by Jeff Dillon
Pentecost Sunday witnessed the return to celebration of the 10am Mass in St Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin after many weeks of enforced abstinence from receiving Holy Communion in physical form.
It was a tentative return, being in the middle of a long holiday weekend, and the need to conform to stringent new rules controlling the way the parishioners and visitors gathered and participated. So they arrived like pupils arriving for the first day back at the beginning of a school year, with nods and slightly awkward waves and smiles.
Entry to the cathedral was restricted to a single door at the car park end. On one of the large glass doors were several notices spelling out requirements under the Covid-19 conditions. Parishioners checked notices while some reached for their phones to check in using the displayed QR code. Some handed in their completed Contact Tracing Sheet which had been emailed out in advance, or else filled in their details on the copy in the foyer. In that place, Msgr John Harrison warmly greeted people as they entered.
Worshippers were counted as they completed the initial tasks. The final task before going through into the main body of the cathedral was to use the hand sanitiser dispenser attached to the wall near the open door. Inside on a table were baskets for the offering envelopes, as there was to be no collection baskets passed along the pews before the Offertory.
In the main body of the cathedral, the pews were clearly identified with yellow dots placed to indicate a suitable seating position, which allowed a metre spacing while every second row of pews contained a notice to prevent anyone sitting there. Couples and family groups could sit together.
There was no problem about having to turn anyone away as the congregation had reached just 35 by the time Mass started. The assembled congregation ranged in age from children through to some “vulnerable” seniors. With the addition of the choir numbers, the total reached 45, which was less than half of the allowed number. As a precaution, the choir was restricted in the amount of singing that could take place.
There were no altar servers and just one reader and one extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. When it came to Holy Communion, certain aisles were selected to come up in single file, and other aisles had to remain seated until it was their turn. Similar arrangements were applied when it came to leaving at the end of Mass. Once outside at the end of Mass, small gatherings of parishioners glad to be back chatted, but kept social distance.