After COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the past two years’ Christmas services, churches will be wide open again this Christmas. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Christmas Mass out from COVID shadow

  • December 14, 2022

Catholics, young and old, filling the pews with anticipatory energy. Choirs warming hearts and minds with joyful melodies. Parishioners joining together to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

These and other cherished images, sounds and moments from the traditional in-person Christmas Eve and Day liturgies were either stripped down or outright denied in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic restrictions across Canada. 

Barring a drastic reversal of fortune, Christmas 2022 in Canadian parishes will look nothing like that this year and return to how it was pre-pandemic.

“Christmas is always an exciting and busy time for parishes in the archdiocese,” wrote Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications for the Toronto archdiocese. “It is particularly joyful this year in that there are no restrictions on ministry, and parishes can welcome the entire community during this very special time of year.

“Many parishes are making efforts to extend hospitality and welcome to their community, in particular those who may have been away from the parish given the uncertainty of the last several years. It is a fitting time for the community to come together to pray, join together in person and remember the reason for the season.” 

Rewinding the clocks a year, churches of the Archdiocese of Toronto had the green light to welcome parishioners as long as they met physical-distancing requirements. This set of conditions represented a massive improvement over 2020, which saw churches in the City of Toronto and the York and Peel Regions wholly locked down. 

The Archdiocese of Vancouver, in particular, greets these rosy conditions with enthusiasm. In 2020, B.C.’s public health leaders instructed the closing of churches on Nov. 19. Clergy did not have the green light to open the doors again for indoor services until May 27, 2021 — 189 days later. For Christmas 2021, the pews could only be filled to 50 per cent for services open to unvaccinated churchgoers.

“The Archdiocese of Vancouver has high hopes for this upcoming Christmas season,” said communications manager Matthew Furtado. “The last two years have required us to be much more creative in reaching people without large gatherings. This year, our parishes are all-in on preparing for Christmas Mass. As many families resume other Christmas traditions this year, we hope and pray they will also resume the tradition of Christmas Mass.”

Concern over the Omicron variant in 2021 compelled the Quebec government on Dec. 20, 2021 to controversially institute a vaccine passport system. Up to 250 vaccinated Catholics could fill the pews. Jab-free churchgoers could only attend outside Masses. 

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine arranged for 10 celebrations in the outdoors. Cardinal Gérald Lacroix of the Quebec archdiocese took a different route. On Dec. 23, he closed indoor Masses for two weeks as an act of solidarity with vulnerable people affected by the pandemic and the front-line workers. 

Still, for 2022 federal and provincial health bodies are sounding the alarm of a winter “tripledemic” of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). However, neither the Government of Canada nor any of the provinces are thus far signalling an intent to reintroduce mask mandates, social distancing or capacity limits.

Lépine offered a prayerful statement communicating his hopes for this year’s Christmas celebrations. 

“We are invited to receive, with joy, the gift of His peace in our hearts and our relationships with our brothers and sisters. Following two Christmases of restrictions on gatherings with family and friends, may we be moved anew by the beauty of the story of Bethlehem and open our hearts to the joy of Christmas,” Lépine said.

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