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Opinion: It’s time to pursue a “re-opening” of the Mass

State government leaders are beginning to discuss responsible steps to resume a level of public activity.  For the sake of their flock, bishops should insert themselves into those discussions.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino celebrates Mass on Holy Thursday. (Credit: David McNamara/Diocese of Las Cruces)

There is no shortage of chatter online among Catholics discussing the wisdom of closing liturgical services to the faithful and the prospects for making access to the sacraments widely available once again.  For the most part, the exchange reflects the broader debate over whether, when and how to ‘re-open’ the economy.

Church leadership should begin to consider practical steps designed to move toward resuming communal celebration of the Mass.  If bicycle repair shops (which could encourage crowd concentration on public streets and open parks), liquor stores and firearms ranges can remain open so long as they abide by safety precautions, churches should be offered an opportunity to make a case for how they can open for worship in a responsible manner.  What follows below are a few suggestions for how parishes might pursue a ‘re-opening’ of the Mass.

Limited-attendance Mass.  Experts and other commentators alike are suggesting that crowd-size control will be a feature of public events.  Parish worship offers an opportunity for the public to begin this practice through the commencement of communal worship with limited attendance.

Congregant-size control could be maintained by a parish-specific system. One option would be to assign attendance on a rotating basis alphabetically.  Many parishes could employ multi-user digital services.  For example, parishes could maintain shared online documents (through the use of Google docs or other similar service) allowing parishioners to choose and exchange their admittance date for greater convenience.

Not everyone will have the opportunity to attend a Sunday liturgy.  Some parishes and other ministries have the capacity to expand the number of their services to allow for maximum attendance across several services.  For others, attendance at a weekday liturgy will need to suffice as a temporary substitute.  Evening Mass options throughout the week might offer greater convenience.

Additional precautions can be taken through the widespread use of facial coverings and social distancing.  Individual congregants (including family members for the sake of consistency) would need to maintain at least six feet distance between them.  Brightly colored tape could designate acceptable seating areas within the pews.  Churches could enlist the assistance of volunteers to disinfect seating areas and other spaces in between services.

Sacramental distribution.  The use of gloves and social distancing would allow for a responsible distribution of communion.  With the communicant standing at a marked space (identified with the use of brightly colored electrical tape or similar means), a minister wearing gloves could place the consecrated host into the outstretched hands of the recipient.  Those waiting to receive would maintain at least six feet distance between each person in line.  Gloves would be disposed of in a respectful manner at the conclusion of each Mass.

Need for coordination.  No individual pastor or other priest should pursue a return to communal worship without the support of his bishop.  The gravity of the pandemic requires that bishops (in many instances, acting through state conferences) coordinate with state and local government officials on a plan that will allow a return to some limited communal worship in tandem with a ‘re-opening’ of the economy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1389) obliges the faithful to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.  With the arrival of Pentecost barely more than a month away, the end of the season is fast approaching.

State government leaders are beginning to discuss responsible steps to resume a level of public activity.  For the sake of their flock, bishops should insert themselves into those discussions.

Related reading: “Opinion: It’s prudent to extend general lockdown, keep churches closed” | By Russell Shaw


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About Fr. Thomas More Garrett, OP 3 Articles
Fr. Thomas More Garrett, OP, is a Dominican priest at Providence College, where he serves as associate vice president and associate general counsel. He also teaches courses on law and business.

26 Comments

  1. Well intentioned but still rubbish. Open churches and expect Americans to meekly accept digital assignment of attendance? I think not. ID checks to go to mass? The penny has not dropped with the US Church, our faith does not gives us the right to endanger others in the guise of worship. It is our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters by remaining socially distanced and at home. In faith, Christ is with us wherever we are and I feel his closeness in my parish’s online Services.

    • Disrespectful to accuse people who wish to attend mass of endangering others “under the guise of worship”. Repugnant actually. Just not sure why. It’s either an accusation that folks are only pretending to wish to worship by attending mass. Or that they truly wish to bring harm to others.

