CHURCH doors have opened in 87 Brisbane parishes and seats are being booked up like tickets to a rock concert.
Gatton Laidley parish manager Christine Pingel joked she had become a “booking agent” with how many people were calling up to book in for the prized Mass seats.
She said bookings for Mass opened on Monday morning for the following weekend, and usually by Wednesday morning it was full.
There was an overwhelming prayerfulness to the reduced-numbers Masses too, she said.
“The people who come, you can really sense the Spirit there,” she said.
“Everyone has been really hungry to come – they’re hungry for the Eucharist – that’s the way I would describe it.”
Across Brisbane archdiocese, parishes were going back to some sense of normalcy.
The Gap parish pastoral director Ursuline Sister Kari Hatherell said they were “straight back into business” with doors open at both St Peter Chanel Church and Mater Dei Church in Ashgrove West.
The parish was running two weekday Masses and three Sunday Masses, and as of the first weekend in July, they would be back to their usual four Sunday Masses.
She said the parish workplace health and safety team had calculated sizes and allocated spaces and looked at the implications.
“We’re still training marshals and still finding marshals and training them,” she said.
“We’ve got several trained but we’ve got a lot more to do.”
She said in one church, they were lucky because they could remove the chairs while in the other they couldn’t because of the heavy wooden pews.
All in all, she said the parish had done well and set up a Mass booking system through EventBrite.
“Up to now we’ve had an in-house registration and that took a fair bit of work because it was fairly personalised,” Sr Hatherell said.
“But we’ve gone to the online one for the beginning of July when we really do have normal – as normal as possible – Sunday gatherings.”
While online booking systems had become more appealing as restrictions eased and church capacity cautiously rose, not all online systems would be retained by parishes.
Sr Hatherell said The Gap parish would stop livestreaming parish Masses after this Sunday.
“People have really enjoyed watching (livestreamed) Mass from their own parish,” she said.
“But I thought it was time to finish and start encouraging (parishioners to return to churches) when they felt comfortable to emerge.”
She said for parishioners hearing Scripture and homilies had been “nourishing” and many were comforted to know Mass was being celebrated in their parishes during the lockdown, but that ultimately livestreams were “watching Mass, not celebrating Eucharist”.
She put it simply – “the time of watching is over; the time of celebrating has begun”.
Elsewhere, livestreamed Masses continued to gain traction with daily Masses from St Stephen’s Cathedral regularly reaching thousands of viewers.
Cathedral dean Fr Anthony Mellor said the weekday 8am, Saturday 11:30am, and Sunday 8am and 10am livestreamed Masses would continue while restrictions were in place.
Even so, St Stephen’s Cathedral was back in full swing with all pre-lockdown schedules up and running including Masses, confession times, adoration and Benediction.
In fact, there were more Masses than the pre-lockdown schedule with 5pm Saturday and 5pm Sunday Masses added to the schedule to make up for the restricted capacity, which remained capped at 100 people per Mass at St Stephen’s.
Fr Mellor said if restrictions eased further, and the cathedral used the four-square-metre rule it would be possible to hold about 230 people at each Mass.
He said St Patrick’s Church, Fortitude Valley, could also hold about 100 people under that rule.
The Chapel was the only exception, which remained closed for Masses and was only available for private prayer.
Fr Mellor said the 10am Sunday Mass with Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge was “pretty popular” and had reached full capacity last weekend.
Though, he noted some hesitation in the community – but not out of fear.
“People are tending to think be a bit hesitant in the sense they want to give other people the opportunity to go (to Mass) which is why we put on extra Masses – to try and cater for as many people as we can,” he said.
“So we’d rather see all those masses full with 100 people than people being a bit generous and thinking they can’t go because they’re allowing other people to go by not registering.
“I think it will just take a little while; that’s the system we have in place at the moment so we have to work with it.”
He also said it would be important for people to get into the habit of registering because it could be in place for a while.
The cathedral was using an online registration system, which could be accessed through the cathedral parish website or by calling the parish office.
“It’s probably better that they do register rather than just try to turn up; if they do register then they know they’ve got a place, if they just turn up then our numbers might be full and they might not have a spot,” Fr Mellor said.
And as for liturgical music, while communal singing was still not allowed, the cathedral had an organist and cantor at every Mass.
Fr Mellor said there was a representation of a choir at the 10am and midday Sunday Masses too.
While the changes had brought many challenges to Brisbane parishes, in some places the upheaval had also led to an unexpected positive.
Mrs Pingel said while the numbers for Mass were capped, she said there was a lot of “cross-pollination” between the different church communities within the Our Lady of the Valley parish, which amalgamated in 2016.
She said it was wonderful to see parishioners talking to people they might not have otherwise met without the restrictions.
Mrs Pingel said people were not always sitting in their regular church or regular seat, and those who have wanted to come to Mass had to go farther.
“It’s actually building community better I think than when it’s a great big busy Mass,” she said.
“We’re really happy with the way it’s going, and we’ve been encouraged by people’s response.”
Other parishes had reason to celebrate too, like at Kangaroo Point East Brisbane parish where Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell celebrated his third anniversary as a bishop.
On Facebook, Bishop Howell said he was “ever grateful for this calling and the blessing of your prayers”.