Pastoral Letter to the Pastors and People of the Archdiocese of Sydney
in a Time of Pandemic 18 March 2020
Drought, fires, storms and now plague. It can feel like the end of the world is coming.
In a sense it is. The world as we know it is being turned upside down – at least temporarily –
as many get sick and some die from COVID-19, and so much of ordinary life is put on hold.
The Church is not immune. I was recently tested for COVID-19 and put into self-isolation
myself and, though happily I tested negative, I know the disruption and anxiety people are
But in times like these it’s important not to panic or lose heart. If this pandemic shakes us up
and starts us thinking about who or what’s most important to us and what we should be doing
with our lives, that can be a good thing.
Worshipping in spirit and in truth
One of the great Lent gospels is the story of the woman at the well. The woman asked some
questions about worship. ‘The hour is coming,’ Jesus answered her, ‘indeed it is here already,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’ (Jn 4:23)
What does that require of us at present? Several instructions have already come from health
authorities and the Church. Outside gatherings of more than 500 people and indoors
gatherings of 100 have been forbidden; in due course the public celebration of Mass may
have to be suspended.
Individuals have already been asked, before attending liturgical celebrations, to consider their
own health – both their potential to infect others and their susceptibility to infection.
Parishioners or clergy who feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms should remain at home.
Please be assured that the rest of us will be praying for you.
With this letter I am today issuing some new directives for the celebration of the sacraments
and pastoral care in the Archdiocese during this pandemic.
The Church in Australia was founded at a time when the Mass could not be celebrated on
these shores and our forefathers and mothers waited for years to receive the Holy Eucharist.
For us it will be at worst a matter of weeks or months. But just as prayer sustained them
through those times, so can it for us today.
We are now all going on retreat together
Our enforced retreat from the world can be an opportunity to grow closer to God and more
People were greatly edified by recent images of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage on foot through the
empty streets of Rome to the image of Our Lady of Health. Let’s join him, then, in prayer and
fasting for those who have died or are suffering from COVID-19, those at risk or anxious,
those treating the sick or seeking a cure, as well as those who are leading us. The power of
prayer, married with the wisdom of health experts, will ease and hopefully eliminate this
I ask that, as far as possible, churches remain open at this time to signal our continuing
availability and as an incentive to private prayer. The Blessed Sacrament might at times be
exposed in the monstrance for this purpose. Prayers of intercession for an end to the epidemic
and for the safety of all should be included in Masses, the Divine Office, as well as private
prayers. I ask consecrated religious to redouble their intercessory prayers for us all.
Continued pastoral care of the sick
Please be assured that any Catholic who contracts COVID-19 will as far as possible be
assisted by our clergy with the sacraments and other pastoral care. It’s at times like these that
our pastors really shine.
Clergy will continue attending the sick, elderly and incarcerated to provide Confession,
Anointing of the Sick, Holy Communion and other pastoral care, unless they are themselves
at risk of transmitting the virus. All ministers should follow precautions recommended by
health authorities when visiting people’s homes, aged care facilities, hospitals, prisons and
Where a priest tests positive for COVID-19 or is required to self-isolate, every effort will be
made to find a supply priest to take his place. In some places the cancellation of Masses may
be required and/or provision of a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Holy Communion.
Even if physical distancing is sometimes desirable, ‘social distancing’ is never so. We all
need human company. So in addition to the sacramental care provided by parishes, healthy
young volunteers and others should consider prudent ways to check in with the sick, frail
elderly or otherwise isolated to inquire whether they have particular needs – for groceries,
medicine, pastoral care or simple company. Individuals could cook meals and deliver them to
the doorsteps of those in isolation. Modern technologies can also assist in overcoming some
people’s sense of isolation.
To help people maintain their physical health and spiritual life through this crisis, we have a
page on our archdiocesan website. For latest updates, prayers and spiritual resources, and to
watch Mass online visit https://www.sydneycatholic.org/coronavirus-updates/.
In this difficult time I entrust our Archdiocese and our nation to the intercession of Our Lady,
Help of Christians, of Lourdes, and of Good Health. God bless you all.
