All public Masses suspended

New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops have announced the suspension of all celebrations of Mass until further notice.

The move come in response to the strong Government restrictions on public gatherings to counter the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop of Auckland Patrick Dunn, President of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, said the bishops met this morning to carefully consider what needed to be done with Mass and other public liturgical gatherings.

“We decided that all Masses must cease until further notice,” said Dunn.

“The bishops are acutely aware of the seriousness of the measures taken by the Government and health authorities in recent days to try to stop Covid-19 from spreading in the New Zealand community.”

Dunn said churches have been told they may stay open for parishioners to visit for private prayer and reflection, but in very small numbers; those attending must follow Ministry of Health social-distancing guidelines and stay at least two metres apart.

“Funeral services may continue but they must be brief, with only small numbers of close family and friends allowed. Those attending must also follow the guidelines for social distancing,” he said.

Baptisms, weddings and other public liturgical gatherings already planned will be allowed to proceed, but again, only with very small numbers of close family and friends present, and following the social-distancing guidelines.

Similar services not already scheduled must be postponed.

“While some of our parishioners, priests and lay Mass helpers will be disappointed by this announcement, others will welcome it, because of the growing community concern about the pandemic and the need particularly to protect those most vulnerable,” said Dunn.

The move by the New Zealand bishops follows similar moves by Catholic bishops in many other countries.

Pope Francis is himself setting the international Church example by not celebrating public Masses, instead live-streaming his daily private Mass in the Vatican.

Dunn says the New Zealand Church is moving quickly to provide live-streaming, but that the primary concern of the Church is the welfare of the public and the safety of all our parishioners, clergy, families, friends, staff and visitors.

Dunn says the Bishops are again, today emphasising to all parishioners the importance of good practices of hygiene, including regular washing of hands, covering coughs and sneezes with elbows not hands, staying at home if sick, and keeping a reasonable distance from other people when in public.

Cardinal John Dew

Earlier in the morning, the Archbishop of Wellington, and Administrator of the Palmerston North Diocese, Cardinal John Dew announced he was suspending all Masses along with a range of other church services.

The Cardinal sent separate letters to the Archdiocese and Palmerston North diocese but essentially said the same thing.

The letter to the Archdiocese reads:

In the current COVID-19 emergency it is very important that we play our part as good citizens.

It is our Christian duty to do everything we can to protect ourselves and others from harm.

As Catholics, we have many gatherings and practices which potentially pose a risk this situation, especially to the elderly and those whose health is compromised in some way.

The government’s restriction of indoor gatherings to 100 people requires us to take action immediately.

For the duration of this health emergency, the following instructions are to be implemented in all parishes and chaplaincies (and where they apply, in schools) throughout the Archdiocese of Wellington.

Masses and public liturgies

All public Masses and liturgies in the Archdiocese are suspended from 20 March until further notice, both weekday and weekend Masses.

Some churches will be open for private prayer, and social distancing should be observed if people are doing this.

A dispensation from the diocesan Bishop releases Catholics from fulfilling their obligation to attend a Sunday Mass.

Since public Masses are suspended in the Archdiocese until further notice, all Catholics in the Archdiocese are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass (Canon 1248).

You should stay home for your safety and the safety of others.

Many people may feel sadness at not being able to participate in the Mass, but you should not feel guilty for not going to Mass.

We are looking into livestreaming some Masses but it may be even more fruitful for families and households to gather together to reflect upon the readings for Sunday and to make their own forms of worship.

I have asked all the priests of the Archdiocese who can to celebrate Mass every day privately for the intentions of the people and the alleviation of the crisis.

The immediate family of the deceased (which must be fewer in number than 100 or the Ministry of Health’s future minimum number) may gather for the funeral rite, taking great care to practice social distancing.

There are to be no prayer vigils the day before a funeral.

The Rite of Committal will take place at the cemetery with the immediate family only.

There will be no Requiem Masses at this time.

Marriages and Baptisms
Marriages without Mass and Baptisms may take place with immediate family members, provided they follow the regulations established by the Ministry of Health.

Marriage preparation courses are suspended.

Parish activities
All parish gatherings are suspended.

This includes meetings; sacramental programmes; the conferring of First Holy Communion, First Reconciliation and Confirmation; Lent programmes; RCIA programmes; and the Second Rite of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation will be available by appointment or at set times if it can be conducted in a safe way.

Visits to the sick and housebound
Your pastoral team will make arrangements to ensure that those who are sick or housebound receive spiritual care.

They will also keep in contact with those who are in self-isolation, and you should advise them if you are in this situation.

Parish Offices
Parish offices may make their own decision about remaining open, but must enforce social distancing with any visitors.

If necessary the office may be closed to visitors but be accessible through its phone and email systems.

There will be a way to contact a priest.

This is a Lenten journey without precedent. In all its challenges there will be opportunities for spiritual growth as a community; for finding new ways of being Christ to one another; for caring for those who are marginalised or disadvantaged; for the discovery of new gifts in our midst; for rediscovering the heart of community and family.

For each of us personally, there may be opportunities for discerning what is really essential in our spiritual journey; for finding a new appreciation of those who are very familiar; and for deepening our prayer and the ways we pray.

You are all in my prayers. Please look after yourselves, and care for one another and your neighbours.

Earlier today

Earlier this morning CathNews published a story “Virus causes cancellation of Sunday Mass“; it is still available.

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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