Churches require seat booking for Mass


As Catholic churches throughout New Zealand prepare to welcome people back to Sunday Mass church ministers are warning things are not the same.

Catholic churches used to have a common look and feel, but post-COVID-19, the new normal will likely be less familiar, it may even seem a little strange, warns Wellington priest, Pete Roe.

Roe says he thinks that as parishes plan to reopen, the need to contact trace, keep to 100 person limit on gatherings and be socially distant while inside the church, will make the feel of going to Mass very different.

Some parishes are requiring people to book a seat for Mass.

One of those asking parishioners to book is the Palmerston North city-parish area.

Designed by the Diocese “the online booking system serves a dual purpose; government required contact tracking and a way to manage numbers attending each Mass”, says the Palmerston parish priest Fr Joe Grayland.

We also encourage those who do not have internet access or need assistance to phone the parish office.

Roe’s parish, St Francis of Assisi Ohariu is also requiring people to book a seat for Mass.

The parish normally offers three Masses on a Sunday, however, in its weekly newsletter, the parish says that with a regular Mass count of 1,000 it will not be possible for all parishioners to get to Mass.

“We don’t want people standing around outside in the cold wondering if they are going to get a seat”, Roe says.

Post-Covid, the Ohariu parish plans to offer two Masses and continue to promote its Little Churches initiative where a separate Mass is live-streamed and towards the end of Mass Holy Communion is delivered to each of the Little Churches by their Little Church representative who was present at Mass.

Trialled last week for the first time, the feedback was very positive.

Without the Eucharist for eight weeks, parishioners expressed delight at the opportunity to once again receive the Holy Communion, says Roe.

Originally restricted by government regulations to just 10 people at Mass, Little Churches ‘maxed out’ but now with the new limit of 100, the parish is in a position to expand the number of Little Churches.

St Francis Ohariu is also offering Holy Communion to parishioners who for health or other personal reasons are unable to attend Mass in the Church or join one of the Little Churches.

However, out of concern for the people, Roe, compassionately warns “that even for those who can get to Sunday Mass it is going to look and feel different.”

For example.

  • People will be spread out around the Church
  • People may not be able to sit in their usual seat
  • There may be ushers escorting people to their seats
  • It will be unlikely that people can sit with their friends
  • Health and safety requires no gatherings after Mass
  • Throughout Mass, but particularly at Holy Communion, people will need to keep a social distance
  • There will be no singing
  • People should avoid shaking hands at the sign of peace
  • Some people may be wearing masks
  • Holy Communion will be distributed in the hand, not on the tongue nor from the chalice
  • Holy water is to be removed from the vessels at the church door
  • People are asked to keep a social distance entering and leaving the Church.

Roe acknowledges there seems to be a lot of “cant’s and not’s” in the list but says that it is important to follow the health and safety requirements.

“Throughout the pandemic, the bishops have expressed concern for the safety of people”, Roe says.

“Let’s also remember the positive, people are able to go to Mass,” he said.

In its pastoral letter to Catholics, the New Zealand bishops acknowledge the wonderful work done in parishes during the lockdown and registers their delight with the creative ways parishes have gathered digitally and supported each other.

Larger churches remain shut

Ironically though, with more space to use, it seems the larger venues are the ones who are tested the most.

At Auckland’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, the only Mass being offered starts on 2 June and is only available on weekdays at 12:15pm. The priests at the Cathedral continue to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We know that this will be a disappointment to all of you but we feel it is unfair at this stage to place a limit on who can and who cannot attend Mass on a Sunday”, writes Pa Peter Tipene, Dean of the Cathedral, on the Cathedral’s website.

Conscious of the impact of the Cathedral remaining closed, Tipene urges the Cathedral’s 3,000 strong regular Mass-goers to not attend Mass at a smaller parish that may be open on Sunday, rather he urges people to continue to watch Mass on Shine TV (Channel 25 or Sky Channel 201), pray at home and listen to Cathedral music via its Spotify page.

In Wellington, the central city church, St Mary of the Angels remains completely closed. Parish Priest, Fr Kevin Mowbray SM wrote recently to parishioners registering his disappointment at the current Level 2 situation.

“The Parish Leadership Team has considered what is necessary for St Mary of the Angels to open for private prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

“The health and safety requirements required by the Ministry of Health are complex and challenging’, says Mowbray.

“Some parishioners would need to be involved in ensuring compliance with cleaning and sanitisation, contact tracing, managing the restriction of no more than 100 people in the building and keeping people at a safe distance from one another.”

“This would be a very significant undertaking and is not something that we should ask of parishioners.”

“Therefore, St Mary of the Angels must remain closed.”



Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

Tags: , , ,