      Is it possible they have not been convinced that mass attendance, within reasonable precautions, endangers anyone? Lives are far more at risk at grocery stores and particularly large retailers. Germs and viruses don’t care whether a governor has or hasn’t deemed an activity “essential” or not.

      And there is very good reason to be skeptical regarding the general lockdown in any event. It’s quite indiscriminate, making insufficient distinctions between those few areas at high risk and those many areas which are not. I

      n the long run, the far bigger risk is from attitudes such as yours. Our current health crisis, will look minor compared to what’s coming when we fall into a global depression, with hundreds of millions out of work and unable to afford basic medical care and insurance, leaving countless conditions untreated, unprevented, and undiagnosed until it’s too late.

      • Agree totally. The good weather is coming. Have Masses said ‘en plain air’s in parking lot. Have priests go from car to car distributing Communion in the hand and with face mask and protective gloves. Look, if Walmart cletks can figure it out, our brilliant and courageous bishops ought to be able to as well

        • I agree with you Deacon Ed Peitler .
          Outdoor, parking lot masses seem very reasonable.
          Even when you use Walmart’s outside grocery pick-up option the employees still come right up close to your vehicle window to ask questions or verify the order.
          Our parish used a long handled collection basket for a drive-thru Easter Holy Water distribution recently. There’s always ways to be creative & innovative.

          • Oh, but no. Let us all just be good sheep and forfeit all rights as citizens of this great republic and of the Kingdom of God.
            Besides, taking creative approaches is really too much like work, and after all the authorities, the experts will tell us when it is time to return some semblance of normal. What do we know anyway?

        • I would love to attend Mass and celebrate the Eucharist again with my family, and Church family. Most parishioners see you and your family each week, if you’re blessed to attend with your family. I don’t think families that live together should stand 6 ft apart making less room for others. Wear masks to start, use common sense. I would also like the Church to consider in the future a different way to distribute the Precious Blood so that we still could partake of it without everyone drinking from the same cup. It would be wise for the leaders to pray and discern this so hopefully we will not lose this essential part of receiving the Precious Blood as our Lord passed on to us.

          • When you receive the Host, you *are* receiving the Precious Blood – you’re receiving Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

        • ” distributing Communion in the hand and with face mask and protective gloves. ”

          No.

          There is just as much possibility of transmission of germs by hand, and forcing people to receive Communion in the hand is just wrong.

          • Eastern rite churches use a golden spoon to distribute Communion. Why not a blessed set of small gold tongs, with a paten held underneath, to place the host into the outstretched hand of the parisioner? The priest would not have to worry about touching or using gloves. Priest & server to wear masks.

    • Well said. I think it would be more practical to simply have a lot more Masses and designate seating as every third pew, with people sitting on either end. I would especially like to see Masses designated specifically for seniors and medically compromised.

    • I have to agree with Dr Barry Bradley’s statement: “Well intentioned but still rubbish.” Use “Google docs” to get a slot to attend Mass? Really? Yes, we want the return of celebration of public Mass and reception of the Eucharist – and safely. But such suggestions that work only for app-based millennials are just not practical off the college campus. We hope and trust that our bishops will have real practical solutions based on real pastoral experience.
      Also, Father, please don’t frighten people who are obeying their bishops with the false suggestion that they are somehow under burden of sin for not receiving the Eucharist before Pentecost. Matthew 23:4.

      • Fairly uncharitable comment from Fr Mott,OP. Nobody is able to explain why it is safer to go shopping than to go to mass. I don’t understand why a lot of Catholics including some clergy some how think that private praying at home or virtue streaming of mass is able to substitute the liturgical praying of the Church. And the Church is not complete without the laity…. clearly, fear is obscuring right reason.

    • Under the guise of worship? No, “doctor” during the ESSENTIAL worship. You, as an atheist, or a deist at best, judging from your post, may not deem it essential, and so, we’re not forcing you to attend, as, afterall, it’s all free will based, so, if you’re afraid of contracting the virus, by all means, don’t attend, but step out of the way of those who will. It’s our God given AND constitutionally enshrined right and it’s about time we, Catholics, started acting like we have rights around here whether a “doctor” or two agree with us or not. Else, we will forever destine ourselves to a secular equivalent of dhimmitude.