Yours sincerely in Christ
(Most Rev.) Anthony Fisher OP
DIRECTIONS FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY FROM 18 MARCH 2020 UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
18 MAR 2020
Addresses and Statements Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP
With respect to the Celebration of Mass and other Liturgies
Many people are already self-selecting to stay at home and attendance at many Masses will predictably be under 100. But for the sake of caution during this time of pandemic and on the advice of the Bishops Conference, the following directions will be observed in the Archdiocese of Sydney:
-no indoor Mass or Church event should be conducted with more than 100 attendees; no outdoor event for more than 500 people
-if more than 100 attendees might be expected for an indoor Mass or other Church event, it should be cancelled, postponed, ticketed, moved outside or split over two or more time-slots or venues (linked by live-stream and provision of Holy Communion)
-priests are thus granted permission to celebrate multiple Sunday Masses as necessary
-holy water should be removed from all stoups but still to be available for taking home
alcohol-based gels (or the like) should be available near church entrances, confessionals, baptisteries and in the sanctuary
-attendees should be encouraged to spread out around the church(‘physical distancing’)
-all ministers of Holy Communion should disinfect their hands before and after distributing
-in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, the Body of Christ should only be administered in the hand and the Chalice should only be received by the celebrant, with any concelebrants intincting from a second chalice
-the Sign of Peace should be omitted or limited to saying ‘Peace be with you’ with a nod or bow; no hand-shaking or hand-holding should occur here or at the Our Father
-hymn books should not be used
-collection plates should not be passed from person to person; baskets on long handles, leaving --collection bowls or electronic ‘tap and go’ terminals may be used and direct debit encouraged
Apart from Mass…
Whether or not public Masses continue to be celebrated the following directives are also issued:
-as far as possible, churches should remain open to allow private prayer; the Blessed Sacrament might be exposed in the monstrance for this purpose (as long as fewer than 100 are attending and with the usual provisions for reverence and security of the Sacrament)
-on some days when this is liturgically permitted (see Ordo pp. 10-11), priests should offer the Mass for the Sick, the Mass for Any Need or a votive Mass such as that of Our Lady of Lourdes
-prayers of intercession for an end to the pandemic and for the safety of all should be included in Masses, in the Divine Office, and in private prayers; houses of consecrated religious are asked to redouble their intercessory prayers also
-Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals may be celebrated, if necessary restricted to immediate family; baptisms and weddings can, of course, be postponed
-preparation for and celebration of First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation for children should be postponed until the pandemic is over
-all ministers should follow precautions recommended by health authorities when visiting people’s homes, aged care facilities, hospitals, prisons and detention centres
-when Anointing the Sick, priests are given permission to lay on hands by holding them above rather than upon the head and to anoint using a cotton wool ball or bud or a protective glove which can be disposed of appropriately after a single use; anointing the head would be sufficient
-priests will abide by all civil restrictions while seeking to be as pastorally available and creative as possible in the circumstances; they should ensure that parishioners can contact them in emergencies.
If the Public Celebration of Mass is eventually suspended
If the public celebration of the Mass is eventually suspended, the following additional directions will be observed in the Archdiocese of Sydney:
-all but priests are dispensed from attending Sunday Mass: the faithful can keep holy their Sunday by setting aside some time for prayer at home, reading the Scriptures of the day, watching Mass on television or online, and asking God for the graces they would normally receive in Holy Communion
priests should celebrate daily Mass privately and offer it on behalf of those who cannot attend and for the whole nation
-churches should as far as possible remain open for private prayer
-the Second and Third Rites of Reconciliation should not be used; First Rite Confessions should only be heard through a grill covered with a protective cloth
-priests should consider continuing to publish their weekly parish bulletin on-line with advice and a weekly homily/reflection
-Sunday Mass and Holy Week services will be celebrated privately at the cathedral and be live-streamed or available on demand at at https://www.stmaryscathedral.org.au/
-Further instructions will be issued by the Liturgy Office regarding Baptisms of several children, the RCIA and the various rites of the Triduum (if these go ahead).
These directives will be reviewed as required.
(Most Rev.) Anthony Fisher OP
Archbishop of Sydney