May 22, 20120 Reopening our churches – changes to be expected

The Ascension of the Lord

May 24, 2020 – Message from the Pastor

Before ascending to the Father, Jesus promised to be with the disciples until the end of time, but he would be with them in a new way. Similarly, when we get the OK from the Governor to open our churches again, we will be doing things in a new way, not just going back to how it was before.

Just like with businesses that are starting to reopen, we are all anxiously waiting for when we can open our churches again, so we can gather together as the people of God to celebrate and receive the Eucharist. We hope and pray that we will be able to do so soon, as the Eucharist is central to our Catholic faith. I am personally moved in hearing of the yearning our parishioners have for receiving the Eucharist. In other words, while it saddens me that they are not able to come to Mass during this time, I’m glad to see that so many of our people see it, not as an obligation, but as our spiritual vitality!

We were initially hoping that we would be able to open our churches by Pentecost, May 31st. But it may be later than that. Perhaps the first or second week of June.

However, when the Governor does allow us to open again, we will be ready to welcome you. There are going to be some adjustments; things are not going to be the way they were before. There will be, as they call it, “a new normal”.

Bishop McElroy told the priests that our three main goals are: 1. maintaining proper hygiene; 2. maintaining proper social distancing and 3. proper planning so that we are ready to offer a dignified and prayerful liturgy/Eucharistic celebration.( On the last point, he does not support the concept of giving out Communion without a Liturgical celebration, nor does he support having a drive-in-theater-style Mass!)

To promote proper hygiene:

· For starters, to promote proper hygiene, the church will be cleaned regularly; holy water fonts will be emptied; missalettes, song books, and envelopes have been removed from the pews. The faithful can bring their own worship aids, if they like, though this is an opportune time to remind all that the preference is for people to listen to the Word proclaimed, rather than for them to read along at the same time.

· We will have hand sanitizer stations throughout the Church and hall. Please wash your hands before coming to Church and or use hand sanitizer before leaving your car. Use the hand sanitizer or wash your hands as needed, especially after touching your face.

· People coming to church will be required to wear a mask or other facial covering; only the priest celebrant will be able to take off his mask during Mass (but put it back on while giving out Communion). Also, the Lector can take of his/her mask while at the ambo, and so with the cantor.

· Anyone who has tested positive, or has any symptoms of coronavirus or any illness, should stay home, for your own good and for the health and safety of everyone else.

· Those who are weakened by age and those who have a particular medical condition that makes them especially vulnerable are encouraged to stay home. Bishop McElroy has dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass until further notice/until the crisis subsides.

To maintain social distancing:

· We will have to minimize the number of people allowed in the church at one time. Currently our church holds, according to the old standard, 700 or more people. But with the new standards regarding social distancing, i.e., to keep six feet apart from each other, perhaps only 150 people can be allowed at a time (plus another 50 or so since families/people from the same households/ can sit close together).

· Some pews will be blocked off, the others will be marked every eight feet, to foster social distancing. Why eight feet? To allow a person to sit next to the tape, and the next person sits six feet away from them (allowing two feet per body). Since immediate family members can still sit close together, the tape is only given as a guideline. You can estimate the actual six-foot distance needed.

There may be a line to get into the church, like at the grocery stores or other businesses nowadays: Be sure to get here early, but not too early; this can cause overcrowding, which goes against the social distancing required.

· If necessary, we will also have overflow seating in the hall, so those in the hall can watch the Mass on the TV screen at the same time the Mass is celebrated in the church. The Holy Communion would then be distributed in the hall at the appointed time.

· (We will not be offering the Mass on Saturday morning at 10:00 AM, as initially planned. If needed, we will add a Mass later.)

· When entering the church, all people must keep the six feet of social distancing (except for immediate family members).

· We will have it set up so people only enter through one door and exit through another door, to minimize cross-traffic.

· Additional ushers/ hospitality ministers will be employed to assist in the proper flow of traffic before, during and after Mass, to assure social distancing.

Liturgical Changes:

· Some of the music may be reduced, to minimize the amount of time we all remain in the church under close quarters. There will be no choir (too many people being too close together), only the cantor and an instrumentalist. The congregation should not join in the singing, to prevent the danger of spreading the virus through our projected voices, as required for singing. The Gloria may be recited or omitted; the homily may be shortened.

· As the bishop mandates, we will install collection boxes by the entrances of the church, so people can put their donation there when they come in or leave. To minimize touching surfaces, we will not be passing the basket through the pews, though we may also be taking the collection with ushers’ baskets that have a pole attached, at least for the people on the ends of the pews. We also encourage online donations, or mailing in your donation to the church, as many of you are already doing, and we thank you for that.

· There will also be no Liturgy of the Word for Children during Mass.

· There will be no procession of gifts; everything needed for the Mass will be by the altar, and minimum or no interaction (no close contact) between the altar server and the priest.

· The sign of peace will be omitted: no hand or body touching.

When you come to Communion, there will be changes.

· First off, we will only have one line in each aisle (using the same aisles as before) and markers on the floor, to assist in maintaining social distancing.

· We will not be able to give Communion on the tongue, only in the hand. I know this will be hard for some people, but just think: which is more important: how you receive Communion, or that you are able to receive Communion?!

· We will not be able to offer Communion of the cup, i.e., the Precious Blood, to the people; only the priest will receive from the chalice.

· People will have to wear their masks when coming to Communion, take the host, step aside (six feet away), and lift their mask slightly to consume the Host. There may be some way, perhaps the use of a tongs to hold the host, to help keep the required distance while giving out the Eucharist.

· Bishop McElroy says we should give the Communion after the final blessing, so that people do not go back to their seats, but leave immediately after Communion (normally we would frown on this, but these are exceptional times!).

· The Ministry of Communion to the homebound is currently suspended. We will have pyxes available for family members to take Communion to their relatives.

Changes after/outside of the Mass

· The bulletins will be available on the tables, as usual, but the ushers should not be handing them out.

· After Mass there will be no opportunities for social gathering, i.e., no coffee and donuts, no pancake breakfast.

While some of these adjustments may be unsettling to many of our faithful, since we all value our Catholic traditions, and our personal traditions and devotions, we have to do what we can to protect the health of all of our people, to respect our government’s guidelines, and also foster a reverent and prayerful gathering as the People of God.

Hopefully, when things settle down, we can eliminate some of these guidelines, to allow a more full and fluid celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. May the Holy Spirit guide us in courage, wisdom, love, and joyful hope as we prepare to gather again in the name of Christ our Lord!

Stay Close to the Shepherd through Flocknotes

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