  2. It would also be a kindness to lift the mass obligation for those with valid reasons. Those who have medical conditions that would either cause them to be more susceptible to Covid-19 or less able to fight it, and those who live with them and/or are carers, could remain home without guilt.

  3. Under the conditions suggested, we may as well not bother; it would be a caricature of a religious service. We need to get the government out of the business of regulating religion, period. All we need to do is skip the sign of peace in the Novus Ordo and we’ll as responsible as we need to be and we’ll still have all we can do to get people to go to Mass at all. Many parishes with large buildings can barely muster 100 people for Sunday Mass these days without concerns about disease. We’ll never get anywhere trying to accommodate society and government– they need to be confronted head-on and decisively.

  4. At two retirement homes in Dubuque, the “throwing” of a kiss at the Kiss of Peace was introduced because the participants mainly stayed in their chairs and wheelchairs. This continued during the flue season and the start of the spread of the virus. The practice was extended to some parishes in Illinois as the spread of the virus started.
    People suggest that certain adjustments be made at the Mass. Use of throwing the Kiss of Peace is one that all Catholic churches could do. The New York Times did point out that the Risen Jesus said to St. Mary Magdalene: “Do not touch me.” And the waving kiss can signify well the presence of the Holy Spirit from the Resurrected Christ.

    • Jesus saying, “Do not touch me” really spoke to me. In the TLM, there is no touching of the Holy Eucharist except by the priest. There is no hand-shaking to convey peace. There is no hugging of other parishioners on the way to and from receipt of Holy Communion. There is no lay partaking of the Chalice of Precious Blood.

      There have apparently been studies showing a similar rate of germ transmission when Eucharist is placed on hand or on tongue.

      Having been exposed to at least two elderly nursing home residents with Corona who subsequently passed away, having never developed any symptoms, understanding the fatality and hospitalization rates to be undeniably low for those under the age of 70, I am in favor of re-opening Mass with each pastor and each lay person assuming prudential cautious limitations in line with their consciences, but I am also in favor of receipt of Holy Eucharist for those who wish to assume the risk. Perhaps people with major sin will then feel no social ostracism for abstaining.

      • Just FYI,
        Depending upon where you live, people under 70 are being hospitalized rather frequently and some are succumbing to the virus.
        There are a number of factors and it differs between populations but our community lost a 41 year old father of 6 and a 30 year old mother barely survived. A number of younger people in our state appear to have chronic health issues that make them more vulnerable. Some health troubles we don’t have as much control over but it’s a good time to at least shed those extra pounds. That appears to be a contributing factor.

    • “the “throwing” of a kiss at the Kiss of Peace was introduced”

      Oh, barf. The handshaking nonsense is bad enough. This is worse.

      • AGREED. Mass is our worship of God. Apparently, blowing kisses originated in Mesopotamia as a means to gain favor with the gods. My neighbors are not my God.

  5. If you really believe that the body and blood of Jesus is our spiritual food. Than Jesus and the Eucharist are super natural. Does not God know all things. Stop humanizing God. If people choose not to receive the Eucharist because fear of death. Then they don’t have to. Many of our saints did just the opposite. I would put my life on the line to receive Jesus again.

  6. We need the mass! Each and every person throughout the world, and the Holy souls in purgatory benefit from it more than anything else. It is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. St. Padre Pio said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” We need the mass more than anyone realizes! Please pray that it will be reinstated as soon as possible!

  7. There is a fundamental flaw in all the discussions of “re-opening” strategies and extending the lockdowns. The flaw is the premise that the COVID 19 disease associated with this “novel” coronavirus is that it is a threat to public health greater than any other noxious, deadly to some virus China sends our way every few years. According to Dr. Knut Wittkowski and other accomplished epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors and researchers now being heard, this coronavirus is a not so novel third coronavirus to strike the world. There will be a fourth and fifth and more to come over the decades. Lockdowns and so called “social distancing” are not good medical practices for dealing with the spread of the disease. They are good political tools for population controls. Question the premise.

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