The Archdiocese of Moncton announced Friday the four bishops in New Brunswick province have adopted a common policy for attendance at Mass amid rising COVID-19 cases, and that proof of vaccination will not be required. The Moncton archdiocese had a week ago announced it would require proof of full vaccination, while the Diocese of Saint John, one of its suffragrans, did not do so. The Diocese of Edmundston had also briefly required double vaccination.
The new policy is in line with a state of emergency and mandatory order over COVID-19 announced Sept. 24 by the provincial government. “Last night, we received new directives from the Minister of Health concerning the sanitary measures to be implemented in our churches. Accordingly, the four bishops of NB agree on the following steps to make our churches as safe as possible for our faithful,” Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton wrote in a Sept. 24 announcement.
No proof of vaccination is required for Sunday or weekday masses, baptisms, prayer groups,” the archbishop wrote. However, capacity is limited to 50 percent, attendants must wear masks, and there is to be two meters of physical distance between households. “The names and contact information of all attendees shall be recorded, and the lists maintained,” Archbishop Vienneau added.
Proof of vaccination will be required for weddings and funerals. Essentially identical guidelines were posted Sept. 24 by the Diocese of Bathurst. In his communique, Bishop Daniel Jodoin of Bathurst stated: “It should be noted that the situation in our province is evolving and that these regulations may change depending on the circumstances.”
“We understand the concerns of Public Health and continue to collaborate by following the guidelines issued to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. We are all concerned about the current situation in the province,” the bishop said. New Brunswick announced a state of emergency and mandatory order over COVID-19 Sept. 24, citing three recent deaths and 78 new cases of the disease. New Brunswick’s population numbers over 750,000.
Under the mandatory order, “faith venues” must either “ensure all participants show proof of full vaccination and continuously wear masks”, or operate at 50 percent capacity. Proof of vaccination is required at such venues as restaurants and movie theatres, but an accommodation was made for religious venues. Some members of the United Church of Canada, an ecclesial community, have requested that churches not be given an accommodation.
The CBC reported that the mandatory order will be lifted when there are 10 or fewer hospitalizations in the province, and that the province’s premier said there are now 31 persons in hospital. Natasha Mazerolle, communications director for the Diocese of Saint John, told CNA Sept. 22 that “No person will be turned away from Mass, nor any other Sacrament.”
“The Diocese of Saint John continues to do its utmost to protect both the physical and spiritual needs of its faithful,” said Mazerolle. “It takes the directives of public health seriously and understands the need to make sacrifices to protect the common good, and to be prudent in slowing the spread of the virus. It also recognizes that the faithful are not to be excluded from the Sacraments for any reason, and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (and indeed what is most needed to help us face these challenging times).”
By Carl Bunderson