By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
In an update of COVID-19 directives for worship released Feb, 25, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon calls on parishioners to lobby provincial leaders to expand the current 30-person limit on worship services in Saskatchewan.
In the introduction to the compiled directives updated on Feb. 25, Bishop Hagemoen begins by again referring pastors, parish leaders and the faithful of the diocese to both the Government of Saskatchewan Public Health Orders and the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan for information. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the diocese and its parishes have cooperated with public health orders, under the bishop’s ongoing directives.
The present 30-person restriction on worship services – rather than a percentage of seating capacity – has been an ongoing frustration for parishioners and their pastors, with even large church buildings only permitted to have 30 people in attendance. In the Feb. 25 update, Bishop Hagemoen notes that this is an ongoing concern for the multi-faith leaders’ group formed to dialogue with government about the COVID-19 response.
“The Faith Leaders’ working group continues to strongly advocate for a change of the 30-person capacity rule to establish a percentage of seating capacity and persists with the request to meet with the Premier to resolve this matter,” wrote the bishop. “We encourage you and your parishioners to write your Member of the Legislative Assembly… and Premier Moe.”
The bishop added: “Profound gratitude is expressed to all who persevered in faith and charity during these times of challenge, offering the Sacraments, ministry and support in the many creative ways you have reached out to your people.”
The directives from the bishop include the fact that the faithful continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. “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,” state the directives.
“We encourage parishes to continue to live-stream Mass as they have been doing so those unable to attend in person can maintain a spiritual connection with their local parish.” Live-stream celebrations of Mass by a number of priests in the diocese can be found at saskatoonmass.com
The directives set out how liturgy is to be celebrated under the government guidelines, including the numbers permitted to gather. “The total number of people participating in the Liturgy or service in the Church proper cannot exceed 30 individuals, including wedding, funeral and baptismal services. Clergy and the basic necessary ministry support for the liturgy are not included in this count. We ask that this be the presiding priest and up to a maximum of five individuals who are necessary to facilitate… Concurrent services in other rooms within the facility area not allowed.”
The directives encourage parishes to establish a system of registration for gatherings, mandating that parishes keep a list of those in attendance at any gathering to permit “contact tracing” if that becomes necessarily.
A range of other issues, including churches being open for prayer, celebration of initiation sacraments, physical distancing, cleaning, and a range of procedures before, during and after Mass are also part of the compiled directives.