The cap on public worship in Scotland’s churches is lifted from today, allowing individual parishes to determine a maximum size of congregation in keeping with available space and observing ongoing social distancing rules.
The Scottish Government has also confirmed that Communion could be distributed in other spaces in places of worship, provided these had separate entrances and could guarantee a steady flow of people without large groups gathering outside.
No worshippers may move between spaces, but officials have confirmed that the priest or minister is able to do so. The government is also considering introduction of a requirement to publish maximum capacity on the front door of churches. Environmental health officers may visit if there are signs or reports of overcrowding, but the government has said there will be no random or regular inspection visits. It is not yet clear whether children are to be included in maximum figures.
There had been concern under previous legislation that large churches were limited to the same number of worshippers as considerably smaller ones and Scottish priests and bishops had called on government to address the issue and make a more proportionate provision.
Most Scottish churches that have been livestreaming Mass during the lockdown are continuing to do so, both for weekday Masses, Vigils and Sunday Mass. It is not known at this stage how many parishes will continue to livestream when larger numbers are restored, but there are moves afoot to make livestreaming common practice even after normal services are fully restored, in order that the housebound and physically distant can attend Mass and receive Spiritual Communion.
Some priests are opposing the practice, arguing that churches will suffer financially, but groups representing those suffering from disabilities hope that online Masses will be allowed to continue. No national figures are yet available on the restoration of congregations since restrictions began to ease, but anecdotally many churches seem to be fully booked for Sunday Masses and those that report good weekday numbers feel that these are now being restored. All provisions are under review and further changes are expected after the Scottish elections on May 6.