Austria coronavirus lockdown: Catholic bishops tighten guidelines on church celebrations

Wien___Stephansdom_Hauptschiff_Richtung_Hochalter_1.jpeg The high altar of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Austria’s Catholic bishops’ conference has tightened rules for attending Mass and other celebrations as the country went into full national lockdown on Monday.

The country’s bishops have said that they will not exclude anyone from Mass, but they will follow the government’s restrictions, which order those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to remain in their homes except to get food or medicine, or for “basic religious needs.”

Officials ordered the whole country into lockdown starting Nov. 22, a week after they had implemented a lockdown only for unvaccinated residents. The lockdown followed other partial restrictions that targeted only the unvaccinated, barring them from restaurants and most cultural or social areas.

The current measures go through Dec. 13, though authorities said they will be reassessed in the middle of next week and may end sooner. Restrictions on the unvaccinated are expected to continue even after the national lockdown ends.

The country has also said that COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory starting Feb. 1.

The bishops’ “framework regulations” for church celebrations say that attendees are required to wear FFP2 (“filtering facepiece”) masks at indoor or outdoor Masses and all religious rites and services

The priest celebrant or other liturgical ministers will be required to show proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result. Choirs will not be permitted, but up to four cantors can sing at the Mass only with proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus.

Austria’s bishops have also encouraged Catholics to postpone reception of the sacraments of baptism, First Communion, confirmation, and marriage, during the lockdown.

Bishop Anton Leichtfried, the conference’s liturgy chair, said: “These celebrations are now to be postponed as much as possible in the interest of fellow celebrants.”

Protests against COVID-19 regulations and lockdowns took place over the weekend in Austria and other European countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy.

Some Catholics have also expressed opposition to Austria’s restrictions, saying that they impinge on religious practice.

The bishops of Austria announced on Nov. 23 that they have again postponed their ad limina meetings with Pope Francis.

The Austrian bishops received the Vatican’s approval to delay their ad limina meetings, scheduled to begin on Sunday, until sometime in 2022, a spokesman for the bishops’ conference confirmed on Nov. 23 to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

This is the second time that the meetings have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after they were originally planned for February.

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