Mass is livestreamed on Facebook CNS photo/Katie Rutter

Francis Campbell: The wait continues for return to pews

  • June 19, 2020

Another day, another clean slate for Nova Scotia in its coronavirus struggle. No additional deaths attributed to COVID-19, no new cases.

For a province of fewer than a million souls, we have had our share of pandemic hardships. As of June 10, Nova Scotia had confirmed more than 1,060 cases of COVID-19 and 62 related deaths. Nearly a quarter of those cases were at Northwood long-term care home in Halifax, where there have been 53 COVID deaths.

Northwood had more than 190 recoveries as of June 10 and there were no active cases at the long-term care home.

On that news, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, announced that effective June 15, visits could resume at long-term care facilities, provided they happen outdoors and visitors stay two metres away from residents and staff.
That’s all good news, but we are still relegated to celebrating Sunday Mass by video.

There are some options. We can watch the video of Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini and his soon-to-be successor, Coadjutor Archbishop Brian Dunn, preside over the Mass or fellow parishioners can join our pastor for a video Mass at one of the three churches in our amalgamated parish. Sometimes, we tune in to the Mass from the parish in Cape Breton where we grew up.

The Masses come through with crisp, clean recordings, save for a few glitches, but I know many of my fellow Catholics share a yearning for a return to the pews.

I miss the stroll into the church, exchanging pleasantries with other parishioners.

I miss the quick kneel for a pre-Mass prayer, quick because even though we live a five-minute walk from our church, we often don’t arrive long before the parish priest starts his trek up the middle aisle to open the Mass.

I miss the prayers, the live readings, the babies crying and the young children talking aloud, the communion celebration, the shaking of hands and the post-dismissal chats with others leaving the church. If we attend on Sunday mornings, I even miss the opportunity to steal away for breakfast at a local eatery after Mass.

Apparently, a fix for that appetite won’t come anytime soon. In a video on the archdiocesan website, Mancini describes a long road to re-opening churches.

“Accessibility to church and to worship is central to our faith,” Mancini said in the video posted in late May after he and religious leaders from other denominations had a sit-down meeting with Strang, the province’s top doctor.

Strang called the initial incursion of the virus in the province Wave 1 and warned Nova Scotians to expect a likely second wave in fall or winter.

In the absence of a vaccine and with no clear treatment for the virus, the doctor says prevention is the key. The preventative steps Strang outlined are social distancing and limiting the number of people coming together.

“At this time, no specific number has been suggested for religious gatherings,” Mancini said. Even when the church doors swing open, stipulated hygienic measures will determine how church buildings are used, Mancini said.

“What will the procedures be for opening and closing church doors and keeping pews properly cared for?” the archbishop asked. “The distribution of communion, how can it take place in a manner that respects the health restrictions and at the same time is liturgically acceptable. Dr. Strang did not propose the details of how this should be done. That is up to church leaders to come up with what fits and makes sense with the health requirements as well as in keeping with church practices.

“This is the homework which Bishop Dunn and I … must do in the coming days,” said Mancini.

It’s a safe bet that homework will result in Masses accommodating congregants in every second or third pew only, in a creative way to distribute communion in only one species and with a ban on hand-shaking and touching others, all to come at an undetermined date.

Until then, practising Catholics will have to rely on video and live-streaming as the next best thing to being there.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.)

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