“Easter light” as we look to reopening

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Parishioners observe physical distancing requirements at St Charles Borromeo in Ryde before churches closed on 23 March 2020. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Archbishop welcomes end of a long Lent

Here at last is “Easter light at the end of the tunnel” of a long Lent, said Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP as he advised the archdiocese on how churches might safely resume Masses and other gatherings for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

However, it is up to priests to exercise judgment in deciding whether it is yet practicable to conduct public Masses, he said.

Australia’s churches along with all other places of worship closed on 23 March at the request of government health officials responding to the global pandemic. Catholics grew hopeful when Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 8 May presented his three-step plan out of the lockdowns.

It appeared to indicate there would be a gradual reopening of churches with up to 10 worshippers during step one, along with a rise in the numbers of people permitted at weddings and funerals.

Step two would allow up to 20 worshippers at a time, and step three a maximum of 100.

Children’s prayers, flowers and a cross form part of the sacred symbol display at St Patrick’s Mortlake over Holy Week during the shutdown. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that from 15 May churches would be allowed indoor funerals with up to 20 mourners, outdoor funerals up to 30 and up to 10 worshippers in religious gatherings in places of worship.

On 13 May in his fifth pastoral letter relating to the pandemic, the archbishop outlined the general hygiene and distancing precautions to be observed if any church was reopened, as well as the special directives for liturgies.

He encouraged all clergy and the faithful to download the Federal Government’s CovidSafe App and abide by the latest public health advice.

“If infection rates continue to be low, the Government may in due course roll out steps two and three of the easing of restrictions,” the archbishop wrote in the letter.

“Larger celebration will gradually be allowed. However this will depend upon us all exercising responsibility in keeping infection rates low and demonstrating that we are trustworthy in these matters.

“We pray for and look forward to the day when our parishes can gather again as normal.”

“We pray for and look forward to the day when our parishes can gather again as normal.”

Parish teams across Sydney are preparing in a variety of ways to welcome people back to churches while adhering to the relaxed restrictions and archbishop’s directives.

At St Mary’s Cathedral the dean Father Don Richardson said he was “excited” to be able to open to the faithful again. “It’s great news that we can be open, that people can come in and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession and some will at least be able to attend Mass,” he said.

A temporary schedule was released requiring people to pre-book their places for Cathedral Masses by telephone and anyone entering the premises to leave their name and contact details for COVID-safety purposes.

On Sundays six Masses will be celebrated with the 10.30am Sung Mass and the 5pm Vespers and Benediction also livestreamed.

Given the strict limits, most Catholics will still be unable to attend Mass in person, and in the Archdiocese of Sydney, the archbishop’s dispensation from the usual obligation to attend Sunday Mass still applies.

Reading Scripture, praying the Rosary other prayers, or watching a live-streamed Mass will remain acceptable ways for Catholics to keep Sunday holy. PHOTO: CNS, Doug Hesse

In most other parts of the country, bishops set out similar guidelines in line with their civic leaders who also lifted the numbers of people who can attend weddings and funerals, and allowed the option of Masses in churches with a maximum of 10 worshippers.

In Sydney, wrote Archbishop Fisher, special pastoral care initiatives should continue, while CatholicCare, the St Vincent de Paul Society and other Catholic agencies are on hand to provide services to the vulnerable and those needing help.

Sydney Catholic Schools would also continue to provide fee relief for financially-struggling families if necessary.

“Having our churches open is essential and whilst there will still be restrictions on the number of people who can gather it will be a great relief for Catholics to be able to visit and pray in their churches again,” Archbishop Fisher told The Catholic Weekly.

“We also hope that it won’t be too long before we can celebrate Masses with larger congregations.”

Sydney’s COVID-safe churches

• Churches may open for private prayer and confessions, for a maximum of 10 people in the church

• Maximum of 10 for gatherings and congregations for Masses, weddings, baptisms, Eucharistic adoration, Rosary and Bible study or prayer groups

• Up to 20 mourners indoors or 30 mourners outdoors are permitted for funerals, in addition to celebrant and undertakers

• Contact details of the attendees, even for private prayer, must be recorded and distancing and hygiene directions observed

• At-risk parishioners are encouraged not to attend (eg. the very elderly, anyone with symptoms, immune or respiratory issues)

• Live-streaming of liturgies should continue where convenient

• Special dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance still applies

CatholicCare’s CCareline 13 18 19 offers practical support, counselling and other services particularly for those who are isolated, anxious or financially insecure.

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