The New Zealand bishops will ensure vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike can safely attend Mass when the Government’s “traffic light” Covid-19 system starts.
Each parish will be asked to provide Mass for people with the “My Vaccine Pass” required for unrestricted gatherings under the Orange and Green traffic light settings. They will also be asked to provide the opportunity for people to attend a separate numbers-restricted Mass without providing proof of vaccination.
All lay people who help with Mass and all other public-facing ministries will need to be vaccinated for vaccinated-only work. Priests are being asked to be vaccinated, and will be limited in their ministry if they are not.
The guidelines issued by the government can be viewed here and will allow unrestricted numbers of vaccinated people to gather in a church under the Orange and Green settings, but restrict numbers without a vaccine pass to 50 (Orange) or 100 (Green). Under the Red setting, 100 can attend Mass with a vaccine pass, and 10 at a Mass without a pass.
The bishops have written a pastoral letter to the Catholic community saying they have been struggling with how best to conduct safe church gatherings without either vaccinated or unvaccinated people feeling alienated.
“We believe that churches should be safe places for all people, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” the letter says. “In the spirit of the Gospel, we also want our churches to be places of hospitality and inclusion, open and welcoming to all without prejudice or discrimination.”
The bishops have set these guidelines for the ”traffic light” system :
• Parishes will provide Masses for people with a My Vaccine Pass while ensuring there is the opportunity for people without a pass to access a separate numbers-restricted option where possible.
• All lay people involved in public-facing public ministries related to a worship service or other parish work will need to be fully vaccinated at vaccination-only Masses and when performing other work where vaccination is required. Such people include ushers, readers, ministers of the Eucharist, collectors, those leading liturgies of the Word, and undertaking Communion to the sick and home visitation.
“Priests who are not fully vaccinated will, under the current public health orders, be significantly constrained in their ministry; they will be unable to exercise pastoral care in aged-care residential settings or hospitals as well as schools. Priests who are not fully vaccinated or who do not wish to declare their vaccination status will not be able to attend and preside at vaccinated-only Church events,” the letter says.
The bishops say society should never uncritically accept the imposition by our political leaders of the kind of restrictions applied during the pandemic.
“However, having regard to the current situation, we believe that, on balance, the introduction of vaccine mandates for certain sectors, as well as the use of vaccine certificates, are warranted for now.
“At the same time, remaining always mindful of state overreach, and anticipating that restrictions we may consider to be warranted now may not be warranted in the future, we urge that the mandates and requirements for vaccine certificates be continually reviewed. In other words, our support of these measures is contingent on, and only justified by, the emergency situation as it exists now.”
The Pastoral Letter is available in a Condensed version and an Extended version.