Public Mass will resume with restrictions

Father Bill Bowling, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, offered daily Mass May 12 before empty pews. The liturgy was streamed live on Facebook. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz issued a plan to reopen churches for public Masses beginning May 20 with limited capacity and some adjustments. (Record Photos by Jessica Able)

Many Catholics will be able to return to weekday and weekend Masses in the Archdiocese of Louisville beginning May 20, though with a limited capacity and some adjustments.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz issued a “Healthy at Worship” plan May 11 to reopen churches in the archdiocese for public worship.

Acknowledging that some may be sick or feel vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan begins by issuing a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation until further notice.

The plan goes on to explain that Masses may resume “so long as social distancing guidelines” and “related restrictions on the number of people that can be present — are in place.”

These and other adjustments to a typical Mass, including guidance that everyone wear a face covering, are meant to ensure the common good, said Archbishop Kurtz in a letter to parishioners.

“I know that many find this a burden, but our call as Catholics is to promote the common good,” he writes. “We know that persons who are not experiencing symptoms may carry and spread the COVID-19 virus, and this measure protects those people with whom you come in contact.”

The “Healthy at Worship” plan says church seating should allow at least six feet between parishioners with an exception for members of the same household. The plan suggests several strategies, such as skipping every other pew or removing seats.

By limiting seating, parishes must also restrict attendance, the plan notes.

“Once you determine the seating capacity, efforts should be made to limit the number of parishioners attending a given Mass,” it notes. “You should inform parishioners of these limitations and indicate that seating will be first come, first served.”

The plan also encourages pastors to hold outdoor and drive-in Masses in church parking lots.

“Parishes able to do so should consider this option, weather permitting,” the plan says. “Social distancing also applies to these events. There needs to be space so that chairs or cars of participants from different households are six feet apart. For outdoor Masses, participants should be instructed to bring their own chairs. For drive-in services, attendees should be instructed not to leave their cars.”

Communion will only be administered in the form of the host, though the priest and deacon will still receive the Eucharist from the chalice. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and clergy are instructed to disinfect their hands prior to Communion.

Churches are also expected to provide hand sanitizer for the congregation and to disinfect the churches regularly.

A host of other recommendations are included in the plan. Some are requirements and others are suggestions that depend on a church’s situation. The Archdiocese of Louisville’s 110 parishes, spread out in 24 counties in central Kentucky, vary widely in size, resources and situation.

With that in mind, the plan also allows for parishes that may not be able to open yet. For instance if a pastor is vulnerable or a majority of parishioners are vulnerable, the parish may not yet reopen.  Or the parish may need time to prepare for some aspects of the plan.

Parishes that have been streaming their Masses online are encouraged to continue that practice. A list of online Masses is available here.

The Archdiocese of Louisville developed its guidelines in consultation with the governor’s office, the bishops of Kentucky and the Priests’ Council of the archdiocese.

The archdiocese’s Healthy at Worship plan takes its name from Gov. Andy Beshear’s “Healthy at Home” and “Healthy at Work” initiatives during the pandemic. They remind Kentuckians to be mindful of the pandemic and make healthy choices.

Read the full archdiocesan plan here. Each parish will likely be communicating its plans with parishioners on social media and other platforms. Check with your parish for its plans.

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