Whilst parishioners participating in Masses online throughout Greater Sydney’s 100 days of lockdown, they were ready for the church doors to be open at parishes holding their first post-lockdown Masses on Monday 18 October. Age was no barrier, with a centenarian parishioner spotted as the first in the church at the early Mass at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill.
Over the weekend prior, the state of NSW achieved its goal of 80% of the eligible population being double vaccinated. As a result, churches in the Diocese of Parramatta were permitted to conduct public worship for the entire community.
As the sun was rising, at 6.45am, parishioners gathered at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, for one of the earliest available Masses in the Diocese.
The drone of cars driving past the church was drowned out by the chorus of worshippers praying the Rosary ahead of Mass commencing.
Assistant Priest Fr Jobi Payyappilly expressed how happy he was to see the congregation again, thanking the community for their prayers during this time.
Ruth, a parishioner for 35 years at St Bernadette’s, told Catholic Outlook that it was very emotional to be able to celebrate Mass in person.
“I’m very privileged, grateful and full of thanks to be able to be here in person,” she said.
“It’s so lovely to see people again, and it’s nice to see the church again in 3D instead of behind a screen.”
Ruth also described how wonderful it was to see a member of the early morning Mass community, who were frequently streaming online Mass together. This parishioner, a centenarian, was in the front row, and according to Ruth, was the first one into the church.
At St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong, the moments of silent prayer before the 9am Mass were interrupted by joyful loudspeaker announcements of the neighbouring primary school, who were welcoming students back into classrooms.
During Mass, Parish Priest Monsignor Ron McFarlane said that it was nice to have a congregation after so long.
“We have a small group this morning, which I’m sure will build up as the week goes on,” he said.
“Thanks be to God that we’re able to be here again,” exclaimed Assistant Priest Fr Chris del Rosario at the 12.30pm Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
“I’ve never been so nervous to celebrate a Mass as I did when I first celebrated Mass after my ordination. It’s a bit scary to celebrate Mass with people again, but thanks be to God
“We offer this Mass up in thanksgiving to the Almighty God that we can celebrate again as a community, we can celebrate and receive sacraments worthily with God’s grace.
“We pray for those in the other states who can’t celebrate yet, that they may celebrate soon, because it is here that we truly encounter Our Lord.”
During his Homily, Fr Chris explained that the day’s Gospel from St Luke is fitting of our situation as we emerge from lockdown.
“As we are now able to go out and freely do that which we had before, to some extent, we also have that mission to go out and preach the Gospel, not necessarily by words, as St Francis said, but also by our actions.
“But it has to be by God’s grace and what is already living inside of you. Given to you at baptism is the conviction, our love of God, that allows us to spread His Good News.”
After Mass, long-time parishioners Pam and Patty expressed their joy in being able to celebrate Mass in person.
“We would tune in as often as possible to the livestream, but it’s absolutely marvellous to be back,” Patty said.
“It’s been a long time waiting,” Pam added. “I’m outside the local area, but St Patrick’s is my spiritual home, and it’s absolutely wonderful to come back home.”
Parishes across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains are opening their doors for private prayer, Reconciliation and for the celebration of Mass and sacraments such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Please contact your local parish to check the COVID-Safe arrangements put in place.
Livestreamed Masses from across the Diocese of Parramatta are still available on the Diocesan website https://www.parracatholic.org/covid19/#online.