By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
The process is neither fast or simple, but parishes across the diocese of Saskatoon are slowly opening their doors to greater numbers of worshippers after months of restrictions implemented to slow the transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
An update from the Government of Saskatchewan announced on June 11 expanded the numbers permitted to gather for public worship from groups of only 30 to “multiple groups of 30” up to a maximum of 150 persons or one-third capacity of the building (whichever is less).
The provincial health authority requirements for gatherings include adherence to physical distancing of two metres between each individual household, and of five metres between the various “groups of 30” spread throughout the building. Cleaning and hygiene standards must be followed, and other measures – such as one-way traffic flow, the removal of printed materials, and a ban on passing collection baskets – are also part of the new provincial guidelines for public worship.
“In issuing these directives, it is hoped that most parishes will now be offering public Masses in some way,” Bishop Mark Hagemoen said in his message to parishes after the latest provincial announcement. However,Saskatoon’s bishop also noted that there may be local situations that continue to prevent public celebration of Mass in some parishes, such as the age and health of the priest, a lack of personnel to implement the provincial health requirements or undertake the needed cleaning, etc.
It may also take parishes some time to implement the new maximum amount – which for larger parishes will still mean that not all can attend as they did before the pandemic restrictions were implemented in March. Various procedures for registering and monitoring attendance are also being implemented, with worshippers advised to check with their local parish for details.
“Given the immediate significant increase in capacity, while still under distancing and cleaning guidelines, it is understood parishes may need time to organize or fulfill a new arrangement,” Bishop Hagemoen acknowledged.
“Those who are at risk because of an underlying health issue or who are 65 or older are strongly encouraged, for their own health, to avoid the risk of attending public celebrations of the Mass.”
In the updated directives of June 12, 2020, Bishop Hagemoen continues to dispense all the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. As well, the celebration of Mass by a number of priests in the diocese will continue to be live-streamed at SaskatoonMass.com (including 9 a.m. Sunday Mass with the bishop).
The latest message from Bishop Hagemoen includes directives related to opening churches for prayer, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion, as well as the reception of adults into full communion with the Catholic Church. The directives also address various liturgical practices – such as suspending processions, removing holy water from the font, refraining from any physical contact during the Sign of Peace, and instructions for anointing – as well as addressing a range of other logistical details.
Concluding his message to the faithful, Bishop Hagemoen said: “Again, I thank pastors, parish communities and faithful of the Diocese of Saskatoon for their patience and consideration throughout this time. Everyone has done an extraordinary job in continuing ministry and reaching out to keep prayerful communication with so many.”