As you know, Governor Baker has announced that houses of worship can resume services, within the specific guidelines he has issued, in Phase 1 of the re-opening plan for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Archdiocese of Boston has provided parishes with additional guidelines and restrictions, and parishes must complete the preparations and be able to comply with all of the guidelines and protocols before resuming public Masses. Here at the St. John-St. Paul Collaborative, we are working very hard to get our churches ready and our systems in place to begin the process of slowly and carefully re-opening our churches.
While we are all eager to celebrate Mass together again, we must remember that COVID-19 has not gone away, and remains a significant threat to the public health. For this reason, the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will continue for the foreseeable future. Parishioners are highly encouraged to continue to participate in our weekly recorded Masses from their homes. (Beginning next week, we will have access to upgraded technology to improve video and audio quality.) Individuals at particular risk, especially older adults and those with complicating medical conditions, are strongly urged to remain at home to avoid the risks associated with attending public celebrations of the Mass.
Our plan is to resume Sunday Masses, with a limited schedule and very limited capacity (as required in the guidelines), on the Feast of Pentecost. Our schedule for the weekend of May 30-31 will be:
Saturday, May 30
5:00pm Vigil Mass at St. John
Sunday, May 31
9:00am Mass at St. John
11:00am Mass at St. Paul
We cannot offer a Vigil Mass at St. Paul on Saturday, May 30 as we have an afternoon wedding, and the guidelines require that the church be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after every service. We will learn from our first weekend and then adjust our guidelines as needed and announce the schedule for the following weeks.
Daily Mass and private prayer will resume once we are comfortable that we can be in full compliance with the level of preparation, staffing, and cleaning required by daily use of our churches. Confessions will continue to be available by appointment; we will bring back scheduled hours once we have a plan in place that provides a safe environment for all.
In order to open, churches must restrict occupancy to no more than 40% capacity, while maintaining strict social distancing of at least 6 feet in all directions between members of unrelated households. If you take a moment to picture the inside of our churches – the width of the aisles, the length of the pews, the distance between the rows of pews – it quickly becomes clear that maintaining strict social distancing means that the actual number of parishioners that can attend each Mass will be much, much lower. We are required to manage occupancy carefully, so parishioners will be required to register in advance for each Mass, using a sign up system that will be available on our website next week. (Those without internet access will be able to call the office to register.) More details will be available on this process early next week.
The Mass that we will celebrate within these new guidelines will be a very different experience for all of us, in many ways. All members of the congregation are required to wear masks, except for those under the age of 2 (parents should judge for children between the ages of 2 and 5) and those who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons. There will be designated entrances, and parishioners will be checked-in on arrival. To maintain social distancing, trained volunteers will direct you to your seat, and we will ask everyone to remain in their pews (except for emergencies) until dismissed at the end of Mass, which will be by row, through the designated exits. There will be no choir or congregational singing, as these have been shown to facilitate the spread of the virus, and all hymnals and missalettes have been removed. There can be no social gatherings before or after Mass, either inside or outside the church. More detailed information about the Mass, special procedures for Communion, and instructions for registration, will be sent out via email and posted on our website early next week.
The restrictions and protocols required are not what any of us would choose for the celebration of Mass, but they are very necessary at this point in the pandemic. I think that I speak for all of us when I say that I long for the day when we can come together again safely without these restrictions, to celebrate the Mass with singing and fellowship and unmitigated joy. Please continue to join me in praying for that time to come soon, and for healing for those who are sick, comfort for those who mourn, and wisdom and strength for those who are working so hard to end this pandemic.
Yours in Christ Jesus, our Risen Lord,