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Diocese of Wilmington shares factors that must be considered as reopening of public Mass is weighed

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A message from Bishop Malooly on the door of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hockessin on Sunday, March 22. Dialog photo/Don Blake

As cities and towns begin opening beaches and boardwalks in a pandemic, church leaders are sorting through factors that must be considered as they plan for the reopening of places of worship.

Leaders in the Diocese of Wilmington are working with fellow dioceses in establishing consistent guidelines for parishes as eager churchgoers are hoping for the resumption of Mass. Bishop Malooly has been in weekly contact with neighboring bishops and Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, has been communicating regularly with his fellow vicars general in those dioceses.

The common theme among all of those in affected areas? We will be going back to church at some point, but it will not be the same as it’s always been — at least not yet.

While the “how” and “when” there will be a resumption of Masses remain uncertain, some guidelines were spelled out in the Diocese of Wilmington in a statement shared with pastors this week.

Discussion points included:

  • The general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will remain in place. Regardless of when restrictions are lifted in Delaware or Maryland, there will understandably be people, especially people in vulnerable or at-risk groups, who will feel it is safer to stay home than attend Mass. Potential limits on crowd sizes that are allowed in parishes will also play a part. The faithful are encouraged to keep the Lord’s Day holy by participating in a parish livestream Mass.
  • When our churches begin to reopen, physical distancing will likely still be in place. The six feet separation restriction will likely still be required. You may be asked to wear a face covering, as recommended by the CDC. If you are in a vulnerable category (i.e., older adult, 65 years and older; person who is immunocompromised), you may continue to be encouraged to remain home. Anyone who is ill, or suspects he or she is ill, should refrain from participation in public activities, including Mass. In addition, in light of CDC monitoring recommendations, anyone who arrives at the church and is exhibiting symptoms may be asked not to attend Mass out of an abundance of care and caution for others. Parishes may have procedures for receiving communion that maintains this distancing.
  • Attendance at Mass and church spaces may continue to be limited. It is expected that restrictions for any large gatherings will remain in place. Only a certain number of pews or chairs may be available for use. Hymnals may be removed, and paper worship aids utilized.
  • Liturgical changes will likely remain in effect. For those able to attend Mass, similar practices like those in March will likely remain in place, such as distribution of Holy Communion under one species, no exchanging of the sign of peace, no holy water fonts, etc. In time, each parish will be asked to assemble a parish plan for reopening based on CDC recommendations that addresses the parish’s local circumstances in each phase set forth by the governors.

The diocese emphasizes that while all reasonable precautions will be taken, there remains a risk of infection for anyone who attends a public Mass. No one should expect they’ll be safer in church than any other public space.

The diocese statement referred to the words of Pope Francis in cautioning people as restrictions are loosened.

““At this time, when we are beginning to receive instructions for coming out of quarantine, we pray that the Lord would give his people – all of us – the grace of prudence and obedience to the instructions so that the pandemic does not return,” the pope said during Mass April 28.