As public officials lift COVID-19 restrictions, bishops prepare parishes for safely bringing the faithful back to church.
Masks, the 6-foot rule, and Communion in the hand are the predominant features that will characterize the Catholic Mass in the coming months, as churches reopen to the faithful and society continues to take measures against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Several dioceses and archdiocese have published guidelines for parishes to follow in order to allow the faithful to attend liturgies once again, some two months after a near total ban. Bishops and their staffs have worked out plans in consultation with civic officials and health experts. Most of the plans follow a “phased-in” approach, beginning with church openings for private prayer and moving on to Mass for greater and greater numbers of people.
In New York state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo permitted houses of worship to hold services for up to 10 persons, beginning Thursday. The same day, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn held a news conference in a Manhattan church to outline their plans for reopening. At first, churches will be open just for private prayer and Confession. Later, small weddings and funerals will be allowed. Cardinal Dolan said it might be at least six weeks before churches in the archdiocese have public Mass on Sundays again.
Priests will be tested weekly for COVID-19, a move that Cardinal Dolan hopes will reassure church-goers, he said.
New York City was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In upstate New York, where the situation was not as bad, churches might be able to have Sunday Mass again sooner.
“We will move more slowly,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz also allowed religious services for up to 10 people. In response, the Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the number was too low and said bishops in the state would give parishes permission to allow attendance of up to one-third of each church’s seating capacity.
In the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., attendance will be limited to 50% of a church’s capacity.