A drive-in Mass is celebrated at St. Ann’s Parish in Abbottsford, B.C. Indoor gatherings were allowed and then quickly rescinded with the rise of COVID cases in B.C. Photo courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

Holy Week forecast sunnier than 2020 as more churches open

By 
  • April 1, 2021

After months of speaking out against inequity in COVID-19 capacity guidelines, the Archdiocese of Montreal was finally gifted some good news from the Quebec government.

As of March 26, and just in time for Holy Week, up to 250 people can now visit places of worship — a monumental increase from the limit of 10 that existed before.

Archbishop Christian Lépine expressed gratitude that “government leaders and public-health officials recognize that care of the soul is as essential for every human person as is care of the body.”

“Faced with the distress, loneliness and suffering precipitated by the current 10-person restriction, pastoral teams within the diocese have rallied, as best they could, to offer spiritual support to believers. Today, we welcome the news with joy and gratitude,” said Lépine.

Erika Jacinto, the Archdiocese of Montreal’s director of communications and media relations, told The Catholic Register via e-mail that she received many “joyful and spontaneous” reactions from diocesan team members after the announcement was made. 

On the other side of the country, however, spirits were raised only to be knocked down as British Columbia health officials back-pedalled on plans for limited indoor religious gatherings in time for Easter.

B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry had instituted a “one-time variance” to enable limited indoor religious gatherings between March 28 and May 13. The B.C. Catholic reported that “places of worship have been told to choose four days within that time period to hold indoor religious services limited to 10 per cent of capacity, or a maximum of 50 people per event.”

That variance was rescinded March 29 as B.C. implemented a three-week “circuit breaker” lockdown after more than 2,500 new cases of COVID-19 were reported over a three-day period.

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, was saddened by the news.

“We had so hoped, but it is not surprising given the increase in the number of cases, hospitalizations and ICU beds with COVID-19 patients,” he said.

“The offering of Mass and the celebration of the Sacred Triduum will, of course, continue in our parishes, even though a congregation is not present.”

Across Canada however, it’s mostly better news for dioceses as they entered Holy Week 2021 on an elevated plane compared to April 2020 when it was painfully obvious that Catholics would have to experience Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Masses at home.

Just like Montreal, the Archdiocese of Toronto entered Holy Week buoyed by positive momentum. The archdiocese is only a couple weeks removed from its “A Place to Worship” letter-writing campaign that helped move the capacity needle from a hard cap of 10 to a 15-per-cent capacity allowance.

Just like Christmas week, parishes in Alberta can open their doors to 15 per cent of its fire code occupancy as long as physical distancing guidelines can be followed.

Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 landscape is a bit more of a mixed bag as some communities — including Saskatoon — are permitted to seat up to 30-per-cent capacity or 150 people (whichever figure is less), but municipalities like Regina experiencing heightened COVID numbers are limited to 30.

While the City of Ottawa recently slipped back into the red zone, parishes can still welcome 30-per-cent capacity indoors and 100 people outdoors.

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