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This California church found a way to celebrate Mass in spite of COVID restrictions


Photo Courtesy of Pauline Bartolone/CapRadio

John Burger - published on 09/17/20 - updated on 09/17/20

About 100 parishioners came recently to the early Sunday morning Mass in the alleyway outside the cathedral.

The drab off-white brick wall behind the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento can’t hold a candle to the church’s rich baroque interior. But that’s no barrier to people gathering for Mass there in recent weeks.

Because Sacramento is in one of the counties that California Gov. Gavin Newsom placed on a coronavirus watchlist, many indoor gatherings, including for religious services, are currently prohibited. In San Francisco, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone is urging officials to ease restrictions on public worship, saying the city’s “excessive limits” limits to curb COVID-19 are unfair and a deprivation of religious organizations’ First Amendment rights.

But depending on weather conditions, it’s feasible to hold those services outside. After Newsom imposed the restrictions in July, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto gave parishes permission to hold open-air Masses.

The Sacramento diocese continues its suspension of the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, but about 100 parishioners came recently to the early Sunday morning Mass at the cathedral. They wore masks and took seats that put a six-foot distance between individual parties. Fr. Michael O’Reilly, the cathedral’s rector, climbed to the top of a three-story fire escape overlooking the alley and presided at a makeshift altar.

“I’m a little afraid of heights,” he admitted, but quipped that his position did give him a “new perspective on the congregation.”

Maria Balakshin told Capital Public Radio in California that she misses the beauty of the interior of the cathedral but found the outside service to be “more intimate” and a very spiritual experience. Other parishioners apparently felt likewise, kneeling on the concrete where cars sometimes drive through the alleyway and homeless persons got some shuteye.

Said Balakshin, “The people who are here are really true Christians who want to practice their faith.”

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