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Mass benefit from restrictions change

A priest distributes Holy Communion. In NSW public Masses will return in greater numbers depending on the size of churches in keeping with the 4 square metres social distancing rule. PHOTO: CNS/Karen Bonar, The Register

Limits on churches in NSW will be further eased from July

From 1 July limits on the numbers of people allowed in indoor venues will be determined by the ‘one person per 4 square metre’ rule, with no other limit and providing that the activity is seated.

It means that the number of people attending NSW churches could exceed the current limit of 50 and extend to as many as possible depending on the size of the church and ability to maintain safe social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection.

A spokesperson for the Premier confirmed to The Catholic Weekly that the announced changes apply to places of worship.

“People attending a religious service at a place of public worship will still be required to provide their name and contact details when they enter so that they can be used for contact tracing,” he said.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP welcomed the further easing of restrictions, saying it was fitting that the announcement that will see more people return to the Eucharist was made on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

“It has been wonderful to see the visible joy of parishioners as they have been returning to Mass in greater numbers over the last couple of weeks, and to hear how much they have missed being able to be in churches,” the archbishop said.

“I know the priests of Sydney are looking forward to being able to welcome more of the faithful back from next month.”

Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian announced the latest easing of restrictions in the state on 14 June, adding that the 20-person restriction on funerals would be immediately replaced with the 4 four square metres social distancing guideline on compassionate grounds.

An exception for weddings is that a limit of 20 people remains if there is going to be a dancefloor.

All other restrictions including 20 guests inside the home and 20 for outside gatherings (with 50 allowed for outdoor funerals) remain the same.

A woman enters St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. As of 1 June churches in NSW have been allowed congregations of up to 50 people as long as they adhere to social distancing regulations. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Archdiocesan Vicar General Father Gerald Gleeson said he was “very pleased with the Government decision”, especially since many churches are large buildings which can easily and safely accommodate more than 50 people.

“Since many Catholics like sitting at the back of the church, spreading out in line with the 4sqm rule may help to bring a lot people closer to the altar,” he added.

CEO of Catholic Cemeteries + Crematoria Peter O’Meara welcomed the easing on restrictions on funerals, even though as the four square metre rule is still applicable to funerals, there will been no change to the numbers the provider can accommodate in its chapels and condolence lounges since 1 June.

“Family members have had a difficult time over the last few months with only immediate family being able to farewell loved ones,” Mr O’Meara said.

“The ability of grieving family members, relatives and friends to be able to attend a funeral in person helps enormously with the grieving process.”​

“The ability of grieving family members, relatives and friends to be able to attend a funeral in person helps enormously with the grieving process.”​

The largest Catholic chapel at Rookwood, Mary, Mother of Mercy chapel, can normally seat 160 and is currently only available to 45 funeral attendees. Livestreaming of funerals has been provided for those who cannot attend.

The Premier said NSW was able to further ease restrictions due to the limited community transmission of COVID-19.

“The community has worked incredibly hard over the past few months which has allowed us to be where we are today,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“However we can’t let our guard down. People need to come forward for testing with the mildest of symptoms and practise good hand hygiene and social distancing.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s dispensation from the obligation of attending Sunday Mass is being maintained throughout the pandemic. He has asked people who are unwell to stay away and those with compromised immune or respiratory systems or aged over 70 to be extra cautious.

Catholics not attending Mass are asked to keep Sunday holy with activities such as prayer, scripture reading and watching a livestreamed or recorded Mass online.

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