, so families can continue to partake in services from the comfort and safety of home.
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