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CNA Staff, Jan 14, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Church is resuming public Sunday Masses in Iceland after the government raised the number of people permitted to gather in churches from 10 to 20.

Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik, the country’s sole Catholic diocese, has encouraged priests to increase the number of Masses offered at their parishes and to apply for an exemption from the health authorities to allow for more than 20 people to attend Mass.

“We hope that those responsible for epidemic rules understand that as long as 100 people can attend Mass (funerals) … it should be possible to allow 100 people at a regular Mass in the same space,” Bishop Tencer said in a statement on Jan. 12.

Earlier this month, the bishop announced the suspension of all Sunday Masses in the Diocese of Reykjavik until the government lifted the 10-person limit. He also called for COVID-19 restrictions to be changed, arguing that there was an “unfair discrepancy” within the coronavirus measures.

“Our churches are not small. If it is possible to hold a funeral or even a concert with 50 people, how is it that only 10 people can attend Mass?” he asked.

“How do I explain to our parishioners that many restaurants can accommodate more customers? How to explain that in Landakotskirkja there can only be 10 people but, for example, there can be more than 10 in a sauna?”

Landakotskirkja, also known as the Basilica of Christ the King, is the Catholic cathedral in the capital, Reykjavik. It has a seating capacity of 200 people.

Fr. Patrick Breen, vicar general of Reykjavik diocese, told CNA on Jan. 5: “The church is quite big enough so that even 50 people in the church could still observe social distancing.” 

Iceland’s revised coronavirus measures, which went into force on Jan. 13, relaxed several COVID-19 restrictions, permitting the reopening of gyms, sports competitions, and ski slopes. Iceland Air also announced on Jan. 12 that it would resume its weekly flights to and from Boston.

The limit on attendance at religious gatherings in Iceland is 20 people, while up to 100 adults can attend performances, plays, cinema, and other cultural events.

There are 170 active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland as of Jan. 14. The country, located in the North Atlantic, has a population of just over 350,000 people. It is the most sparsely populated nation in Europe.