My dear people,
In facing the most serious health concerns of recent memory we are indeed living in troubled times but “Do not be afraid”. We are not dealing with an unexpected tsunami but rather more with the rising waters of the coronavirus which threaten to overwhelm us and our well being if we do not take appropriate measures. We need to flatten the wave and help slow the spread of this coronavirus called Covid-19. If we have been following the news, we know the situation is very fluid with different rules across the country on different timetables. There have been a patchwork of policies and restrictions which seem to be changing on a daily basis with so many people looking for direction and reassurance.
What are we to do amid this turmoil?
We are all concerned about the most vulnerable, given their age and health concerns and this includes our clergy. The medical advice we receive is to avoid gathering in large groups. We do not want to overwhelm our health care system and so we must take all pre-cautions necessary.
We will follow the directives and guidelines of Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health. We will heed all official advisories, including the latest guidance from federal and provincial governments.
For this reason, as Diocesan Bishop, after having consulted our Council of Priests and College of Consultors and the Bishops of Atlantic Canada, I am directing that all Sunday and Weekday Masses be cancelled effective immediately until further notice. We cannot put a time frame on when the situation will improve.
I ask each Pastor to celebrate privately Sunday Mass for intentions of their people. I hereby dispense the faithful from the obligation to participate in the Sunday Mass until we are able to again assemble for the Lord’s Day in accord with directives from our health officials. Daily televised Mass is offered as an alternative, as the faithful gather to pray in their homes. Particular care should be given to ensure that the vulnerable are not alone. Parishes may explore creative ways to connect with the vulnerable through phone calls and visits where appropriate.
I do not believe it is prudent to keep our churches open since visitation by unknown people especially the ill and the vulnerable may also cause unnecessary risk of exposure since the churches are not cleaned daily. All parish and diocesan meetings, events, celebrations, catechetical formation programmes and any other activities in the coming weeks should be cancelled until further notice.
In compliance with federal and provincial health directives regarding the size of the crowd and personal distance between individuals, I direct the following:
- Baptisms may be celebrated privately with just immediate family members present.
- Weddings may be celebrated privately outside of Mass with just immediate family members present.
- Funerals may be celebrated privately outside of Mass with just immediate family members present. There should be no public receptions permitted at the church during this time.
- Mindful of good hygiene and hand washing, pastors are encouraged to reach out to the sick and elderly to ensure they receive the Sacrament of the Sick and pastoral care as needed.
- The Sacrament of Penance may be celebrated at any time as scheduled or when the pastor is available.
- Later on, we will address the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation with the Pastors. We continue to pray together for those affected by this coronavirus as well as all healthcare providers, caregivers and researchers. We pray especially to St. Joseph who is the patron saint and protector of the universal Church and the principal patron saint of Canada.
Life will be different for a while from the way we live and especially not being able to worship in our churches, such challenging days actually brings out the best in people. We will weather this storm through our common prayer and by working together. “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
(Most Rev.) Wayne Kirkpatrick
Bishop of Antigonish