Fr. Jim Corrigan, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sherwood Park, Alta., celebrates Mass June 1. Photo by Matthew Bodnarek, Grandin Media

Editorial: It’s safety first

  • June 17, 2020

As Canadian churches continue to re-open, it would be wise to heed advice Pope Francis offered to Catholics everywhere.

“Be careful, do not sing ‘Victory!’ yet, do not celebrate victory too soon!” he said.

“It remains necessary to follow the rules in force carefully because they are rules that help us to prevent the virus from gaining ground.”

Indeed, a return to Mass does not signal the end of the pandemic that closed churches for almost three months. The virus continues to rage in many parts of the world and still simmers in Canada, particularly in the large urban areas of Ontario and Quebec.

So a resumption of Mass does not mark the end of a crisis that is moving towards 500,000 deaths worldwide, including more than 8,000 Canadians. It signals a new beginning.

In The Wizard of Oz, following the tornado that carries Dorothy’s home to a far-away place, the black-and-white movie switches to colour as Dorothy inches through a doorway to enter an unrecognizable world. The change is jarring.

Churchgoers venturing out from COVID-19 lockdowns are facing something similar. After being tossed by a storm they are stepping through church doors into curious new settings that differ, if not as dramatic as black and white, then in many shades of grey, from places they left behind.

They’re seeing rubber gloves and surgical masks, directional arrows, hand-sanitizing stations, no hymnals, sometimes no singing, no touching, no holy water, no altar servers and row upon row of roped-off pews. These are times that can test a person’s commitment and try their patience.

The experience in Italy, which re-opened churches May 18, suggests no great rush back to Mass. As one priest put it, people feel they’ve survived a war yet they’re hesitant to leave their bunkers. “The community is divided between those who returned immediately and those who are afraid,” a pastor told Catholic News Service.

Now Canadians are entering an uncharted period that calls for restraint, sacrifice and vigilance. Church leaders can ill afford to become complacent about the virus. Better to lift restrictions cautiously than to act impetuously and invite a resurgence.

For churchgoers, that means being patient and sympathetic as pastors, operating in difficult circumstances, try to rebuild their parish’s sacramental life under the yoke of health and safety restrictions. As they make difficult choices, often with limited resources, priests are right to worry about their churches becoming couriers of disease.

For parishioners who may resent the safety measures, this is a time to bite tongues and hide them beneath a mask. Join those who arrive at Mass in a spirit of grace and gratitude, rather than being infected by bitterness because Mass isn’t like it used to be.

As church doors re-open, we share a collective responsibility to be prudent and responsible. Do not celebrate victory too soon.

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