Faith community rejoicing at loosened COVID-19 restrictions

·2 min read

Less than a week before the busiest time of year for faith gatherings, many leaders are pleased with an easing of restrictions.

New regulations announced Wednesday by Dr. Robert Strang will allow people to celebrate Christmas in church.

Faith gatherings and wedding or funeral ceremonies are now limited to 50 per cent capacity, with a maximum of 100 people indoors and 150 outside with physical distancing.

However, social events, festivals, and wedding and funeral receptions will no longer be allowed.

The change was announced just before the two busiest days of the year for churches: Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

In Cape Breton, Father Bill Burke of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish said COVID-19 had a significant impact on the faith community.

In particular, coping with loss during the early months proved to be difficult for many families.

Matthew Moore/CBC
Matthew Moore/CBC

"When I think of the way it was in March, April, May and June, when I would have a funeral and a family had to select which four people can attend … how incredibly painful that was," said Burke.

Burke said he's pleased to see people will be able to congregate together in a church setting for Christmas.

He adds this is especially important for people who are elderly or spend the holiday season alone.

"It's a special thing to come to mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas day," he said. "Even though we're bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, there is the physical contact."

Both Christmas Eve gatherings hosted by St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish are already filled, with reservations for the available seats booked solid. Several other churches on Cape Breton have also said they're at capacity.

In the Halifax area, the new regulations mean some of the largest gatherings happening in the province will be in churches.

Before the changes, which take effect Monday, only five people were permitted to join a faith gathering.

Now, Father James Mallon says a larger congregation can take part in Christmas mass, along with funeral and wedding celebrations.

Mallon, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Dartmouth, said some funeral services went ahead over the last week with limited numbers of parishioners allowed in the church. He said that was challenging for most families.

Heading into Christmas, Mallon said the ability to hold larger gatherings will help parishioners during what has been a difficult year.

"To have real people, real faces and real human interactions in that most special time; Christmas Eve and Christmas Day," Mallon said. "Normally it's a joy filled time of celebration and connecting with other people and at least we get to do it, in at least a limited way."

Mallon says older people who may not comfortable with streaming a service or people living alone are especially encouraged to come to Christmas services.