By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
In a letter to the faithful May 15, 2020, Bishop Mark Hagemoen announced plans for a phased-in resumption of public celebrations across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, as the government eases restrictions that were put in place in March to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronovirus.
Public celebration of Mass will slowly and gradually resume, in accordance with restrictions on numbers and other public health directives. Exactly how public celebrations will be phased-in will also depend on circumstances in each individual parish, said the bishop.
“One of the most difficult sacrifices for Catholics during this time of pandemic has been the suspension of all celebrations of the sacraments, including and especially the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The faithful hunger for the Body of Christ and the presence of the Lord in the Sacraments; pastors of souls yearn for the presence of Christ found in the gathering of God’s holy people. Although eager to return to our churches, the process must be executed in a safe and measured way.” – Bishop Mark Hagemoen
“We all need to recognize that this is a unique time and we will need to continue to work together to make progress. There will still be challenges and limits on what we can do in our churches. Many people may not be able to attend Mass the first few weeks it resumes,” Bishop Hagemoen said in his message to the faithful.
“We are following these guidelines in order to protect those among us at most risk – our elders and people with compromised health who could be especially devastated if they were to contract the virus.”
In his letter, Bishop Hagemoen cautioned that the diocese does not want to contribute to any rebound of coronavirus numbers that could “push normal Mass attendance even further into the future.” Therefore, as health experts and civic leaders determine new guidelines and restrictions for the next weeks and months, the diocese will also consider how public celebrations of Mass might be celebrated under any new regulations.
“In issuing the new directives, it is understood that the possibility still exists that every parish may not be able to offer Mass open to the public,” stressed the bishop.
Factors in each individual parish might continue to prevent public celebrations, including the vulnerability of the priest (in terms of age or health), an inability to provide additional personnel to operate safely, an inability to sufficiently sanitize worship spaces between gatherings, etc.
“We know the desire to return to your parishes, participate in the liturgy, and receive the Eucharist is incredibly strong, but we ask that everyone approach this reopening with a patient, loving and charitable mindset,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
The diocesan phase-in plan is for a gradual three-phase process, announced the bishop:
Phase 1 is currently in place, with no liturgies or group gatherings permitted. The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament may take place, as outlined by each parish. Funerals and weddings can occur as necessary, in consultation with the pastor, provided all provisions of the government health authorities are followed.
Phase 2 will begin May 22, with churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon permitted to celebrate public Sunday and weekday Masses with specific restrictions, including a limit on the number of people present, in accordance with the civil and health guidelines, as well as the strict practice of personal distancing, cleaning and disinfecting. As of May 22, the public celebration of baptisms can also resume, under the same principles.
The date is yet to be determined for Phase 3, when “all other sacraments will resume according to the directives provided by the diocese and civil authorities.” In this third phase, pastors will be given options for celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation along with First Eucharist.
In his letter to the faithful, Bishop Hagemoen also listed five things to be mindful of during the gradual return to public celebrations in the diocese:
- A general dispensation from the Sunday obligation will remain. “The dispensation for the obligation to attend Mass will remain in effect. No one will be required to attend Mass when the return process begins. At first, parishioners may not be able to attend Mass on a regular basis. Because of this, the live-streaming of Masses will continue for those who are not able to attend at their churches/ parish.” (Diocesan celebrations can be found posted online at https://saskatoonmass.com )
- Attendance will be limited. “Restriction will remain on holding large gatherings. We do hope that eventually a calculation given the size of the church may be used to determine the safe number of people for a given building, but for now we will be strictly following the maximum number for all gatherings as set out by the health authority.”
- Personal Distancing must be consistently practiced. “Expect that your parish church will have pews/rows that are sectioned off, and that family groups and individuals will be asked to keep at least two meters (six feet) of separation from each other. Be prepared to wear a mask to Mass to guard against germ spread. Anyone with any symptoms of sickness or who have travelled out of country in the past 14 days are directed to stay home.”
- Liturgical changes will be in place. “Similar to protocols established when churches were closing, extra precautions will be taken. Temporary adjustments will be made with respect to how we celebrate Mass and receive Holy Communion. These will be outlined by the parish priest.”
- There still will be a risk for anyone who attends a public Mass. “Even with best health practices and strict personal distancing, anyone who enters a public space should recognize there is a risk of contracting the coronavirus. Improved cleaning will occur at our churches, but no one should expect that they will be any safer from germs than in other public spaces.”
The bishop concluded: “Let us commit to this program of incrementally moving back into gatherings at our churches. Of course, we are aware that if infections begin to increase, we will be required to return to stricter protocols. Each one of us is called to be faithful and caring members of the Body of Christ as we expand activities in our parishes.”
In addition to the letter to the faithful on May 15, the bishop of Saskatoon also sent a letter to parish leaders about directives around the phase-in plan (LINK to PDF), and more detailed guidelines from the Diocesan Liturgy Commission (LINK to PDF).