Archdiocese of Toronto unveils reopening protocols

  • February 25, 2022

With the big exception of continued mask-wearing, Masses throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto are ready to resemble pre-pandemic normalcy.

As of March 1, all places of worship have authorization to celebrate liturgical services, weddings and funerals with no mandated capacity limits. Each of the archdioceses’ 225 parishes have the autonomy to choose a gradual or automatic removal of physical distancing requirements.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, in a letter to all archdiocese clergy and staff Feb. 24, outlined the updated parish protocols. The letter stated parish hall meetings are allowed (mask-wearing required), Holy Communion on the tongue may resume, holy water fonts can be refilled, baptisms may return to pre-pandemic practices and confessionals and confession rooms may reopen if both individuals are masked.

Churches also have the go-ahead to dispense with certain COVID-19 health screening protocols. Contract tracing, online Mass registration and reporting all COVID-19 cases are no longer required. Unvaccinated clergy, staff and volunteers no longer need to submit to rapid testing. While a vaccination passport was never a requirement for the faithful to attend Mass, the letter reiterated that “proof of vaccination is not a requirement to enter Archdiocese of Toronto churches.”

Ash Wednesday on March 2 is the first major celebration under these new, freer protocols. Collins considers it “providential” that this reopening happened in time for Lent. He encourages pastors to make special efforts to inspire parishioners to reignite the habit of attending in-person Masses each week. He adds that “creative, pastoral and thoughtful approaches” should be devised to attract Catholics who have not stepped inside of a church for months, or nearly two years.

Collins expressed gratitude to the faithful and their efforts over nearly two years of adversity.

“I wish to extend my deep gratitude for your ministry during these almost two years of pandemic,” Collins wrote. “These have been difficult and challenging days, but I am heartened by the witness and outreach exhibited by all of you in accompanying and caring for the Catholic community as we journeyed through this valley of tears. Please know that your work is deeply appreciated.”

The fact that not a single Catholic parish in the Greater Toronto Area has been labeled as a COVID-19 outbreak zone indicates the archdiocese’s WorshipSafe guidelines did the job, he wrote.

Echoing the recent sentiments of bishops in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Collins wrote that congregants will react to these reopening developments differently, and “kindness and charity should prevail in the way we encounter and dialogue with one another.”

“The pandemic has been a long, stressful time for many and we should expect that the faithful will have different responses to the removal of COVID restrictions, ranging from joy to fear. Concerns, and even conflict, may arise as these restrictions are removed. I also acknowledge that clergy or staff will experience these same feelings.”

Collins expects Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday on April 10, to resemble pre-pandemic times, however, detailed protocols will be released closer to the date.

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