New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have lifted all remaining pandemic restrictions on attending Mass, and have urged all the faithful to return to Sunday Mass. This follows the Government removing most Covid-19 requirements along with the “traffic light” system on September 12.
The Catholic bishops imposed various health and safety measures to fight Covid-19 when national restrictions began in March, 2020. The bishops’ measures included a dispensation from the obligation for Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays.
“With the recent lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions, we are happy to extend an enthusiastic invitation for all Catholics of Aotearoa New Zealand to return to full and active participation in Sunday Mass,” the bishops said in a letter sent to dioceses and parishes on September 15.
“In the wake of the removal of wider government Covid-19 restrictions, all restrictions regarding the Mass are lifted.”
While many have already begun returning to Mass, this time of lifting restrictions provides an unprecedented opportunity for others who may have been away from Mass for many years or decades to return, the bishops added.
They said that it is ultimately for parish communities to decide what changes they wish to make, keeping to the fore the concern for those who are most vulnerable.
“It is important to remember. . . that the lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions does not remove the risk of transmission of infections from Covid-19 or other viruses. We therefore ask every community and each community member to be prudent in retaining particular restrictions as deemed necessary in the interests of continuing to protect the most vulnerable.”
The bishops said that everyone has lived through difficult times since March, 2020, including serious illness and months of restrictions prompted by concern for the weak and the most vulnerable.
“Throughout this time, our personal relationship with Jesus Christ has sustained us, and we have continued to pray together in innovative and creative ways, including [using] social media resources. However, we have longed for the time when we could once again worship together. In recent months, this has been possible to an increasing degree, and with the lifting of all restrictions we welcome all Catholics of Aotearoa to return to weekly Sunday Mass.”
In their letter, the bishops discussed the Sunday Mass obligation; “When we speak of our Catholic commitment to Sunday Mass as an obligation, this is not the imposition of an external rule, but rather the expression of a healthy heart’s desire. While the projects and successes of the world can bring us significant satisfaction, we Catholics are aware of an inner restlessness which reminds us that only God can give the depth of earthly peace and wholeness that we seek.”
“We nurture and savour this relationship with Jesus Christ, who is God-with-us in our own life of prayer and recognise that this always draws us to the Sunday Eucharist which, from the time of the first Christians, has always been an event of encounter with Christ which we cannot live without,” the bishops’ letter stated.
“Many of us remember a past time when the Sunday obligation was carried as a heavy burden, often motivated by fear. In the absence of such fear, we find a new opportunity to embrace Christ’s gift of the Eucharist as something freely chosen, and from which we are dispensed for reasons due to illness or other circumstances which make it difficult to participate.”
The bishops also thanked the Catholic community of Aotearoa, “for your patience, your generous and faithful commitment and your service over the past two and a half years. This has been a time of learning for all of us as we become more aware of our need to care for those who are most vulnerable”.
The bishops’ letter can be found at: www.catholic.org.nz/assets/Bishops-Letter-to-Parishes-regarding-lifting-of-Covid-19-restrictions-Sep-2022.pdf
Photo: Bishops wearing masks at Mass at St Mary of the Angels church, Wellington, on August 14