Catholic bishops welcome ‘realistic’ new measures for public Masses in France

CNA 555e4056ae48d 60127 Sainte-Chapelle, the 13th-century chapel built by French King Louis IX to house Christ's crown of thorns. | Chris Chabot via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Bishops in France have welcomed new government measures that will allow more people to attend public Masses during Advent. 

Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, announced Dec. 2 a change to a previously proposed 30-person limit on attendance of public Masses after France's highest administrative court overturned the restriction in response to a legal appeal by the Catholic bishops' conference.

Under the revised measures, people will be required to leave two free seats between each person or family and to only occupy every other pew.

The French bishops' conference issued a statement Dec. 2 calling the new measure "more realistic"  as it is proportionate to each church's  building capacity. 

The bishops said that the new measure would apply through the next two Sundays of Advent and then should be reevaluated on Dec. 15 on the basis of the latest health data. They expressed hope that Christmas liturgies would be able to take place with "the least possible restriction."

Vincent Neymon, spokesman of the French bishops' conference, wrote on Twitter Dec. 2: "It governs the capacity of churches until December 15. Afterwards, let us hope that the sanitary conditions allow more people and that Christmas 2020 will bring together all those who want to celebrate the coming of Jesus." 

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops' conference, has been a primary point of contact in the bishops' negotiations with the French government since public Masses were suspended on Nov. 2.

The Vatican announced that Moulins-Beaufort met with Pope Francis Dec. 3, along with the two vice presidents of the French bishops conference, Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Belfort-Montbéliard and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, and secretary general Fr. Hugues de Woillemont. The Vatican did not disclose any further details about the meeting. 

France's current lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted on Dec. 15. But a curfew will be enforced and bars and restaurants are likely to remain closed over Christmas. Shops have reopened and people are allowed to move within a 12-mile radius of their homes.

France has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.2 million recorded cases and over 52,000 deaths as of Dec. 3, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Catholics in Paris have begun a novena, which will end on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. They are asking for the intercession of St. Denis, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, St. Vincent de Paul, and other saints of the country known as the "Eldest Daughter of the Church."

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