Italy bans midnight Mass at Christmas, bishops support stricter measures

The Mass will be restricted by a mandatory 10 pm curfew in place over the holiday season

Italians will not be able to attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, with top health officials cracking down on any conditions that could lead to a potential resurgence in coronavirus cases -- a step that Catholic clergy has supported. 

Italy managed to reduce a fall resurgence of cases but is currently suffering record fatalities from COVID-19, reporting 993 deaths on Thursday alone. 

Premier Giuseppe Conte announced, then, that the country will enforce strong restrictions over the holiday season, which normally sees extended families gathering under one roof to celebrate. Health experts and policymakers alike remain concerned that a Christmas “as usual” would bring a third surge to Italy, Reuters reported

Statuettes of the Wise Kings wearing face masks adorn, along with the Nativity scene, the shop window of a pastry shop selling the traditional Italian Christmas cake, Panettone, in Rome, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2020. Italy is bracing for new restrictive measures during Christmas and New Year. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to sign a new decree on Thursday following a cabinet meeting held on Wednesday night. The rules will likely prevent Italians from traveling across the country during this season holidays in an effort to avoid a new wave of contagion. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Statuettes of the Wise Kings wearing face masks adorn, along with the Nativity scene, the shop window of a pastry shop selling the traditional Italian Christmas cake, Panettone, in Rome, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2020. Italy is bracing for new restrictive measures during Christmas and New Year. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to sign a new decree on Thursday following a cabinet meeting held on Wednesday night. The rules will likely prevent Italians from traveling across the country during this season holidays in an effort to avoid a new wave of contagion. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

“There is still a long way to go out of the pandemic,’’ Conte said. “We must avoid the risk of a third wave that could arrive as early as January. It could be just as violent as the first and the second.”

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Junior Health Minister Sandra Zampa said Christmas Eve Mass must end by around 8:30 p.m. so that worshippers can also observe a 10 p.m. curfew, and she discouraged inviting non-family or extended family members for celebrations. 

People walk past a shop window adorned with Christmas decorations, in Rome Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Still, the large number of daily new COVID-19 cases is worrying, Italian health experts said, especially with the approach of year-end holidays, which could prompt people to ignore social distancing rules and gather in large numbers to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

People walk past a shop window adorned with Christmas decorations, in Rome Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Still, the large number of daily new COVID-19 cases is worrying, Italian health experts said, especially with the approach of year-end holidays, which could prompt people to ignore social distancing rules and gather in large numbers to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

“From Dec. 20, people will only be able to travel outside their own region for emergencies such as to care for a single parent,” Zampa said during an interview on local television. 

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The Catholic bishops' permanent council met online Dec. 1 to discuss the curfew and how it would impact potential traditional celebrations, Catholic News reported

Turned off Christmas lights are backdropped by a 23mt (75 feet) tall fir tree placed in front of Rome's Unknown Soldier monument, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Still, the large number of daily new COVID-19 cases is worrying, Italian health experts said, especially with the approach of year-end holidays, which could prompt people to ignore social distancing rules and gather in large numbers to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Turned off Christmas lights are backdropped by a 23mt (75 feet) tall fir tree placed in front of Rome's Unknown Soldier monument, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Still, the large number of daily new COVID-19 cases is worrying, Italian health experts said, especially with the approach of year-end holidays, which could prompt people to ignore social distancing rules and gather in large numbers to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The council has taken the stance that an earlier mass is well within the spirit of the tradition, but that they still need to determine the time and length of the mass to ensure it is "compatible with the curfew."

“The symbolically important fact for the celebration of (Christmas) night is not the exact hour — whether it is midnight or another time — but the fact that it is celebrated when there is no light, when it’s dark out, precisely to make evident the symbolic meaning of the feast,” Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro wrote in an Italian newspaper. 

“If one understands the reasoning,” he wrote, “one also would understand that if the celebration of Mass during the night takes place when it’s dark outside, but before midnight, it certainly won’t make Jesus be born early.”

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Conte announced additional new restrictions, including a travel ban between regions between Dec. 21 and Jan. 6, including visits to second or vacation homes. The government has also closed ski resorts over the Christmas and New Year period.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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