Pandemic dispensation is lifted in lead up to Christmas
In a joyful new pastoral message Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has called for Catholics across the Archdiocese of Sydney to “come home” to their churches and lifted the dispensation from the obligation to worship at Mass on Sundays as well as the feasts of Christmas and the Assumption of Mary.
The two-page letter released on 9 December is the archbishop’s eighth one relating to the coronavirus pandemic this year. It comes with new liturgical directives in line with the NSW Government’s easing of restrictions upon places and activities of worship to the two-square-metre rule for both indoor and outdoor Masses.
“In light of the significant easing of the restrictions upon church attendance, I rescind my decree of 20 March 2020 dispensing the faithful of Sydney from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and the Holy Days of Christmas and the Assumption,” the archbishop wrote.
“Under canon 1247 attendance at Mass on those days is now obligatory once again. Of course, we want people to come to Mass out of love more than obedience, but love itself brings responsibilities.”
Archbishop Fisher added that the elderly, those with health conditions or who “are otherwise anxious about the risks of COVID-19” are still free to remain at home and find another way of keeping holy the Sunday Sabbath.
“If people find they cannot get in to a particular Mass, they should regard their attempt as satisfying the obligation,” he said.
“But most of our faithful have many options for Mass and it will be rare that someone can’t get in: with greater capacity, additional Masses, pre-registering and other measures, almost everyone should be able to be accommodated. Our priests are looking at a mix of in-church, in-bigger-hall and outdoor Masses to accommodate the Christmas crowds.”
The archbishop described the closures of churches earlier this year, followed by severe and then lessened restrictions as a “pandemic-enforced retreat”. It had been an opportunity to connect more deeply with family and God, while many maintained their connection to Mass and parish through live-streaming.
“But we rightly miss the experience of community at Mass, our union with family, friends, neighbours and fellow parishioners in Christ’s mystical body the Church,” he said. “It’s been very isolating for many of us. As your bishop and on behalf of your priests may I say: we’ve missed you!”
Time is ripe for new archdiocesan mission plan
The archbishop also noted that by “happy providence” the archdiocese will launch its mission plan Go Make Disciples, which has been several years in the making, on 12 December.
“As things have turned out, it will be our COVID recovery plan as well,” he wrote. “It is all about personal and community renewal, so that we can be the kind of missionary disciples and welcoming communities needed for the new normal.”
In coming back to Church, he added, “we are returning to God’s house and ours, the entrance hall to our eternal home”.
“But through the renewal ahead in Go Make Disciples, it should be more evident than ever. We want to make ourselves and our communities sites of encounter with God, where people will find their spiritual home.”