Sunday Masses are resume in parts of the country after the Government increased the limit on the number of people gathering in an indoor defined space from 50 to 100.
The dioceses of Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin announced the resumption of Masses with a reminder to strictly adhere to Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
Wellington diocese, however, decided to continue the suspension of Sunday Masses, according to Cardinal John Dew’s pastoral letter released on September 21, 2021.
“Now that we know that we are going to be at Level 2 for the near future, I write to say that I have consulted with the Council of Priests, and we have agreed to stay with the current arrangement of NO MASSES in the meantime. I will update parishes again on 5 October,” he wrote.
“The reason for this is that the Delta variant of Covid-19 is very highly transmissible, and we have the responsibility to take care of each other and ensure that the virus is not passed on,” he said.
Cardinal Dew cited canon law 223 which states that the Church’s faithful must “take account of the common good of the Church”, and that “ecclesiastical authority is entitled to regulate, in view of the common good, the exercise of rights which are proper to Christ’s faithful”.
Cardinal Dew called for prayers, vigilance in keeping one another safe, patience and kindness.
“This is a time to be kind and merciful and to remember that public safety is more important than personal preference,” he said.
In Palmerston North, though, local administrator Fr Craig Butler said churches will be opened for public Masses beginning today based on conversations with Cardinal Dew, apostolic administrator, and the Council of Priests.
“The only real change announced yesterday is the increase of gatherings from 50 to 100 people, which means we need to be just as vigilant in terms of keeping our people and the wider community safe. To be clear, everyone is obliged to follow the public health requirements, because public safety comes before personal rights and personal opinions,” Fr Butler said in a letter.
In Hamilton diocese, Bishop Stephen Lowe said Sunday Masses will resume, though not everyone may be accommodated as priests may celebrate two Masses a day only.
“The indoor gathering limit of 100 means we are not going to be able to accommodate everybody across the whole diocese. Some parishes will have extra Masses. However, given we don’t know how long we will remain at level 2, I have decided each priest may offer two Masses per day,” he said in a pastoral letter dated September 21, 2021.
He said the parishes will have the details about what Masses are being offered and how a booking system may apply.
“For those who are sick or uneasy about returning to Mass immediately, the dispensation from attending Sunday Mass continues,” he said.
He reminded everyone to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols when going to Mass.
“Please, do not give grief to those who ensure we do not exceed 100 people at each Mass,” he said.
“As we look forward to returning to Sunday Mass, let us pray for an end to the pandemic. Let us be grateful that New Zealand has not been impacted in the same way other countries have. Let us continue to work together to ensure the health and well-being of others. And, finally and most importantly, let us not lose sight of Christ our hope who cannot be locked down as he continues to redeem and re-create us.”
In the meantime, Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley announced the resumption of Sunday Masses in the diocese on September 25.
“The celebration of Mass will be dependent on a restriction of 100 people and a venue in which people have adequate space,” he said, reminding the faithful that the dispensation for those uneasy about returning to Masses is continuing.
“The Covid pandemic has thrown up many challenges for us but, as people of faith, we remember the Christian message that we are God’s children and God is with us. With this hope, we can undertake those sacrifices that we are called to make for the health of our community,” he said.
He added that it is good to join together as a community “in a limited way on Sundays but we remember following restrictions is our practical means to love our neighbour in this time of pandemic”, he said.
The Christchurch diocese announced on its Facebook page that if parishes are able to meet Government requirements, Sunday Masses can resume.
“Parishes will communicate their own arrangements regarding Sunday Mass,” the post said.
“Some parishes will require Mass registration and a link will be available Wednesday evening.”
The parishes also need to provide a means for people to record their visit, physical distancing of 2 metres between bubbles and clean and sanitised shared surfaces.
Sunday Masses in most of the Auckland diocese remain suspended as the region moves to alert level 3, while parishes in the Northland and Coromandel area are in level 2.
In a pastoral letter dated September 14 when public gatherings were still restricted to 50 people, Bishop Patrick Dunn said he, with the Council of Priests, decided there will be no Sunday Masses during level 2.
“If parishes feel they can provide weekday Masses at Level 2, while also keeping the Government advice for worship and faith-based gatherings on the Ministry of Health website, they are welcome to do so,” he wrote.
Bishop Dunn also called on the people to get vaccinated.
The gathering limit of 100 at alert level 2, which applies to indoor and outdoor gatherings, does not include clergy at faith based services.