By Devin Watkins
The government of Estonia announced plans this week to allow all churches to resume Masses with a congregation as of 10 May, which coincides with International Mother’s Day.
Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia, told Vatican Radio that initial plans were to allow the faithful to participate after 11 May.
But he said the government decided it would be “a nice gift to all mothers to be able again to be at Mass”.
Estonia has been one of the countries hardest-hit in Eastern Europe by Covid-19, in proportion to its tiny population of 1.33 million. As of Friday, the country has confirmed 1,725 cases with 56 deaths.
Compare those figures with Lithuania. The nearby Baltic state has similar numbers of cases and deaths, but they are spread over a population twice the size of Estonia’s.
Public Masses restoring hope
Bishop Jourdan said about 8 weeks have passed since the government enforced social-distancing measures but that things are going much better now.
“People are looking to the future with increased hope,” he said. “I think a big part of that hope is the possibility to take part in the Mass.”
He added that “spiritual food is very important and it was quite difficult for our people without it.”
Churches still open
Churches in Estonia remained open throughout the worst of the crisis. Catholics were free to enter to receive Holy Communion privately, to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Quite a lot of people every day came to the church to pray,” said Bishop Jourdan.
Residual fear, limited capacity
Social-distancing measures will still apply during religious celebrations, including 2 meters distance between people.
Bishop Jourdan predicted there will be fewer people at Mass at first, partly out of residual fear and partly due to limited capacity in churches. He has invited parishes to offer more Masses on Sunday, as a way of increasing capacity.
But, he noted, many elderly persons will – and should – stay at home to avoid contagion. “So we will continue to broadcast Masses through the internet.” Bishop Jourdan said online Masses are not ideal, though they provide an important spiritual service for people who are homebound.
Ready for rough patches
As the Church resumes public Masses, the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia is confident Catholics can overcome any rough patches ahead.
“I’m happy this great step has been taken,” said Bishop Jourdan. “Even if more difficulties arise in the coming weeks and months for our country, our people, and for the Church – because the Church is part of society – people are again full of hope”.