Fr. Jim Corrigan, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sherwood Park, Alta., celebrates Mass June 1. Ontario churchgoers stepped into the new reality of going to public Mass as churches re-opened in mid-June. Photo by Matthew Bodnarek, Grandin Media

Face to face ... finally

  • June 17, 2020

It won’t be a normal Sunday by any stretch of the imagination, but for priests across Ontario over the weekend of June 20-21 there will be a beautiful sight in front of them: a live congregation.

It will be the first Sunday Mass celebrated with parishioners across the province as Ontario steps into Stage 2 of its gradual re-opening of society that was shut down mid-March to fight the spread of COVID-19. Mass celebrations were among the early victims as large gatherings were postponed to prevent the coronavirus’ spread.

In this stage, churches can reopen at 30-per-cent capacity and must have hygienic protocols in place.

“I’m looking very much forward to it. It’s going to be wonderful,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.

Despite the government go-ahead to begin celebrating Mass on June 12, Ontario dioceses have taken a cautious approach to re-opening churches.

Most dioceses did not celebrate the Eucharist with parishioners that day, or the Sunday Mass over the June 13-14 weekend. Instead, they took their time to prepare the extensive protocols put in place when Premier Doug Ford announced churches may re-open at his daily news conference June 8.

“Mindful that we are still in a period of pandemic, our goal is to ensure we can welcome the faithful and provide a safe environment for all,” said Collins. “Recognizing these challenges and balancing them with the understandable desire of the faithful to return to their spiritual home, all parishes have been asked to adopt (an archdiocesan-wide timeline.)”

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, these included preparation of parishes over June 12-13, opening the doors June 14, the feast of Corpus Christi, for private prayer and adoration, being available for private prayer June 15 and 16 and finally the resumption of daily Mass on June 17, before weekend Masses restarted June 20-21.

Other dioceses put similar measures in place, though in Peterborough Bishop Daniel Miehm paved the way for daily Mass to begin June 16, as did Bishop Douglas Crosby in Hamilton. In Sault Ste. Marie, parishes will reopen churches June 20-21.

The Archdiocese of Kingston and two of Ontario’s smaller dioceses, Pembroke and St. Catharines, allowed Mass to resume as soon as parishes implemented safety measures, which include thorough hygienic cleansing, having hand sanitizer available, making sure they are able to maintain social distancing among parishioners and all other safety measures mandated by the province are in place.

“I am convinced that with the good work done to this stage, we will very soon be in a position to move forward in a safe and responsible way,” said Kingston Archbishop Michael Mulhall.

Likewise, other Ontario dioceses were busy formulating reopening policies and preparing parishioners for reopened churches.

Meantime, bishops continue to provide dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for those who are unable to attend due to health issues or capacity restrictions. Collins understands with only 30-per-cent capacity, it will be the rare church that can actually accommodate that many people with all the distancing protocols.

“There are different reasons why a person may not be able to come to Mass and so for that reason I’m continuing (the dispensation),” he said.

The London diocese is also asking parishes that have been live-streaming Masses since the pandemic broke in mid-March to continue to do so for those unable to attend Mass.

Collins agrees and hopes parishes in his diocese do the same. He intends to continue to live-stream the daily Mass each morning from St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica “at least for the foreseeable future.”

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