Sunday Masses remain suspended after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern threw a “curveball” by announcing that indoor gatherings would be limited to 50 people as one of the measures for a new “Delta” alert level 2.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, at a livestreamed Mass on September 7, said this revised restriction created “an issue for our celebration of the Eucharist”.
“This was a real curveball. We were all set up for our parishes for the previous restriction for level 2. We thought there will be some changes, but the number of restrictions caught us unaware. To that end, I’ve made the difficult decision that Masses in the diocese of Hamilton will remain suspended, with the exception of funerals and those weddings that are already booked in,” the bishop announced towards the end of the livestreamed Mass.
He said this decision will be reviewed next week as he called on people to watch out for further announcements on the diocesan website. He added that a pastoral letter is also on the website and on Hamilton diocesan social media sites.
In his pastoral letter, he said churches will be opened for individual prayer.
“In this Delta world, visiting the churches will bring new challenges. People will be required to
sign in. People will be required to wear masks. Please be gracious in accepting these requirements as a sign of your love and concern for your brothers and sisters in your parish community,” Bishop Lowe added.
At his livestreamed Mass, he asked people remember those in Auckland, who remain in alert level 4.
“Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Let’s not be disillusioned in the struggles of this time. Let’s remember our brothers and sisters in Auckland that remain in level 4 lockdown all because of one person who inadvertently carried the Delta variant. This is what we’re dealing with. And the Government’s moves of caution are about protecting lives. Let’s not lose sight of that as we look to Christ, and we journey as a community together to fight this pandemic and overcome it, as we already have on a couple of occasions,” he said.
St Francis Thames parish priest Fr Valerian D’Souza said there will be no Masses in the parish until the government announces a move to level 1.
The parish in the Coromandel Peninsula, although situated in the Waikato region, is under the Auckland diocese.
Christchurch apostolic administrator Archbishop Paul Martin SM said there will be no Sunday Masses in the diocese as long as they are in alert level 2.
“The limitation of 50 people in a gathering indoors, with a 2-metre distance between bubbles, is very limiting for us in terms of our Eucharistic gatherings. This is especially so for Sunday when most parishes have many more people than this at Mass. It is important that all people are able to attend Mass on Sunday and so, given the restrictions, we do not consider that this is possible for us to offer at this stage,” he said in a pastoral letter.
Archbishop Martin said there is a possibility to receive the Eucharist during weekday Masses.
“There is the possibility, though, of having Mass during the week for those who wish to attend. This will provide an opportunity for those who wish to receive the Eucharist to be able to do so during the week. All of the necessary steps required of a gathering at Level 2 must be followed, therefore it is up to parishes to consider this option beginning next Monday 13 September where Masses may be offered in our churches from Monday to Friday,” he said.
Director of the bishop’s pastoral office, Mike Stopforth, released new alert level 2 guidelines, which stated that Sunday Masses remain suspended due to the limit on gatherings.
From September 13 (Monday), weekday Masses can be celebrated.
“For some parishes, an online booking system will be required to ensure numbers are managed and all protocols (physical distancing, record keeping and cleaning) need to be in place and abided by,” the guidelines stated.
It was added that a person needs to be assigned to maintain the number of people attending Mass. Mr Stopforth suggested parishes may consider “leaving a few places available for people who do not have access to online booking”.
Catholic churches in Christchurch diocese can remain open for private prayer, and facemasks are strongly encouraged. Contact tracing is required.
Wellington Cardinal John Dew said there will be no public Masses or other liturgical events in the diocese until September 21.
“We do not know how long we will be in Level 2 or whether the increased restrictions in this level might be relaxed a little at a later date while still keeping us in Level 2. Therefore, these instructions apply in parishes until Tuesday 21 September,” the cardinal said in a letter to priests and pastoral lay leaders in the diocese.
In the letter, the cardinal said churches will also remain closed “except for funerals, as it is difficult to monitor contact tracing, social distancing, mask wearing, and numbers”.
“Funerals can take place with a maximum of 50 people in total, with the required social distancing, contact tracing, and wearing of masks. Funerals can take place in a church, and meetings with the family can take place with observance of the Level 2 requirements. The funeral director’s instructions must be followed,” he instructed.
The cardinal noted there is a higher level of concern in Wellington where the delta variant of the Covid-19 virus had been detected previously.
“Anecdotally, it seems that many people are feeling vulnerable with the high transmissibility of the delta virus, and its presence in Wellington in this outbreak. The high level of compliance with the government’s restrictions during this outbreak is another indicator of this personal concern, and also shows that people feel responsible for one another and for the common good of all,” Cardinal Dew said.
The cardinal will be meeting with the Council of Priests virtually to discuss the matter further.
Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley said Sunday Masses are still suspended until further notice “but parishes can celebrate weekday masses if they follow all the Alert Level 2 restrictions”.
In a pastoral letter today (September 7), Bishop Dooley said the restrictions on gatherings make it difficult to gather for Mass.
“In the light of these restrictions, I have made the decision to continue to suspend public Sunday Masses until further notice. I know that this is difficult for us who value the importance of gathering for the Sunday Eucharist but the reason for this sacrifice is the health of the community,” the bishop said.
Bishop Dooley said parishes will be able to open their churches in alert level 2.
“This means that weekday Masses can also be held in our parishes. These gatherings must comply with alert level 2 restrictions and be under 50 people, have two metre spacing indoors and require the wearing of masks and the signing in of everybody present,” he said.
The bishop called on the people to remember the “people of Auckland and other parts of the world who are in stricter lockdown and struggling with this pandemic”.
Local administrator for the Palmerston North diocese Fr Craig Butler also said there will be no public Masses, except for funerals and weddings at the diocese during alert level 2.
Cardinal Dew is the apostolic administrator of the diocese.