As public officials lift COVID-19 restrictions, bishops prepare parishes for safely bringing the faithful back to church.
Pretty much across the board, diocesan plans for reopening call for parishioners to wear masks throughout Mass and to sit a safe distances from one another. Churches are to designate pews where individuals and families can sit, and those getting up to receive Communion are being advised to maintain 6 feet from the person in front.
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan, where Cardinal Dolan’s press conference was held, said that parishes would provide masks at the door for anyone who forgot theirs at home.
Pastors will need to find ways to regulate attendance, whether it’s 10 people or one-third capacity, either by setting up ticketing or some kind of reservation system. Speakers at the Manhattan press conference noted that some churches have undercrofts or auditoriums where an overflow congregation might be seated.
Various plans also stipulate that greeters and ushers wear masks and gloves at all times and to hold doors open for arriving and departing worshipers, to eliminate the need for a series of potential virus carriers from touching door handles. Holy water fonts will be empty.
Once inside, the rule of thumb will be “No touch.” Pastors are being asked not to greet arriving parishioners and not to shake hands as they leave. Pews and other surfaces should have been sanitized following the previous Mass, but the pew racks will likely not have missalettes or hymnals — objects where a virus might linger from a previous user. Some dioceses are encouraging parishioners to bring (and take away with them) their own prayer aids.
Also being suspended, at least for now, is the common practice of designated parishioners carrying to the altar the bread and wine to be consecrated.
Collections often will be taken up in a different way, too. A basket won’t be passed from hand to hand down each row. Some churches will see a single collection box placed in a central location where everyone can deposit his or her contribution.
The Archdiocese of Miami included a note about handholding during the Lord’s Prayer — it is not to be done — and almost every diocese made a point to say that any “Sign of Peace” that is offered between worshipers just before Communion should, if it’s included at all, be conveyed by a nod or bow, but never by handshake, embrace or kiss on the cheek.
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