IT’S time for short drives and family picnics (from Friday midnight restrictions will be eased), soon there will be a staged return for schools, and our major sporting codes are plotting a course for a return to competition.
So when will the Church return to public liturgies?
“We’re in regular contact with the Queensland Government about the progress of COVID-19 and what the best way forward might be,” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
As president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference he’s mindful of the decision-making pressures on state governments across the nation at this moment, and doesn’t want to “hector” them on the issue.
“But we are keen to reopen the churches and resume public worship as soon as reasonably possible. That will happen in stages,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“A first stage will be opening the churches for private prayer, perhaps for some time of the day and ensuring that safeguarding precautions are respected.
“Then there may be public Masses but in smaller groups with the precautions again respected.
“None of this is as simple as it sounds, because churches used for either private prayer or smaller Masses will have to be sanitised afterwards, and that is quite a task, presuming even that there is enough sanitiser available for the purpose.”
In the meantime, Archbishop Coleridge believes livesteaming is proving helpful to many.
Tens of thousands tuned in to watch livestreamed Masses across Easter, and many Brisbane parishes are recording hundreds of views for their daily Masses since then.
“It isn’t the same as the actual celebration of the Eucharist, but it’s the best on offer at the moment,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Certainly there’s been a lot of energy and creativity, and that has meant at times unexpected blessings which we can take into the future whatever lies on the other side of the crisis.
“One of those perhaps are new forms of family prayer which has diminished considerably since the days when the family rosary was a big thing in Catholic homes.”
In each diocese, it is the bishop who decides when to reopen churches for public worship, and it’s a vexed decision for each to make since establishing dates and protocols depends on local conditions.
The scenario that nobody wants is to reopen churches for public worship only to find out the virus isn’t really contained, and a bishop has to reimpose restrictions.
In other parts of the world far worse stricken by COVID-19, Church leaders are grappling with making the right decisions, at the right time and in the right order.
Even in New York with a crippling death toll, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has discussed “working backwards” – starting with resuming daily Mass, then small weddings and baptisms, then eventually returning to the Sunday Mass.
No dates have been set yet.
In Brisbane, Archbishop Coleridge was asked whether creative solutions had been considered to help Catholics start celebrating together again.
What about Pentecost picnics – since families will be able to picnic together?
“The idea of a Pentecost picnic sounds good to me – we might even try one from Wynberg,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“That people are hungry for the Eucharist and the gathering of the community is certain.
“But it also seems clear that the spirits of pastors and people have not flagged, and that’s surely the fruit of a faith in the Risen Lord whom nothing and no-one can shut down.”