Our advice just now remains that halls should not be used (except for the limited purposes previously allowed). Many activities – dancing, exercise classes, bingo, etc. remain prohibited – and even those things that are permitted risk distracting our volunteers from the ongoing work of keeping churches open in accordance with the cleaning regime. The Government previously stated their plan to allow some more activities later this month – although whether recent events will change that remains to be seen. We would hope to update parishes further on the possibilities of using halls later this month, if the Government goes ahead with loosening these restrictions.
Some schools have approached parishes to ask about the First Confessions and First Communions cancelled from earlier this year. These can go ahead at any time as long as the children are suitably prepared. All the same precautions that apply at Sunday Mass apply for these celebrations (social distancing, face masks, hand sanitising, cleaning afterwards etc). Enforcing the 50 limit is essential, which might prove challenging especially at First Communions, and so these celebrations can only go ahead if the parish priest is sure that they can be done in full compliance with the Guidance for celebrating Mass.
There is no update yet on Confirmations.
New Government Restrictions
The First Minister announced a number of steps today:
Visors will no longer be considered as sufficient face coverings, and people who have hitherto worn visors must now wear a facemask as well or instead.
Face coverings will become mandatory from August 8 in church (and in many other places). We have, of course, already required this in our own Guidance, but from August 8 it will become a criminal offence not to comply (apart from those who are exempt from wearing face coverings – the rules on exemption have not changed). As previously explained in our Guidance, priests (or other persons leading services) do not need to wear face coverings except for times when they must come within 2m of others (principally Communion time, but perhaps also other times such as entrance/exit processions, doing baptisms, etc.). Again, from August 8 it will be a criminal offence for a priest not to wear a mask if coming within 2m of other people inside church (unless there is a solid partition between the priest and the other people).
Social Distancing from August 8 it will be a criminal offence for a “person responsible for a place of worship” (i.e. the parish priest) not to take measures to enforce the 2m distance between individuals/households, both inside church and whilst queueing outside. This should, of course, already be in place under the earlier guidance.
We have seen the condemnation rightly being faced by certain pubs in Aberdeen and by Aberdeen FC and we need to do all we can to make sure that no-one can fault our adherence to best practice in keeping our churches safe. The introduction of these new criminal offences should not affect us, because we should be diligently taking these steps already, but it does highlight the importance that the Government places on these measures to help protect us and our communities.
With best wishes,
Canon Paul Gargaro