As restrictions lift, parishes excited to reconnect

By 
  • February 25, 2022

Fr. Paul Kavanagh is excited about the developments for Alberta places of worship in recent weeks and the promise of what lies around the corner.

The Archdiocese of Edmonton’s vicar for clergy, senior lead for mission leadership and mission lead for worship considers himself a “liturgist by trade.” Kavanagh seeks a return to how Mass was celebrated before COVID-19 reared its obstructive head almost two years ago.

“It is exciting to be able to connect again,” said Kavanagh. “We have had priests transfer over the past couple of years who have not had the opportunity to meet with all their parishioners. Parishes have figured out great ways of staying in touch, but I sometimes think to be together is special.”

Capacity limits ended in Alberta churches earlier this month, and children under age 13 are exempt from wearing face masks. However, diocesan leadership in Calgary and Edmonton are encouraging parishes to consider leaving the two metres of distancing between households rule intact.

Step two of the Government of Alberta’s reopening plan, poised to begin March 1, promises more relief for churches if hospitalizations continue trending downwards. Congregational singing returns, indoor masking will no longer be required and indoor and outdoor social gatherings have a green light — just in time for Ash Wednesday the following day.

The Diocese of Calgary asks churchgoers in a website bulletin “to exercise respect, charity and kindness toward others and to recognize the varying comfort level of people, especially during these steps of transition.”

“It is important for people to feel safe,” said Kavanagh. “Some may wish to continue wearing the mask, and that’s fine. Parishioners have to be able to plan according to their comfort level, and really for their own health.”

In that spirit, both major Alberta dioceses request all member parishes to continue live-streaming Masses for two reasons: to allow “parishioners to decide for themselves whether to attend Mass in person or via live-stream depending on their comfort level and/or health condition(s),” and to remain adaptable if cases resurge or a new variant materializes.

Encouraging the continuation of virtual services indicates the bishops do not imminently intend to waive the dispensation from the faithful’s obligation to attend Sunday Mass. This decree has been operational without interruption since March 16, 2020.

Kavanagh expects diocesan leadership to encourage each parish community to chart its roadway back towards the old normal.    

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, unhampered by specific capacity limits since late 2021, parishes shift from mask mandate to mask optional starting Feb. 28. Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen mirrored the outlook of his Alberta peers in a Feb. 18 letter updating sacramental directives.

“I understand various perspectives and emotions that may be shaped by individual circumstances or experiences. I appreciate these changes will be well received by some and reservedly by others — and I ask for empathy, compassion and respect toward those with different perspectives,” said the bishop. “While we all have experienced the disorder in society, we have also witnessed many examples of generosity and kindness.”

Meanwhile, parishes in Toronto will be in the position as of March 1 of welcoming full congregations, should they wish to do so. Masks will be required.

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